Kizuri brings the world to Spokane through fair trade
Kizuri owner Kim Harmson thinks of the store in the Community Building in Spokane as social justice and serving people she loves, more than as a retail business selling global fair-trade, earth-friendly, local gifts, clothing and more.
"It's about relationships that make the world run differently," said Kim, reflecting on her 10 years in business and plans for celebrating the anniversary in October.
"We are committed to fair-trade principles, environmentally responsible business practices and giving back to our community," she said.
Running Kizuri, Kim can stay true to her values in a way that benefits Spokane and the global community.
"I love supporting projects that improve lives of women and girls in developing countries and at the same time provide customers with beautiful and useful items," she said.
Kim keeps her costs low to benefit the local economy and allow artisans to have more income.
To celebrate the anniversary and the people who make Kizuri "a vibrant, successful endeavor," she plans to give back 10 percent of the sales for the month of October, with five percent going to Conscious Connections to Educate Girls in Nepal and five percent to Spokane RiverKeeper.
Kim expects to offer other ways to celebrate along the way, like give-aways and other events.
This fall, Kizuri will also have a booth in Jubilee International Marketplace at First Presbyterian Church on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2 and 3, and will help Ganesh Himal Trading host the annual Festival of Fair Trade on Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 22 to 24.
Kim and Jeff, now her husband, passed through Spokane in 1980 while on a two-month bike trip from Seattle to San Diego. Prior to that, they sold everything and left Chicago with no jobs, uncertain where they would end up. They were impressed with Spokane and stayed a few days to explore. Ultimately, they returned to make Spokane their home.
She made lifelong friends working two and a half years at the Onion Bar and Grill, while Jeff studied echocardiography at Spokane Community College. He has worked 35 years at Sacred Heart as a cardiac sonographer.
For eight years while their children Kendra, now 35, and Isaac, 32, were in school, she taught at the Manito Parent Co-op. Later she studied educational kinesiology—to understand how young children learn through movement. Then she did trainings for school districts throughout the state of Washington.
While Kim was teaching, Denise Attwood of Ganesh Himal Trading invited her to work with their fair trade wholesale business.
Kim happily accepted. Eight years later when she went to work one day, Denise told her that Global Folk Art was closing. Denise wondered how to keep fair trade alive in Spokane.
"I'll do it," Kim said.
By then, she was passionate about fair trade and had connections from talking with fair trade people around the country.
Global Folk Art went out of business, and Kim started from scratch.
Global Folk Art had started in 1980 through the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane. It was a nonprofit run by a board, a part-time manager and volunteers.
Kim decided to be for-profit, not nonprofit, so she could make decisions when needed, not wait for a board to decide, which she said is a hard way to run this kind of business.
"I can't imagine running a successful store without knowing your customers and keeping your finger on the pulse," she said.
The first year, she worked six days a week. Then she hired Jennifer Olson, who has worked with her for nine years. They take turns so each has time off.
Naming the store Kizuri, which means "good" in Swahili, Kim started with the help of nine investors from Spokane. She never had to go to a bank. With the startup funds, she bought inventory and remodeled. She has kept in touch with her investors over the years and still occasionally taps into their expertise.
"All have now been paid off," she said. "Many were paid off by the end of the first year. All major investors but one were paid off in three years.
"I own it debt free now," she said, "but really everyone owns it. My inspiration comes from customers, artisans and wholesalers. It's a collaborative effort, not just me. I'm the orchestrator."
Much has changed in 10 years. Fair trade continues to grow and evolve in a positive manner, Kim said, adding that the young people involved with fair trade today inspire her.
"Their interest spurs fashionable accessories and clothing styles. Dresses are still made from traditional fabrics with hand-stitched accents, but designed with pockets that thrill women," she said.
"A continually growing commitment to the environment results in using many reclaimed or re-purposed materials for production," she said. "Recycled cotton sari fabrics are transformed into colorful blankets. Tires, which were once burned creating oppressive pollution in overcrowded cities, are now transformed into hip purses and message bags."
A new item at Kizuri is jewelry made by women in Ethiopia, who have been exiled from their villages because they have AIDS or fistula. These women have been told for much of their lives that they are worthless, Kim said.
Working with two young women from Minneapolis, these women melt bullet casings from the Eritrean-Ethiopian war "into stunning jewelry," said Kim, who learned about it several months ago on a Facebook chat with other fair-trade store owners. She has reordered items five times already. Now the women earn eight times Ethiopia's minimum wage. Some can pay for medical treatment.
Last year, Kim and Jeff went for the first time to Nepal, traveling a month with Rick and Denise of Ganesh Himal, visiting artisans whose products are in Kizuri. Ganesh Himal, which supplies Nepalese items, is one of the top wholesale suppliers for Kizuri.
"We visited with women who make felted dryer balls and flowers for Ganesh and Kizuri," Kim said. "The women make a livable wage, which enables them to send their children to school, save for their families and access medical treatment.
"It has positively impacted the lives of 15 women in Kathmandu, who work in community with friends," Kim said.
They also visited tailors, jewelry makers, women artisans who make handmade paper and Ram Shekhar, a skilled traditional blockprinter in the ancient city of Bhaktapur.
After visiting in Kathmandu, they went with six others on a 16-day trek in the Tsum Valley near Tibet, a sacred valley, which just recently opened to trekkers. Soon the Chinese government will put a road through the remote area. They came as strangers into villages, and families invited them into their homes for tea.
"It was life changing. Nepalese have a kind and generous spirit," Kim said.
In March, she and her daughter, Kendra, went on a mother-daughter trip to Cambodia that included visiting an artisan workshop.
Kim also visited Rwanda twice with her husband, who went with Healing Hearts Northwest. At a village near Kigali, she spent a day with three women basket weavers.
Because they did not speak English, a 23-year-old man came to translate. Through the day, they visited their water source, cooked lunch and talked about marriage, children, divorce and religion. It changed the interpreter's feelings about Rwandan women.
Kim has also been to Belize, Colombia, Argentina, Slovenia and Mexico.
"There are still so many places to visit," said Kim, 62, anticipating traveling more in retirement.
She imagines someone will present themselves one day and say, "I want to do this."
Kim is not a member of the Fair Trade Federation because only a certain percent can be non-fair-trade—not from developing countries—and Kim offers locally made soap, candles and cards and other things made in the U.S. under fair-trade principles.
One long-time customer came in saying she "saved" him each year, because he buys a gift for his wife's September birthday there. The first year, she didn't open until Oct. 2, but let him in early to buy a tunic. He paid after she was set up for business.
"It's fun because people come back again and again. It's sometimes like a party. Customers share stories of their adventures and families, and sometimes tell of artisans they have met on their travels," Kim said.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, October, 2018