Helping Artisans Rebuild
Business Partnerships Become Extended Community
Indigo Traders, a shop located in the quaint Multnomah Village area of Portland, Oregon, offers beautiful, artisanal textiles and Mediterranean housewares. Co-owned by husband and wife team Samir Naser and Karla Bean, the shop opened in 2003 after Samir returned to textiles, a trade he began when he was 17 years old. Since the shop's beginnings, its featured item is the Pestemal, or Turkish bath towel, hand woven by artisan craftspeople.
Customers shop there for the fine products made with care such as hand painted dishes, soaps, fresh spices, and coffee, and my favorite olive oil pressed from Surri olive trees in Palestine. I imagine that they keep returning because of the hospitality of Samir, who loves sharing the stories of the people who make the goods sold in his store. He conveys an appreciation for the work, commitment, and skill that goes into producing the textiles – towels, blankets, and scarfs, using the same, traditional method for centuries.
For Samir, relationships are central to his business, equally or more important than what is sold. He knows who made every object in the store and the story behind it. He believes that knowledge of what you are selling and the people who are the makers “builds bridges between communities.” Samir has built strong relationships with the weavers and other artisans, many of whom have been producing textiles for generations.
Just as Samir values the artisans and likes to share their stories, he also values the relationships with his customers. He is attentive and knows when to step away so that they can immerse themselves in the shop’s beautiful offerings.
Conversations with Samir are infused with words that reflect his interest in connection, such as “kindness,” “sincerity,” “community,” and “humanity.” He is the embodiment of someone who values community and the people in them. When you walk into the shop, you feel welcome and are treated as a guest.
Through hospitality and stories, Samir connects people who live thousands of miles apart. Customers feel valued and leave with a sense of appreciation for the lives of the artisans and their creations.
Since he first opened the shop, Samir envisioned bringing customers face-to-face with the craftsmen who make the textiles that fill the shop. In 2013, this vision was realized when he brought Mehmet Buyukasik to visit the shop and share his craft, working on two traditional mulberry looms shipped from Turkey.
Earlier that year, Samir had traveled to Turkey and met Mehmet for the first time, a weaver whose extended family has been handcrafting silk since 1900. Mehmet, who began weaving at age 11, invited Samir to travel south with him to Antakya to meet his family where they lived and worked. Samir accepted and for two weeks was treated as an honored guest in the ancient city located near the Syrian border.
Mehmet’s extended family, more than twenty-five of them, work together to produce the silk textiles in traditional ways intimately linked to nature and the silkworms themselves. His uncle sings to the boxes of silkworms and feeds them mulberry leaves, cousins spool silk yarns from cocoons and make dye from indigo and pomegranate skins, and his mother mixes ash and boiling water to soften raw silk.
Last month, I visited the shop and Samir was there, having just recently returned from Turkey to visit some of the shop’s artisans in Hatay, located near the epicenter of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit in February of 2023. The homes and shops of some of the weavers, most of whom live in the south, were destroyed in the earthquake.
Samir and Karla raised funds to help the weavers return and rebuild their homes and workshops. The most immediate needs were blankets and generators so that they could return to their homes, and the next step was rebuilding. They started a GoFundMe campaign and accepted donations dropped at the shop, raising enough for two shipping containers that provided temporary housing for the weavers and some of their family and enabling them to remain in Hatay to rebuild their homes and lives.
Recognizing that the road ahead to rebuild is long, Samir and Karla are committed to continuing to support their partners through fundraising events throughout 2023.
By engaging customers and the greater Portland community to lend a hand to the weavers impacted by Turkey’s earthquake, this couple is not simply fundraising, though that is important. They are enabling people to meaningfully connect to another community, and to experience themselves as part of a larger humanity.
“Honoring”, a poem by Joy Harjo:
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