As the days shorten and the calendar winds down, our minds and hearts turn to others: some nearby, others far across the globe. At one Frankfort Avenue shop, however, this consciousness is quietly present every day of the year, from every chocolate tasted to the hand-painted platters on which they’re served.
Joan Frisz is always thinking about people in other parts of the world. As executive director of Just Creations, she presides over the store, educating the community about the people behind the artwork, home decor, jewelry, food and books that adorn the shelves, the walls and even the ceiling.
“I think most people come in because they see a product that’s unique and handmade,” says Frisz, who has been with the not-for-profit organization since 1993, three years after the store opened. “There are also some people who want to support a fair-trade store. But the majority start from the idea that ‘I need a gift, wouldn’t it be nice if it were unique.’”
What is most striking upon entering Just Creations is not that the gifts are handmade by Third World villagers, but that the organization distributes its gains to workers in approximately 50 countries, primarily from regions of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. “I think it starts with [interest in] the merchandise and small, locally run businesses, and then we have the opportunity to share the fair-trade story,” says Frisz.
That story is both omnipresent and understated in discreetly placed signs on shelves and merchandise for shoppers to notice. “We do this a lot to make the connection with people they will never meet, people who made these items and who are able to live a better life because of it,” says Frisz, who recently traveled to Nepal, India and Bangladesh to see for herself the artisans at work and their particular circumstances. “We hope we’re fulfilling our commitment as a destination.”
Many of the products certainly are beautiful, and their often-humble origins are not to be discounted. A set of criteria and principles set forth by the Fair Trade Federation, of which Just Creations is a member, promises that the products’ economically disadvantaged makers are compensated at a rate comparable to at least that of a day laborer in their respective countries. Frisz notes that there is no child labor involved, but about 75 percent of the artisans are women – the demographic most likely to be undervalued in their societies. Although some trades, such as stone carving, tend to be male-dominated, other craft fields are 90 percent female.
Another way Just Creations reaches out to its world is through community shopping nights, 12 of which are scheduled at the store in December. For those evenings, the shop collaborates with various local nonprofits that promote the events and offer manpower in running them; in exchange, the partnering nonprofits receive 15 percent of the sales. The rest of the year, Frisz employs a five-person staff and a rotating cast of up to 90 volunteers.
Ultimately, the discoveries made by the gift-giving public at Just Creations befit the store’s name. “That’s part of the history of our name – that sense of justice and fairness we’re striving for in the world.” And a sense of wonder in realizing that talent can be found in the most unlikely of places.
Just Creations is located at 2722 Frankfort Ave. For more information, visit www.justcreations.org or the store’s Facebook page, or call (502) 897-7319.