A San Francisco company called Oryjin, which is participating in this weekend’s Fair-Trade Bazaar at the de Young Museum, specializes in Laotian jewelry and scarves, and it’s a business with a difference.
Instead of taking advantage of low wages in the southeast Asian country with a troubled history and a struggling economy, Oryjin supports people still under Communist control by building their handicraft business in the countryside.
“Handicrafts are the bellwether of culture,” says Oryjin co-founder Mark Sloneker, “and in a country where private business was still illegal recently, buying and selling their beautiful work helps create ‘Communist capitalism’ on the Chinese model, on a minuscule but still vital scale.
“We help master craftsmen and village women weaving artisans find markets for their products outside of Laos, introducing this talented group to self-sustaining business practices that will empower them and their communities with this direct-to-the-source revenue stream,” he says.
Among the jewelry selections offered by Oryjin is sterling-grade white silver antiquated by tumbling in a mineral solution.
Artworks and handicrafts on sale at the free event, being held in the museum’s Piazzoni Murals Room (which will be turned into an ecological street fair setting) meet the criteria of “quality products that improve lives, protect the environment, and benefit communities.”
Stuart Hata, director of the museum stores, says the bazaar is “an educational complement to the de Young’s renowned collections of native arts from around the world.”
Participating organizations include members of the Fair Trade Association such as Oryjin, Gianna Fair Trade (southeast Asian textiles), Globally Minded (Mayan jewelry), Good Paper (multi-ethnic stationery), Mayan Hands (Mayan crafts) and Woven Promises (African textiles).
Other exhibitors are showing and selling Nepalese kids’ crafts, and Haitian, Central Asian and African arts and crafts.
For Oryjin, purchase prices go directly to the artisan making the pieces, and additional profits are shared with the Participatory Development Training Center. The PADETC, Laos’ only nongovernmental organization, maintains a nonprofit alternate school in Vientiane, helping to prepare young community leaders for their changing world.
IF YOU GO
Where: de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco
When: 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday; 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Contact: (415) 750-3600, www.famsf.org