One local artist helps to make a change in the world
By: Genavieve Orgen
When you buy a purse in the store, materials can come from as far as Mali, Africa and Portugal, or as close as anywhere in the United States. But when you buy purses from local artist Naomi Harris, you are buying bags made
completely from fairly traded materials.
When you fair trade, the people who make the materials are paid acceptably well for their work. This is very important for third world countries because they don’t have the same laws or standards as in America.
“It was very important to me that the people who created it were treated with dignity and respect and that their cultural tradition was being upheld in a way that was sustainable to their lifestyle where they earned enough money from it to live,” said Niantic purse maker Ms. Harris.
Ms. Harris mainly works from her home studio and has access to a studio downtown. It takes about four to six hours creating one purse depending on how big or complicated they are. She first learned to sew in her teenage years from her grandmother,
“I always had a passion for creating things,” said Ms. Harris.
The purses are made with cork leather, which is a vegan leather that is made from the bark shavings of a cork oak tree that comes from Portugal. The bark naturally regrows so there is no harm done to the tree. She also uses a hand-woven mudcloth fabric made by men and women in Mali, Africa and bone beads that are both dyed with mud, leaves, or tea, which also comes from Africa. Any zippers or hardware on the purses are made in America.
Ms. Harris is very passionate and dedicated when it comes to fair trade and helping others. Some of the proceeds from making the purses go to multiple different places. She sponsors a girl, Kadiatu, in Sierra Leone, Africa every month through developeafrica.org which provides her with food, clothing, education, and medical needs. She also donates 1,000 worm treatments per month through plantingpeace.org, “Which is just a little way of giving back with some of the money that I earn,” said Ms. Harris.
Ms. Harris works at the fair trade stores, Tumbleweeds and Indigo, in downtown Niantic where she learned more about fair trade. She also sells her purses at Indigo and at her online business on Etsy: Rising Roots Creations.
This is Ms. Harris’ first year of having her handmade purses sold in local stores and online. A mother in Niantic, Amber Goula has purchased two purses from Naomi this year: “I love everything about them…I think that the tradition behind it is something that’s important to her and I think it comes through in her work,” said Ms. Goula.
“I think they’re [the purses] amazing. I think they’re structurally created very well…and the backbone of what she’s doing fits what we’re doing with Indigo.” owner of Tumbleweeds and Indigo, Tara Wyatt said.
She believes that it’s very important for people to gain awareness about fair trade.
“The purpose is to empower women…[and] being kind to people and the planet.” said Ms. Harris.