I recently sat down with Yvette Jenkins at the Always Brewing Detroit coffee shop on Grand River in Grandmont/Rosedale. The shop has become a community meeting place for the neighborhood.
The idea was to talk about the businesses opening on this major thoroughfare, which has long needed revitalization. Jenkins is one of Grandmont Rosedale’s biggest advocates as well as a resident and has been a business owner there.
Last year she opened a pop-up shop called Love Travels Imports at the Grand River WorkPlace. As with all pop-ups it had a limited run but she hopes to open another soon. She also has a shop on the Avenue of Fashion on Livernois and will turn that into a kiosk only operation.
“The name Love Travels Imports comes from many things … my love of travel … exploration … the earth … and, most importantly, my love of others and the meaningful impact we can have on people’s lives,” she says on her website.
That pretty much sums up why she started the company in 2013.
You see her company imports fair trade, handcrafted work from artisans in South Africa, Madagascar and other places as well as showcases and sells the work of local artists.
What’s fair trade you might ask? It is a commitment to create greater equity in the international trading system by making sure producers in developing countries are paid a fair price for their work and are able to develop sustainable businesses. At its core is developing a direct, cooperative, in-depth relationship between buyers and sellers that always puts fair trade first.
That’s what Jenkins has done with artisans in several developing nations. Her goal is to help lift them out of poverty and create sustainable businesses in their neighborhoods.
Here are some examples.
She’s worked with Mielie in South Africa for about five years. They hand hook bags, rugs, wall hangings and other items from Mielie strips, a byproduct from local cotton mills. Much of their work stands out but one in particular will appeal to Detroiters. It’s a “Detroit Believe” rug/wall hanging that goes for $299. You can check out the website for prices on other items.
“Mielie’s dedication to helping women in economically depressed areas of South Africa earn a proper living by creating beautiful items was an inspiration to me,” Jenkins says on her website. “Thus my journey to help make a positive difference in people’s lives – not only the artisans who craft the pieces, but the future generations of those artisans, and the people who get joy from the beauty of the work had begun.”
Mielie founder Adri Schutz recently told Jenkins the work she gave to a group of women who live in Khayelitsha (a black township in South Africa with 80% unemployment) has had a positive economic impact.
The Mielie website always has a Xhosa (the language of South Africa) word for the day. The day I was on the site the word was “ndonwabile,” which means “I am happy.” That pretty much sums up Jenkins’ attitude and her work to make others feel the same way.
“Some would say it was just a bag, but for me it was the beginning of an amazing journey,” she says.
That journey has taken her many places and has helped pull many women out of poverty and given them purpose. Some have been able to move from tin shacks to nice homes.
The beautiful raw silk scarves, shawls and throws she imports come from Sahalandy, a women’s social enterprise based in Sandrandahy in eastern Madagascar. It represents “silkies” or hand-weavers of silk and has 95 members and more than 1,800 participants.
“Sahalandy is committed to sustaining Madagascar’s cultural heritage, conserving the environment, and ensuring a sustainable livelihood for its contributors,” Jenkins says.
Creating these scarves, shawls and throws is no small feat. Everything is done from scratch and the process of weaving silk by hand is time-consuming and complex. The silk of one scarf touches 10 pairs of hands as cocoons are collected and silk is spun, dyed and woven.
First, cocoons are collected by the kilo via bush taxis. Then they are beaten against trees to remove thorns in the thread. The tiny pods are washed, cooked and buried with rice hulls for a week, and then washed again. From there, the cocoons are dried, stomped on and beaten against trees once more. Finally, the silk is ready to be spun, using a traditional drop-spindle.
Organic dyes sustain the threads, and then the strands are stretched tightly and sun-dried. Colors are selected, spooled out and measured. Each thread is counted to make sure patterns weave evenly. It takes at least a month to weave a scarf, finish it with tassels and embroidery, wash it one last time, and then get it to its wearer.
Other work comes from a family in Nepal. The “smiling” bunny pencil (or Bic pens) cover is made of 100% felted wool and sell for about $7.00. Jenkins sold hundreds of them around the holidays last year and donated 10% of the sales at the Grand River location to the North Rosedale Civic Association.
Love Travel Imports also sells the work of local artists:
- AfrikanSpirit Cards from Janet Seevers. The cards honor the Afrikan heritage with motifs and ornamentations of the Afrikan World Diaspora. They use Afrikan images, Afrikan proverbs and the many languages of Afrika to fully immerse clients in the wisdom and history of and the connection to Afrika.
- Clay and Cloth Creations from Patricia L. Millender. Many of the fabrics she uses are purchased in Africa and include nativity scenes, door prayers, quilts and aprons. She is also known for her ceramic pieces, including her well-known “Door Prayers”. She fires her ceramic pieces at Pewabic Pottery and all of her work is one-of-a-kind.
- Art by Aliya. Greeting cards by Aliya Moore feature some of her original artwork.
Jenkins is a graduate of TechTown’s Retail Boot Camp and was a pop-up winner in the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation’s Revolve Program.