Laurie Kanes of 12 Small Things on Cortland Avenue offers unique handmade gifts to the neighborhood. To create her business Laurie blended her background in retail creative services with her passion for supporting artisans around the world. The result is an independent business offering fair trade gifts to a Bernal Heights community that appreciates both diversity and beauty. We spent time talking about the people and stories behind some of her favorite products this holiday season.
I worked in creative services as an art director and in print production for about 30 years. I started at Esprit, then The Gap and eventually Williams Sonoma. My last corporate job was at Red Envelope, an online gift store. When my corporate career ended I wanted to give back in some way. So I got involved with a group called Aid to Artisans, that pairs contemporary artists with rural craftspeople around the world who need to generate more sales and income. Through my association with them, I started my own online store called 12 Small Things.
I didn’t have the bandwidth to sustain an online shop so I started working with the manufacturer’s rep group Keena Co, who introduced me to the world of wholesale. That generated many opportunities for me to introduce new artisan products to bigger retail stores. Now I divide my time between the two. Part of the week I work with key accounts like Whole Foods and Cost Plus World Market, then from Thursday to Sunday I have the shop open to sell the products I have here in the showroom.
I go to New York in January and in August for the International trade show, NY NOW. It’s a massive gift show where I spend time with my commercial vendors and also meet with the artisans and place orders there. They show samples of their work and then the goods are made to order. They bring orders back to their communities and spend a few months making the products and then shipping overseas. I choose the items I want to buy, based on both the aesthetics and the stories behind the work.
Let’s start with the Akkadian candle collection. The vessels are made by Turkish artists, who do beautiful traditional ceramic, glass and copper work. Then the vessels are sent to Iraq to have the candles made and poured by women, as part of a job creation program, partially sponsored by our US State Department. Many of the women working with this program in Iraq are war widows and are able to do this in their homes. The candles are then packaged and shipped to the US to be sold, so it’s truly an international product.
These angel candle holders are made by metal workers in Haiti working with an organization called Prosperity Catalyst. The angel’s skirts come in three different designs, inspired by the beautiful trees, streams and night skies surrounding Haiti. The beeswax candle votives are also made in Haiti by a group of women from a collective called Famm Limye in Croix Des Bouquets. I sold these out so quickly last year, they’re a big for the holidays.
I like to showcase a few local people. The woman who heads Oxgut Hose Co. LauraLe Wunsch is from Oakland. She makes housewares and furniture out of recycled fire hoses. The first hoses used in the Greek and Roman times were made out of ox intestines, to store water for fires. Today, all fire stations are required to get new hoses every few years for safety reasons. LauraLe and her team rescues durable material from a landfill and turns it into useful products with a heroic past. Right now I’m carrying the DC Hunter Dopp kit, which was featured in the SF Chronicle’s holiday gift guide last week. You can it as a toiletry bag, or for art supplies or almost anything.
Definitely the Indigo Handloom scarves are some of my best sellers. These are all-natural fiber textiles, cotton, silk and wool, woven on foot pedal looms using no electricity, by artisans in rural India. This company is committed to preserving the ancient art of hand-weaving, along with reducing the carbon footprint in the world of textiles. The founder, Smita Paul, has been working with Eileen Fisher and Athleta to design fabrics, and create opportunities for small home-based weavers in India. She is really adamant about not wearing any synthetic polyester that can bring in toxins through your skin. I wear a scarf of hers every day.
The store at 513 Cortland Avenue is open from Thursday to Sunday, 11-6 and by
appointment or chance!
You can also find us online at:
Facebook: 12 Small Things
Jen Baxter is a content writer and strategist helping companies creatively craft the story of their business online. You can find more work at JenBaxter.com or follow her on Instagram @JenBaxterSF