Beyond Flowers and Chocolates: Sustainable Valentine's Gifts

Be a real sweetheart tomorrow when shopping for February 14 by supporting world artisans and hand-crafted items by small business entrepreneurs. The jewelry item above, for instance, shows the meaning of love, literally. This handmade necklace is created from recycled vintage dictionaries by Monique Sherman, redefining the word, as it's phonetically pronounced: luv. Sherman started out making these charming Fog City Charms in her tiny dining room as gifts for friends and then expanded to Northern California bookstores, Easy Bay street fairs and local farmers' markets. The $24.99 necklaces come in other words, such as believe, hope and mother, and is also available through Main Street Revolution, an initiative of Overstock.com, the online discount mega-retailer.

The "Main Street" store focuses on small entrepreneurs with handmade goods, providing a distribution platform primarily for women and minority-owned businesses to sell their products with the intention of enabling them to pursue making their creations full-time, which according to the company is starting to happen.

The above Heart-themed Change Purse is made in Nepal of 100-percent organic wool felt, from Worldstock. Items posted on Worldstock, another division of Overstock, are devoted to Fair Trade global artisans' crafts. The idea marries small-lot production with the wide-reach of e-commerce. The company states it returns an average of 60-70 percent of the sales price on Worldstock products to the suppliers and has donated $60,124,619 to the effort as part of its socially-responsible mission.

There's an overwhelming amount of goods on the site, from clothes to pets and baby items, but a little searching finds some interesting pieces, like a Bamboo Lacquerware Vase made in Vietnam to a Tree of Life wall hanging made in Crois des Bouquets, Haiti. The collection is crafted from recycled oil drums by designs from Carlos Brutus through Caribbean Craft which trains craftspeople and assists with new market outlets.


Haitian "Tree of Life" crafted from recycled oil drums.

Also of note, a "green tree logo" identifies eco-friendly products listed with Worldstock which are contain more than 50% recycled, biodegradable, from renewable sources, conserve energy, water, waste or reduce environmental impacts, and/or are certified by a third party that recognizes sustainable business practices.

Similar to eBay's World of Good, BrandAid, and Surevolution, Worldstock was started by CEO Patrick Byrne in 2001, on the model of "micro-demand" (as influenced by microfinance economist Muhammad Yunus), marrying economic, cultural and environmental agendas. The plan to market traditional handicrafts to the mainstream U.S. market apparently wasn't as self-sustaining as hoped, according to a 2008 case study in the Harvard Business Review.

As a philanthropic endeavor, that might not be the ultimate objective, but a plan to at least not operate at a loss and possibly break-even could make the operation survive. Last December, in a Fast Company report, Worldstock finally made a profit of $350,000 after a decade and estimates it will now thrive, puting the funds into building schools in developing nations. Check out Worldstock and let Overstock give back. Also available after February 14.

More on artisan's crafts:
Fair Trade Artisan-Made Silk Scarves Support Education in Cambodia
Green Eyes On: In Afghanistan, a New NGO Creates Gorgeous Jewelry, Supports Artisans
Sexy Swimsuit Collection Employs Women and Artisans in Brazil

Tags: Corporate Responsibility | Fair Trade | Jewelry | Shopping

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