An ethical shop for the style conscious

Delights by the dozen from artisans across the globe

Sometimes the internet is like a cocktail party, albeit one you can attend in a bathrobe. One moment I am chatting online with a Columbian friend working in Tibet, the next she’s introducing me to an article on Norla (her yak-wool company) that’s published in the ethical e-zine Hand/Eye, and here I find myself flitting between a cornucopia of new discoveries, including the shop 12 Small Things.

This globally sourced, beautifully curated selection of stylish artisanal products is the retail sister of Hand/Eye, and was founded in 2009 by Laurie Kanes – the San Francisco-based, former creative services director of Williams-Sonoma, Gap and luxury gift e-tailer RedEnvelope. A breezy, editorial-oriented site, 12 Small Things showcases a dozen fairtrade artisan groups each season and is a one-stop-shop for a worldwide philanthropic shopping spree.

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From this season’s Ethiopian blue-striped hatch cotton tablecloth and napkins (fourth picture, $64 and $48 respectively) to the chic navy-sisal-striped totes (third picture, $52) hand-woven in rural Kenya, and the oversized recycled plastic and rush baskets (first picture, $46) made by Wolof village women using old prayer mats and cattail stalks from Senegalese marshes, all products are ethically produced through socially responsible initiatives.

One such example is Bamboula, the brand behind the Kenyan market bags. Founded by American Jasperdean Kobes, a former Peace Corp volunteer in Ethiopia, Bamboula connects socially conscious global shoppers with artisan makers in Kenya, Ghana, Mali, Tanzania and Uganda. Kobes travels to Africa several times a year to work directly with the communities and ensures exceptional quality and an ever-evolving roster of new products. Another is FeltLink, a San-Francisco-based company whose vase collection (second picture, $69) helps support a local charity that combats domestic violence ($10 of each sale is donated).

Lest anyone think you might uncover such stylish finds unaided, I can only say that in 20-plus years living and travelling across Asia, I have never come across a more exquisite tunic than the site’s Kandhari sheer cotton offering ($38) with its traditional white-on-white Afghani embroidery, made by Afghan-refugee widows living in Pakistani camps.

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The items for sale here are the kind you’d want to buy social conscience aside. That they help support artisans in economically challenged communities, and other worthwhile causes, makes them all the more irresistible.

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