Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hot Topic: Fair Trade

Q&A with Lynn Persson, owner of Terra Experience
2140 Regent St. 231-2147.

How did you come up with the name Terra Experience?
From a Latin teacher way back; “terra” means “earth.” I worked in environmental protection for thirty-two years. Terra had meaning in that way. I am also a gardener and it had meaning in that way. I was looking for a business name and that just seemed appropriate.

What does Terra Experience sell?
The specialty is doll clothes. I sell ethnic doll clothes that fit eighteen-inch dolls—folk art, textiles and other things from Guatemala and the markets of the world.

When and why did you start the business?
1999. It started small, as a hobby business to help some friends down in Guatemala who needed money for school and other things. My husband and I went down for vacation and fell in love with the country, and got to know some weavers and their families.

Did you have retail experience previously?
No. My husband owns Stony Hill Antiques and Gallery on Regent Street. He has had a retail business and has been kind enough to give me a corner of his shop and sell my doll clothing. We have independent businesses, but support each other.

What do you look for in what you sell?
I try to maintain the cultural traditions, which is one of the things I liked about the doll clothing. Each village in Guatemala has its own weaving styles. Each of the doll clothes I have represents a different weaving village. Rather than having them bend their traditions to meet the style needs of us Americans, I’m making use of our love of dolls and beautiful textiles and taking that to understand their culture. Obviously, I’m also looking for things that will sell and are attractive.

Judging from your website and talking to you, it sounds like Terra Experience has a higher goal than just selling doll clothing. Explain that.
When I started this, I defined three bullet points: Make ethnic doll clothing that fit American Girl and other sixteen-, eighteen- and twenty-three-inch dolls; give kids of all ages the chance to experience other cultures with the dolls and toys they love; and support sustainable development, fair trade, the local artisans, their communities and the environment.

Where do you source things from?
Primarily, going down to Guatemala once a year. I order the doll clothing from the weavers a year before and pay "anticiipo." [I also work with] group cooperatives and nonprofits that I’ve made friends with down there.
[You meet] people you really start to care about and it’s something you really want to share. I was fortunate that when I just started thinking about this [business], Shorewood Hills elementary school was studying Mayan culture. A friend who is an art teacher [at Shorewood] asked me to sell my items at a library sale. I said “Sure,” and it was a success, which indicated to me people were interested in this kind of thing.

What’s your most popular item?
The doll clothing. I also sell books about the cultures and books about weaving. My customers have asked for things that will fit themselves and their daughter, so I sell a lot of full-size textiles now. Everything is made on a handloom, a back-strap loom or a floor loom by the weavers.
I also provide information about the weaver, their families and their culture. I have information on some good nonprofits and cooperatives that I share with my customers.

Where can shoppers go to get information about the fair trade movement?
There are a couple of different groups [that certify fair trade]. One is the Fair Trade Federation ( They have a process for certifying fair trade artisans and groups. I am in the process of becoming a member and hope to be in the future.
There are also a number of groups that certify fair trade products like coffee. Just Coffee here has a lot of good information on coffee. Willy Street Co-op has list of places that sell fair trade here in Madison. I put that list on my website and they ended up adapting it.
I am a proud member of Co-op America (, which focuses on green and socially responsible businesses. They have a buyer’s guide and have different guidelines they use to evaluate fair trade.
I’m proud that Terra Experience was identified as one of “top ten green toys” by Co-op America before Christmas. What I have done at this point is work with the weavers and seen how they weave. The weaving itself is sustainable. It’s not a sweatshop with lots of toxic fumes coming out. It’s primarily a woman trying to make money and taking care of her family in her home.

As shoppers, we hear about the green movement, and I’m wondering how the fair trade movement fits in with that. It seems like it does, but I’m confused as to exactly how it fits in.
Green involves a number of things, and one means being a socially responsible business. You can be green in terms of reducing your impact on the earth, and you have to look at the impact that you have on other people on this earth.
The broader look of green is socially responsible, sustainable development. Part of that is asking, “Are the people you’re buying from making a living wage, and are they producing products in an environmentally sustainable manner?”

What can people do to buy responsibly or buy green?
If people look at comparably priced products and buy the one that supports an individual and their families rather than a big corporation's profit, it sure would help. But it’s also important that some of the big corporations are trying to be green.
With green you’re looking at the whole product. How is it produced; what are the contaminants; how does your own use of the product affect the earth? When the product is disposed of, how does that affect the earth?
It’s really hard. I worked in environmental protection for thirty-two years and when I first went down to Guatemala, I hoped to do environmental work down there but instead I felt that I could help them economically.
But instead I felt that I could best help the women I had met by finding fair trade markets for their beautiful weavings. They were trying to buy school supplies for their children, which cost the same or more than in Madison. Yet the average daily wage for a field laborer is five to seven dollars and less for a woman. Many children only received a couple years of primary education. Now having established long-term relationships with weaving families and various groups I am able to also support scholarships and promote environmental projects that I hope will have a long term beneficial impact on their environment and health as well.
I’m more likely to have an impact on the people economically, so I can figure out what’s happening and then I can support the areas that have a long-term impact.

(Photos above: Maya Traditions doll (left, top photo), $20–$40; Doll dresses, $20–$28; Mayan embroidered folk art tapestries, $45)

Other fair trade shops:
A Greater Gift,
2701 Monroe St. 233-4438.
Fair Indigo, 570 N. Midvale Blvd. 661-7662.
Fair Trade Coffeehouse, 418 State St. 268-0477.
Just Coffee,

Friday, February 22, 2008

New Shopping Content!

From the March 2008 issue:

Window Shopping: Stop and Shop
My monthly column highlights Three Orange Doors, an adorable shop tucked away on Fitchrona Road.

Fabulous Finds: They've Got Male—Spring Men's Fashion
Let's hear it for the boys: what to get your guy.

Style Sheet: Perfect Pet Products
Where to go locally for Fido, and check out our adorable Maltese model, Maddie!

From the January 2008 issue:
Web Exclusive Video: Window Shopping at Artisan Gallery in Paoli
I give readers a visual tour inside my January 2008 Window Shopping column.

New Baby Store!

Local retailer Elizabeth Wewerka, owner of Lady Moxie, is launching Baby Moxie. Wewerka’s current consignment business focuses on higher-end clothing and accessories for women. She saw the need for a baby consignment store and thought Baby Moxie was the logical next step. She says she’s already had several inquires about the new venture (which will be housed in the back room of Lady Moxie) and is excited to tackle the new challenge. If you’re interested, contact Wewerka about setting up an appointment to bring in clothing.

Lady Moxie (and new Baby Moxie) 6706 Odana Rd. 826-4268.

Spring Things

Nothing cheers me more than knowing (or at least hoping!) that the weather will be warming up. I look forward to strolling the Square and walking along the lakefront path, not to mention hanging out at the Terrace. Yes, I love the warm weather and often think I would do just fine in a warmer climate like L.A.

But I do love the changing of seasons and it gives me something to look forward to—rotating my wardrobe to something less substantial than, say, a winter jacket and snow boots every day.

That’s why I’m excited about some more of the spring retail trends I’m seeing. We all think of spring as a time of growth and change. I think local retailers are hoping their sales will grow and change, too! Many I’ve spoken with have had slow sales as a result of the cold weather and slowing economy.

But if you are looking to treat yourself and have some tax return money, check out these trends to look for in the next couple of months—some of them cheap and chic!

Thymes’ Red Chérie Collection smells heavenly and evokes springtime with just a spritz or sniff of this fragrance. The press materials say the fragrance is a combo of “ripe red cherries, passion flower and jasmine. Sparked with subtle hints of Asian lychee and a tease of fruity musk …” Mmmm! I have tried the cologne spray and body exfoliant and they instantly perked me up because I love the scent of cherry. Pick up Thymes Red Chérie and Thymes products at Little Luxuries, Orange Tree Imports and Willow Creek.

Did you know that fashion influences home décor? It’s true—colors and styles that fashion designers roll out appear in modified versions in home furnishings as well. Maybe that’s why fashion designers Vera Wang, Kate Spade, Missoni and Versace (among countless others) have home decor lines. Take the mod look that was popular this fall. I saw reinterpretations of that in decorative accessories sold at Target.

Closer to home, interior designer Barry Avery incorporates the “Hollywood luxe” look beautifully in his décor and furnishings at his store Fontaine on East Johnson Street. This look will be here to stay for a while; writer Jennifer Garrett mentions it in her “Lucky Loos” piece in this month’s Habitat Handbook and local event planner Ginger Gant told me the opulent “Louis XIV look” is all the rage with interior decorators right now.

Gant attended a special event show in Atlanta and reports that “on the coasts they do very blingy … lots of crystal. It’s rich, encrusted ceiling chandeliers and fans. [It was] very ornate, very rich.” Pier One’s “Springy Thingy” catalog weaves hot spring trends in their stuff, too: bright pops of color, an international flair, even a mirrored “Hayworth Vanity” for the bedroom. In turn we’ll see clothing trends including metallics in clothing, shoes and handbags; safari and international-themed clothing; and vibrant, Crayola colors.

Where to find any of these of-the-moment trends, décor or otherwise? Your local retailer! I will mention one non-local retailer as well just because they DO make gorgeous things: J. Crew. The eponymous store that makes high fashion within (closer) reach is doing ruffled trenches, full skirts, bold prints and ornate jewelry for spring. Creative director Jenna Lyons states via press materials, “Vintage architecture and glamorous mid-century interiors were a big inspiration for our collection. We love the bold intensity of upholstered prints … the way bright, acidy yellows and quirky oranges played off warm woodsy neutrals.”

To go with your spring outfits pick up Sam Edelman shoes (found at Karen & Co.). These very affordable shoes offer lots of new and different styles like a gladiator sandal (shown is the "Gilda"), flats with a chain detail (shown is the "Carmen"), wedges and peep-toe metallic sandals—in shimmery metallics, vivacious prints and intense brights.

Check out now:
Anthropologie 702 N. Midvale Blvd. 318-9011.
Bop 222 W. Gorham St. 255-2570.
Fontaine 811 E. Johnson St. 310-8002.
J LaMore 2701 Monroe St. 238-2119.
JC Madison2140 W. Greenview Dr. Ste. 1, Middleton. 1-877-475-7018.
Karen & Co. 309 State St. 258-5500.
Little Luxuries 214 State St. 255-7372.
Orange Tree Imports 1721 Monroe St. 255-8211.
Patricia Shoppe 137 W. Johnson St. 256-1111.
Twigs 1925 Monroe St. 255-4363.
Willow Creek 6909 University Ave. 836-3911.

Friday, February 15, 2008

More Photos to Share

I shared below in the Frostiball blog entry how I have FINALLY learned how to upload pictures from my camera. With this happy occasion I wanted to share two more fun pics. First check out the black-and-white chair my mom and I reupholstered quite a while ago. I was bummed because I couldn't share pictures of what the final product looked like so here it is:

The second picture is a coworker's ADORABLE Maltese, Maddie. This was taken pre-photo shoot for our March issue. She's sporting the ever-fashionable doggy dress from Tabby & Jack's Natural & Organic Pet Emporium.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Frostiball Pics

After a long and arduous process, I have (finally) learned how to upload pics from my new digital camera on to my computer! I wanted to share with you our Frostiball adventure from February 2.
Frostiball is an annual Downtown Madison, Inc. event that's held in the dead of winter. Good thing, because the people and hot fashion provided a little spark in downtown's Overture Center. This year's theme was "Urban Elegance" and I have to say I was quite impressed with the beautiful looks that came out of the closet.

Black (not surprisingly) was the color of the night. I saw halter style gowns, strapless numbers, cocktail length creations and more. View one of my favorite black looks seen on Liz Katz. Her strapless creation was by Jessica McClintock and her charming red ruffled handbag was from a small boutique in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

I also saw the ebony and ivory of fashion, black and white, on at least three dresses. One black/white combo was a gorgeous Marilyn Monroe-esque white halter gown with a black sash I saw on a party-goer.

Two shades that added a pleasant jolt of color were vivid red and blue looks. Check out Sarah Andler, Tiffany Thom and Laura President-Brown's red looks from my pics and you'll see what a HOT color it is. Nice job, ladies!

Caitlin Suemnicht, general manager of Fresco, sported an eye-popping royal blue baby-doll look. The sequins added dazzle, of course. Food Fight's Lisa Schell (below) wore a gorgeous black dress with vintage-look rhinestone pins. Katie Vaughn's custom creation (she added the black sash to her dress!) was a hot-pink oasis in a sea of black.

My dress was a white beaded sheath, simple, yet elegant (well at least I thought so!). I didn't see much white on gala-goers that night but I thought it was totally Frostiball-appropriate. Plus, it reflected the fallen snow from earlier that day. We are in Wisconsin, after all.

More Pics:
The first pic is the contemporary centerpieces on each table at the Frostiball.
The second pic shows Tiffany and Katie's lovely gloves on our fancy dinner table.
Enjoy our other pics, below!