Urban Bazaar's Brandi Chalker on the importance of fair trade

Brandi Chalker and Briana Bers opened Urban Bazaar in the Inner Sunset last year to give local artisans a venue to sell handmade crafts. Despite a floundering economy, the quirky gift store — which also features fair-trade gifts from across the globe — is thriving.

What makes Urban Bazaar unique?

We have a focus that isn’t just about local — local is kind of a buzzword right now, shop local, shop local — our focus is handcrafted and being an advocate for independent artisans, whether local or abroad. We also do everything we can to put out information about the people behind the products. We’re also interested in fair trade. We work with artisan groups abroad who have a lot more disadvantages than local artists. So we wanted to bring the two together — fair-trade items that are imported and pieces from local artists.

What kinds of gifts are sold at your store?

We have accessories that range from jewelry to scarves to knit and crocheted hats and gloves, and even some wall-art pieces. We’re about to get some photography pretty soon. We also have quirky gift items like a reversible moustache or ceramic mugs that have pigeons painted on them.

How did you come up with the idea for the store?

Both my business partner Briana and I had our own small businesses selling things we made before we even met each other. We were going around to different art festivals and outdoor events, like farmers markets, around the Bay Area and selling our wares. We met at a holiday craft fair in the East Bay and started talking about how we both wanted to open a store, not only to have a bigger market for own products, but so we could also work with a lot of the local artists we were meeting at these events. Pretty quickly after that we started working on a business plan. Her focus has been on the environmentally friendly side of things — she uses recycled materials in everything she makes. I had a little bit more of a background in fair trade so it was a good partnership.

Why is fair trade so personally important to you?

I was really involved in the anti-war movement at the beginning of the Iraq War, and it really opened my eyes up to a lot of the injustices in the world, the struggles people everywhere are facing. A lot of those struggles are caused by the fact that there is such a huge demand in first-world countries for cheap products and there is a disconnect between the items we buy and the people who make them. When I learned about the fair-trade movement, I thought it was a really good alternative to the free-trade system because it puts a face on products, so we can remember that anytime we buy a product, there is a person there behind it. In addition, there are also guarantees as to how much a person is paid and that child labor isn’t used.

Why is it important for to support local artists?

Although we’re not in a dire a situation as a lot of artisan groups in Third World countries, there still aren’t enough opportunities for people of my generation to be truly creative and to be able make enough money to live doing so. It’s important to me that people who have the skills, the creativity and want to be putting handmade products out there have a market. The Walmart culture we have puts very little importance on the hand crafting of items. A lot of the things our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents could do for themselves — something as simple as making a hat — we’re now dependent on having to go to a store and buy something that’s made in a factory in China. It’s nice to be able to give people the opportunity to empower themselves to make these kind of things.

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