Saying no to imports

Festival: Vendor asked to leave over not locally made products.

Unhappy: Vendor Alexis Puffer-Ross and her baby prepare to leave Sunday.

Unhappy: Vendor Alexis Puffer-Ross and her baby prepare to leave Sunday.

‘Create local’ – not ‘shop local’ –  became an issue at the Roots and Blues Festival this past weekend.

In the artisans market, two vendors were asked to fold up their tents and leave. One was a leather goods tent, the other featured jewelry.

An upset Alexis Puffer-Ross, proprietor of OmBooty leather goods, spoke to the Observer Sunday as her group was loading up their wares.

She said several reasons led up to the request to leave, one which was getting off on the wrong foot with the artisans market supervisors. She said she was asked to move her bicycle, for example, but the exchange did not go well. Another reason was that her group didn’t hand-make all their items. Puffer-Ross said she designs the goods, but has other workers create them. She didn’t say where the workers reside.

The “clincher” was when officials confronted her as she was breastfeeding, she said, “all in my face” and she was told that “we have to talk business here.”  Puffer-Ross said she was also told she had changed her child’s diaper in public, which was offensive to some vendors.

“It’s fine for them to say go, but when they got weird with the baby stuff…” she commented, adding that if she was being kicked out, so should other artisans in the market who don’t make all their own goods.

Susan Harris, one of the artisans market supervisors, said there’s only one reason Ombooty was asked to leave.

“They are selling imported goods. They have labels in their clothing that say Indonesia. They signed a contract that said if they are selling imported goods they would be asked to leave.”

She said the proprietors were asked earlier to put any clothing with Indonesian labels under the table and not sell them. Instead, they borrowed a felt pen and blacked out the word Indonesia.

In addition, Harris said, they were rude instead of trying to comply with the contract.

Regarding the diaper changing, Harris said she believes they were asked to do it in their booth.

“It was in the middle of the road where everyone was walking around. I think Tony (market supervisor) asked them not to change the baby where people were walking around. They have a whole booth where they could change. That’s why I say they don’t feel the rules apply to them.”

As an artisan herself for more than a decade and the artisan liaison for the past four years, Harris said imports are a big issue.

“If you’re an artist and making everything yourself, you can’t compete with someone who’s making things for two dollars an hour. Selling way cheaper is not fair to other people who work for 16 hours in their basement. It’s a real issue in a craft market.”

At nearby Fwegga Leather Design, co-proprietor Chris Rouleau said she chooses to attend only festivals that don’t allow imports – and she strongly supports Roots and Blues’ policy. That way she isn’t undercut by cheap goods.

Rouleau says she knows about five vendors who visit festivals who lie about their wares, saying they’ve created them when it’s obvious they haven’t.

She said several vendors complained to the festival’s market supervisors about the leather vendor’s imported goods. If it goes unchecked, she says, festival markets can turn into all-import markets.

She complimented Roots and Blues, saying it’s a great festival – and not the festival’s fault when people lie or don’t stick to the contract.

Her co-proprietor Jimmy Hodges says cheap imports at festivals don’t adequately support the overseas workers who make them. He adds that environmentally it doesn’t make sense to be shipping products halfway across the world.

At Pingo Craft Shop nearby, Richard Zigler said he would like to see stronger pre-screening, and then careful on-site screening at the beginning of the festival. Anyone who isn’t complying, he said, should be asked to leave before the festival begins.

Chair of the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival, Lody Kieken, said it’s a long-standing policy of the festival to have vendors who make their own wares, as it creates “a true artisan village.”

Festival office manager Cindy Diotte said some festivals allow imports while others don’t – so Roots and Blues vendors are asked to sign a contract that clearly outlines the rules. She said vendors will send in photos as well as one product to show what they do.