If you spend hours perusing Etsy like I do, then you must visit its offline version in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Women’s Exchange is the great grandmother to Etsy. Started in 1854 as a place where women could sell their handcrafts, this Brooklyn institution paved the way for women to earn income without having to work in a factory or dangerous environment. Today, it has grown into a fabulous storefront where you can peruse hundreds of different crafters’ work,(men and women), from all over the United States.
I met some of the forty women volunteers who were proud to tell me all about this unique not-for-profit. It has the prestige of being the oldest of the twenty other Exchanges spread all across the US. About 200 handcrafters from Brooklyn, New England, Pennsylvania or beyond sell on consignment, receiving 70% of the sticker price. Artisans sometimes drop by to introduce their wares, or are selected from Etsy or another Exchange to be voted in by a committee of eight buyers. Traditional handcrafted merchandise is carefully balanced with manufactured items like toys or books to support the store operations.
Not on a heavy trafficked street, the store counts on its loyal Brooklyn Heights residents and its regular buyers to shop their wares. Tourists play a part too; while walking the Promenade, many stumble upon the store and, with fervor, snatch up unique gifts in the Brooklyn-only section.
Linda showed me a beautiful crafted $75 quilt made from Japanese fabric designed by Bugsella, a small company in Brooklyn. A long-time customer saw it and bought it on the spot for an expectant mother in Ventura, CA.
This is the place to get traditional christening gowns that will be passed on to the next generation.
Adorned cotton smocks from Marcia Anderson in North Andover.
Although the shop needs a bit of styling and better lighting, it is worth checking out every inch to find deliciously crafted and totally off-beat items.
Here are my favorite for last minute gifts. When you check out at the register, make sure to pick up the crafter’s bio so you have the details on who made your gift.
The classic sock monkeys have been selling for years.
The Raggedy Ann dolls are another old time favorite.
Handthrown pottery from Malden, MA
Woodpecker by Wolfgang Kurtz, one of the few men consigning at the Exchange.
Well in his nineties, he continues carving.
Soft yummy-colored hand-knitted mittens for kids. Wished they had adult size of this design.
New England Christmas mules. Soooo cozy!
Brooklyn Bridge graphic tea towels by Girls Can Tell.
Handmade rugs comes in all kinds of sizes.
Bags from Sustainable Threads located in North Brunswick.
Twig pencil at $1.65 is an easy gift.
Check the website for silhouette portraits and special events.
Brooklyn Women’s Exchange
55 Pierrepont St. between Henry and Hicks St.
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Tuesday – Friday 11 to 6
Saturday – Sunday 11 to 5
A native of Valenciennes, France, Isabelle Dervaux has twenty-five years experience as an artist and illustrator in the magazine publishing and advertising world. She’s worked for Vogue, The New Yorker, Barneys, and for top clients around the world. She has had shows of her work in Paris, New York and Tokyo and has also taught Illustration and visual storytelling at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Parsons The New School for Design in New York. Isabelle started creating “visual biographies” —still image sequences that tell stories of people and families, when she took on the task of sorting out 30 years of her own family photos. Visual biographies contain collages, illustrations and ephemera that complement the stories the photos tell. Isabelle now teaches the skills and techniques she has discovered to help busy families enjoy their photos and videos instead of storing them in a box or a hard drive to be forgotten. Her Photo Organization Portfolio is here and her Illustration Portfolio is here.