Everyone likes to feel good about themselves when they shop and at Shastra, one of the Dallas Design District's newest storefronts, you can most assuredly feel good about the destination of your dollars. Shastra is Anu Agarwal's temple of Fair Trade goods and a refreshing alternative to the mass produced items available at the ubiquitous World Markets of the world. Agarwal, who was in the wholesale business in Dallas for many years before scaling down operations and opening Shastra, has assembled a variety of products in her new space on Oaklawn Avenue and all of them have one thing in common, Agarwal knows exactly where they came from. "I've seen first hand the gap between where something starts and where it ends up," she says, the ability to survive as an artisan is in decline and handmade art with it, and you better believe Agarwal is doing everything she can to save it.
Image courtesy of Vladimir Meyman Photography[/caption] Stop by Shastra's attractive storefront and Agarwal can tell you, in great detail, who made each and every product in her store. To the right you can find the work of the handicapped men and women the non-profit organization MESH train in various handiworks, Agarwal carries their children's aprons, bags and more. Or walk a bit further into the store to see the work of a collective which produces goods from 'non-violent' silk, in other words, silk produced without harming the silkworms. If you happen to stop by and Agarwal isn't on hand to walk you through the origins of a certain piece, small frames throughout the store tell the stories of the various artisans and collectives from which she buys. During about five annual trips to India a year, Agarwal herself meets with local artisans, the ones who produce the beautiful pieces of hand-hammered metal she carries, the vibrant hand-stitched shirts and sarees and many more. Agarwal purchases from the merchants and artisans and brings the products back to sell at here store in Dallas, doing her part to preserve the livelihoods of the talented artisans of India, disappearing thanks in no small part to the rise of corporations and factories capitalizing on an international interest in 'hand-produced' crafts. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="680"] Image courtesy of Vladimir Meyman Photography[/caption] For Agarwal the mission is not new. In 2003 she founded the Living Dreams Foundation, dedicated to the cause of artisans, specifically women, in developing countries. The organization encourages women to develop a craft and provides special training in fine-tuning handiwork and even basic business management. Today, all the proceeds (minus the amount it takes Agarwal to ship the products to the US and pay her rent) Shastra brings in from the sale of products go directly to the artisans who created the products, something only possible because Agarwal purchases the products herself with no middlemen; NGO's or otherwise. In addition to the above, all of the items you'll find at Shastra are sustainable and entirely made of recycled and natural materials, everything from the silver jewelry to the organic bed linens and towels. For Agarwal community service and giving back isn't and shouldn't be something that is reserved for your weekly trip to the soup kitchen or the check you write once a month, it should be a way of life, and I can think of few people who walk the walk as graciously as Agarwal.