By Kathleen Luppi Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot, Costa Mesa, Calif.
It is a story heard all too often: A local business is forced to close because of overseas competition.
But Kavita Reddy, the owner and operator of Laguna Beach's Buy Hand boutique, is helping to support jobs in the states by carrying only items handmade by American craftspeople.
Buy Hand sells jewelry, home goods, clothing, children's toys and pet gifts created by artisans from around the country but mainly features products handcrafted by Laguna Beach and other Southern California artists.
"I see it as a patriotic thing," Reddy said. "It's supporting artists who are your friends and neighbors."
For 15 years, Reddy worked in the tech industry, but after her employer began outsourcing production and the recession hit in 2007, she left her position and pursued social entrepreneurship.
She created a business model that involved seeking out products that weren't mass-produced and that showcased creativity and craftsmanship. She visited trade shows like the Renegade Craft Fair in Los Angeles and the Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach to meet independent jewelers, clothiers and other micro-entrepreneurs. After developing the concept and locating vendors, Reddy opened the store four years ago. Her sister, Vidya, helps run the business.
"I'm always looking for something unique, something that can be transported for tourists and that has a price point that is reasonable," Reddy said Tuesday at her shop on South Coast Highway. "Everything in this store has to be affordable."
A $35 stained-glass, hand-painted blue jay sun catcher was made by a woman in the state of Washington. A $35 figurine crafted from old stainless-steel utensils that holds salt-and-pepper shakers was made by a college student in Utah. And $24 onesies depicting peace signs and dream catchers were made by Laguna artist, Brynne Cogorno, who hand-prints each garment.
Cogorno, who founded Backward Prints in 2008, has no brick-and-mortar store. Having her line carried at Buy Hand has given her a solid location to send buyers to and increased her sales, she said.
"They've been really supportive of me," said Cogorno, whose pieces are on consignment at Buy Hand. "I think it's important that stores help local artists like myself because I can continue to do what I love to do. It's been a wonderful thing for me."
The designer said the boutique has been more beneficial than selling online in that not all sites will confirm that an item is American-made.
Cogorno also sells at the Sawdust Art Festival, where she has had a booth for seven years.
"People might not get to Sawdust, but it's [the boutique] a great way for them to come across my stuff," she said. "I'm just excited to be represented among so many other great artists, and it's so important to support each other."
Most Americans want to know where products are made and want to buy products that will help create or keep jobs in the U.S., according to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
Given a choice between a product made in the U.S. and an identical one abroad, 78% of Americans would rather buy the U.S. product, and about 60% stated that American-made goods were of higher quality, the survey states.
Buy Hand's business philosophy was honored by Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce when it was named as Best Retail Store 2014 during the Spirit of Laguna Awards.
Accolades aside, Reddy said her goal for the business has always been to celebrate the humanity of handmade. She said that since opening the boutique, she continues to find joy in meeting people from all over the world and help them select pieces that didn't come off the assembly line.
"There's been this revival for handmade objects and I'm always stunned by the ingenuity," Reddy said. "I'm happy to see that this has created American jobs in some small way."
If You Go What: Buy Hand When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays Where: 670 S. Coast Hwy., Unit B, Laguna Beach Information: (949) 715-0515 or visit lagunabuyhand.com