Thumbprint Gallery in Detroit’s Eastern Market Establishes Online Fair Trade Gift Shop

Thumbprint Gallery, the only gift shop in Detroit that is a member of the Fair Trade Federation, launched an online store that carries handcrafted items from around the world, including hand-painted candles from South Africa, cotton bandanas from northern Vietnam, and candle holders made using reclaimed wood from abandoned buildings in Detroit.
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An artisan who sells her work at Thumbprint Gallery works on a piece. // Photo courtesy of Thumbprint Gallery

Thumbprint Gallery, the only gift shop in Detroit that is a member of the Fair Trade Federation, launched an online store that carries handcrafted items from around the world, including hand-painted candles from South Africa, cotton bandanas from northern Vietnam, and candle holders made using reclaimed wood from abandoned buildings in Detroit.

As a member of the Fair Trade Federation, Thumbprint Gallery is committed to equitable partnerships with their vendors and artisans. The designation assures that artisans are paid up front and work in health- and safety-compliant environments, and that they benefit from the trade partnerships and make environmentally sustainable products.

Thumbprint Gallery’s online store allows the gift shop, which currently is closed, to continue supporting artisans. The countries that had products in the store were impacted by the spread of coronavirus.

“In South Africa, the artisans who we work with were given three-day notices before the country shut down,” says Becky Riess, co-owner of Thumbprint Gallery. “There was very little time to prepare. I haven’t gotten an update lately as to how the government helps to subsidize people, but for a while – longer than it should have been – they weren’t paid anything.

“And so, the country turned from begging for money to begging for food. We reached out to a couple of artisans and prepaid on our next orders because we knew that they were really hurting and that this could help them greatly.

“They say the best thing we can do is continue selling their products in the states. The value of these sales is important. That’s why we have ramped up our efforts on this side to get our online site going.”

Purchases from the online store can be delivered or redeemed through curbside pickup at the shop’s location (2448 Riopelle St.) in Eastern Market from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

“People know they’re making a difference with their purchases. A lot of people buy our items as gifts, and they want something that tells a story as well,” Riess says. “I think our products appeal to the millennials, who are committed to making a difference in the world, and then it appeals to a lot of people who are older, who have travelled the world, who are interested in global issues, and who have made a commitment to speak out, being conscious of what they purchase.”

Riess opened Thumbprint Gallery in 2018 with friend and co-owner Kris Engels. In 2012, Riess and Engels started Thumbprint Artifacts to help artisan companies in South Africa get their products to the United States and so the companies could employ more women.

Thumbprint Artifacts sells to more than 400 stores and online catalogs, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the Smithsonian, Petalura, and many brick-and-mortar giftshops across the United States.

Thumbprint Gallery’s website is available here.

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