It isn’t fancy, but this is one funky store to do last-minute Christmas shopping in--and do a good deed.
Third World Handarts sells the wares of thousands of impoverished artisans from five areas of the United States and more than 20 countries, giving back about half of all profits.
Everything here is handmade.
“These are gifts that give twice: to your loved one or yourself, as well as to the person who made the craft,” says Sue Fenwick, program director of the nonprofit organization that runs the shop. “So it’s a very meaningful connection with people who are struggling for their family’s survival.”
“We see it as a privilege to be involved because we are able to help people help themselves,” Fenwick added.
Located in a scruffy industrial stretch of Orange, the shop is hard to find but bustles with customers at this time of year, it’s busiest, with business sometimes quadrupling on Saturdays. Word of mouth has brought in most customers.
Here you can find batik wall-hangings from Africa, woven baskets from Bangladesh and hand-stitched lace blouses from Paraguay. There are rustic wood toys made at a Kentucky mission and other items made in Appalachia, where wages hover around those of Third World countries.
But the works of a few local artisans also are sold through the shop.
For instance, Hmong artisan My Vang of Santa Ana sells her embroidery work and colorful jackets to help support her nine children.
Still, most of the work is by poor artisans in Third World countries who sell their crafts to the shop through cooperatives.
There are more than 60,000 artisans represented in just the Bangladesh cooperative, and Third World Handarts did $165,000 in gross sales last year.
Each room of the shop houses displays from a particular country or continent, and most of the merchandise has information attached about the cooperative or the region where the item was made.
The shop is the flagship of a nonprofit organization founded in 1975 by Jean Favreau Sorvillo, an Anaheim woman then in her 20s.
Sorvillo and others at her church heard that Bangladesh artisans widowed by war and starvation were trying to sell their crafts to survive. The church group raised $250 at a soup-and-bread dinner, bought its first shipment of handmade crafts and sold them. The program grew into a marketing outlet for the struggling artisans, and Sorvillo ran it for years.
Sorvillo, of Buena Park, still volunteers with the group. Her father, Don Favreau, a retired executive, does all the shop’s purchasing.
“We have a record of what has been selling over the years and we pay for it all up front, So if it doesn’t sell,” he said with a chuckle, “we go to the volunteers and pass the hat.”
In the Africa room, the walls are covered with vivid batiks and original Tanzania etchings. There are dozens of Nigerian wood carvings and ebony statues.
“This year, African items are moving very well,” Favreau said during a tour.
For a $36 ebony Ujamaa carving, the artisan will make about $15. The rest goes toward shipping costs and overhead for the modest shop, located at 369 N. Anaheim Blvd.
A bright, yellow batik print dominates one wall, the product of a member of a Kenya artisan cooperative called Ushindi (meaning the conquerors). It is made up of young street kids and handicapped children.
In another room, the bright reverse applique work of Panamanian Cuna Indians dominates the wall with turquoise and red fabrics with butterflies and other animals native to the region.
There are Nativity scenes from an array of cultures and countries, and Christmas ornaments from around the world in the Christmas room.
Hmong wall hangings tell the story of an entire community in fabric narrative. Handwoven bracelets from Guatemala are popular with younger customers. Bone necklaces from the Philippines were made by political prisoners. Rustic wood toys were made by the population at a Kentucky mission.
“If someone has a need, and we think we can market their work,” Favreau said, “we’ll take their work. But mostly we work through the co-ops.”
Once purchased from the artisan cooperatives, the crafts also are sold through a network of churches, colleges and schools that invite Third World Handarts to hold discussions and “talk about our mission,” said Fenwick.
Recent events in Somalia have increased business and interest in the crafts, Fenwick said.
“I think perhaps the educational outreach throughout the year plus world events have opened people’s hearts and minds to this kind of program where there is much hope and a very positive side to it,” Fenwick said. “Buying the crafts truly helps save lives by providing regular employment.”