by Linda Viertel
Tarrytown’s newest boutique, Ona, opened in October, offering customers numerous delightful treasures. One visit will not suffice once shoppers see the plethora of home items, jewelry, scarves, jackets, crafts and artisanal artwork from around the world. It’s a gem of a store – filled with quality one-of-a-kind items, lovingly sourced and designed by owner Ona Cohn, with a curator’s eye and a soul dedicated to the concept of fair trade. She not only creates her own unique jewelry, her love of materials, sewing, and international travels has given the river towns a destination shopper’s heaven.
Many of her unique gift selections are works of art, but it is her commitment to selling fair trade items that sparks her retail interest most and gives her store flair with a social and political foundation. “What is important about fair trade,” she explains, “is that it is the opposite of outsourcing; you are not taking a job away from anyone in the U. S. But, you are keeping traditions and crafts alive in other countries by making a product that will sell everywhere.” Fair trade is an appellation that means workers in developing countries are paid fairly, no child labor is used in production, workplaces are not toxic, and environmentally sustainable practices are promoted.
Having trained at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Ona’s sewing passion turned her into a lingerie designer. Working for large companies for over 20 years until the garment industry disappeared from the U.S., she witnessed first garments, now almost everything made in China. “That’s why I am so concerned about fair trade and selling items not made in China where they are exploiting their workers.” After owning a custom dress shop in White Plains, she handled the custom clothing at James, a Bedford Hills boutique specializing in fair trade and locally produced artwork. There, she grew to love working with customers. And, eventually, she became sole proprietor before creating her own boutique.
“Everything is beyond my expectation in Tarrytown,” she said.” Everyone is so nice, and I love that this village has one foot in the last century and one foot in the present.” Tradition coupled with contemporary aesthetic and artistic sensibilities is clearly a theme in Ona’s life – evidenced as the hallmark of her store as well.
Traditional Zulu basket weavers, whose rich tribal tradition of using grass for their utilitarian items, are now using multi-colored telephone wires in creating exceptionally beautiful artisanal wares; both products, available at Ona, are still basically the same, with parallel patterns fusing past and present. “I like to think I pick out things that are well made, in America and throughout the world.” she said. Hand-made laser sliced bowls in multiple shapes and sizes come from Maine’s sustainable forests; Massachusetts field stones sliced, honed and polished at American Stonecraft become exquisite food slabs; hand-knit stuffed animals hail from Kenya where the women harvest, wash and dye (with natural plant dyes) the wool and spin it on bicycle wheels. They are then taught marketing skills, are able to access health services, and earn fair wages to support their families.
“In My Previous Life I was a Bottle” creates figurines from melted glass in the Kingdom of Swaziland. And, in our very own Upstate New York, Oatka Glass studio has found new uses for old and unwanted window glass panes. Rather than ending up in landfills, it is recycled: the glass is crushed, placed in molds, kilned and cast into a myriad of shapes, shimmering colors and sizes.
Ona loves animals, which abound in her store – knitted, ceramic, papier mache, cloth, felt animals in every size, shape, material imaginable. Gogo-olive empowers women such as Eridah, who lovingly knit her hand-made giraffe, Twza, who “wants to be your friend” (shamavari). Eridah’s photo and message are on the label, as is the case with all her cohorts who create imaginative and well-crafted knitted animals. The Snow Leopard Trust (www.snowleopard.org) is supported by nomadic communities in the highlands of Central Asia who share the mountains with endangered snow leopards and now are able to sell their traditional crafts, earning income for food, medicine and education. Purchasing their extraordinary hand-made Christmas ornaments relieves the economic pressure that drives herders to hunt the leopards into extinction– a global conservation effort.
At Ona you will find felted animals and dinosaurs from Nepal, sleeping cats made from molten glass, mud cloth animals from Mali, and papier mache wall animal figurines from Haiti.
South Africa’s Kapula – “the warm art of Africa” produces high quality handcrafted and hand-painted ceramics and candles. Calderesque museum quality mobiles in a variety of sizes are made in Portland Oregon. Patrick Meyer’s elegant flatware, serving pieces, bowls and personal accessories emanate from his San Francisco studio. And, where else could you find an ingenious folding basket crafted from Chinese chopsticks?
Ona also features one of a kind jewelry, many of her own design focusing on a black and white tonal palette. Laury Monk’s colorful beaded pieces are inspired by time spent in the Southwest, while Marjorie Vandenberg’s northland travels have influenced her bead choices in her earring creations.
Striking long and short women’s jackets; scarves hand-woven from 100% cruelty-free merino wool from Australia, then woven in Namibia; The Red Sari’s felted scarves reimagined in Katmandu by combining sari material with vintagized felt, are just a vew of the clothing choices offered at Ona.
Ona describes many of her pieces as akin to outsider art- art created by artisans who have no formal art or craft education. And, yet she also sells the work of local ceramicist Paul Briggs, whose unique pinched ceramic vessels possess an organic quality and are justly prized. Katonah resident, John Mucciolo’s collages are also featured. Representing hyper-local artists is as worthy a retail mission to Ona as providing a venue for her international fair trade and sustainably created products.
For shoppers who want to purchase gifts responsibly, find unique and reasonably priced items for the home or to wear, and enjoy whimsy, craftsmanship, and a fine aesthetic sense, Ona will be your one-stop place to shop for the holidays and beyond.