When Naseem and Nissar Shah arrived in Spokane from Kashmir, India, in the 1970s they were eager to start anew, yet they never expected fair trade arts and crafts would become a big part of their future.
“They would visit their family in Kashmir and bring back gifts for friends in Spokane,” said their daughter Nasreen Shah, 23. “As the war in Kashmir worsened, my parents saw people struggle and they bought crates full of stuff to support the people there.” What the Shahs did was fair trade before fair trade became a buzzword. The crates of Kashmiri crafts stacked up in the Shahs basement and in the 1980s they decided to start a small import business, Jasmine Crafts.
Friday and Saturday, Nasreen Shah will be selling some of the many products Jasmine Crafts has to offer at First Presbyterian Church’s annual Jubilee International Marketplace fair trade sale.
“This is our 24th year and there will be 30 vendors at the Jubilee,” said Mary Frankhauser, one of the organizers. Jubilee is a ministry that raises awareness of economic justice and in its 24 years it has raised more than $750,000.
Nasreen Shah said Jasmine Crafts first participated in Jubilee three years ago.
“We were very surprised that we did so well at Jubilee,” Shah said. “We’ve done so well that for the first time in many years we are bringing back a new shipment this summer.”
Jasmine Crafts sells felt and fabric purses, handcrafted papier-mâché boxes and ornaments and scarves, just to mention a few things.
“Everything is handmade. We know the people who made these things,” Shah said.
Fair trade means the people who make items are paid an appropriate amount of money for their work and their product, she said.
“It may cost you and me a few more dollars to buy it,” Shah said, “but to them those two or three dollars mean the difference between whether they can send their kid to school or not.”
Other Jubilee vendors come from the Philippines, Guatemala, Peru and Zambia, Frankhauser said.
“What you will see here is color and you’ll see handmade products that you don’t find in the typical shopping experience,” said Frankhauser, who’s been involved with Jubilee since the very first one.
The arts and crafts show also features products from Ten Thousand Villages, which offers fairly traded products on consignment from small businesses around the world.
“This year, we have olive oil from Palestine that’s made from olives that were grown and crushed by Palestinian and Israeli women working together,” Frankhauser said. Shoppers will also find baskets, tapestries, jewelry and musical instruments.
“Another important thing about fair trade is that we pay people up front,” Shah said, “so it doesn’t matter how much we sell or not, the makers already got paid.”
Shah has been back to Kashmir many times. She said her parents talk about a Kashmir that was like a paradise in the mountains, before the war hit. Now, she said, it’s a struggling country.
“I go there and I know that it is where I should have been born if my parents had not moved to Spokane,” Shah said. “It’s hard to see people struggling there, knowing that I get to go back to Spokane. God just had a different plan for my life.”
At Jubilee, many vendors wear traditional clothing and share ethnic music.
Christ Kitchen will be serving lunch and a light supper, Frankhauser said.
“What I love is that shoppers come away with a sense of how people are connected,” Frankhauser said. “The vendors know the people who make the stuff they sell, and they share their stories. I love that.”