Archive for Development

Three Reasons to Buy Local and Shop Small During the Holidays

As we enter the season of buying and giving, you have the choice to shop at big box stores or to support small businesses and local shops. Here is why buying local and supporting small businesses matters:

  1. Small businesses have always been and continue to be the the backbone of our economy. Supporting small businesses supports us all.
  2. Schumacher had it right: Small is Beautiful. And people (that’s you and me) should be at the center of economics.
  3. Shopping local helps reduce our carbon footprint which is a smart consumer choice and is better for the environment.

For my part, I’m participating in Shop Local Week 2013, a partnership between Think Local First DC and Causetown to promote independently owned, community businesses as the preferred option for holiday shoppers. During the week, businesses like mine will feature a number of promotions, notably the Charity Cash Mob, where we will give a portion of purchases to any school or charity customers choose when they mention Shop Local Week.

RAM Jewelry Designs is Participating in Shop Small Saturday

RAM Jewelry Designs is Participating in Shop Small Saturday

Shift Your Shopping

RAM Jewelry Designs contributes to charity via Causetown

RAM Jewelry Designs contributes to charity via Causetown

What are you doing to buy local and shop small this holiday season? Please comment below and let me know.

African “Trade Beads” – Meaning Behind the Name

“Fake trade beads.” That is how I heard an artist friend refer to recycled glass beads. There is some truth there in that some recycled glass is made to look like Venetian glass beads. But though the Venetian glass beads that made their way to Africa and were traded for a variety of goods, including slaves (hence, the name “trade beads”) are beautiful, people often don’t understand what they are getting when they covet them.

The slave trade trade involved a triangular system (by which manufactured goods, such as jewelry, guns, liquor, etc., were transported to Africa; African slaves were exchanged for the European imports; slaves transported to the Americas were exchanged for goods produced in the New World (cotton tobacco, sugar, etc., which were then sent back to Europe to begin the process all over again). Though the origin of the jewelry transported to Africa came from many sources, it was the Venetian beads – particularly the millefiori (literally one thousand flowers) that were highly sought in Africa. Given their popularity as well as the object of their destination, these beads came to be known as African Trade Beads (sometimes known as slave beads). But they were not fabricated in Africa. In fact, it is most likely that Venetian glass arrived in Africa as a result of someone having been traded for them – or as a part of a deal that included, slaves as well as other goods.

Don’t get me wrong. I possess “trade beads” and find them beautiful. But I wear them fully conscious that the beads are part of the legacy of the slave trade. Though we may choose to wear clothing made in sweatshops and sold in big box stores because they are a “bargain,” I think we should make conscious choices. Same goes for what we choose to adorn ourselves with.

That’s why I am excited about sandcast, recycled glass beads. Recycled glass, primarily fabricated in West Africa, notably in Ghana, are more affordable, are made from reused materials and provide income to communities that have thrived on this craft which has been handed down to generations for centuries.

African Recycled Glass, Powder Glass Beads

African Powder Glass “Bodum” Beads

African Trade Beads

Venetian glass “trade beads”












For more on African recycled glass beads and how they are made, see my previous blog post on this subject. You can also find jewelry made with recycled glass on my Etsy site or my Web site.

Artist Inspiration: Nigerien Shopkeeper, Rosaline Zocli

It’s been a little while since I last posted as I’ve been traveling overseas. My travels put me in touch with how I got started in this creative endeavor as well as serve as constant inspiration.

If you happen to go to the Grand Hotel in Niamey, Niger, you’ll be attracted to the assortment of crafts and handmade items that Mme. Rose, as Rosaline Zocli is affectionately called, has in her hotel shop. From African fabric made by local artisans as well as those from her native home of Benin, Mme. Rose has an array of local and regional crafts to fit the tastes of those searching for the classical to the eclectic.

Some of my favorites include leather-covered boxes as well as jewelry and notions made from limestone, a rock found near the desert in Niger. Leather boxes, from the small to trunk-sized, are a specialty of Toureg artisans. Below are some of my favorites:[flagallery gid=2 name=Gallery]

Mme. Rose told me that she has “commerce in her blood” and has always been an entrepreneur. One of her daughters used to work the boutique with her but died a few years ago after a long battle with an illness. Her other children haven’t been as interested in the boutique and Rose’s wish is that they might take up her legacy and allow the boutique to provide them with income-generating opportunities.

Mme Rose and me

Mme Rose and me in her boutique

Mme. Rose

Mme. Rose in front of her hotel boutique

After returning exhausted from a long day’s work, I stop by Mme Rose’s boutique to say “bonsoir” and ask how her day went. After salutations, we update one another on the highlights of our day. She tells me about how slow business has been since the coup in Mali and how security concerns have slowed tourism in Niger. Yes, times are rough; business is slow. Mme. Rose, like countless others, remain hopeful that things will improve. After all, without hope what is there?

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