BY ALAYNA HUTCHINSON & ALLIE JUDGE
In the past five years of KAMA classes taught by immigrants, we have seen the incredible range of skills that they bring to our community. Many immigrants in the DMV area have turned their talents into a business, creating products that combine their passion and culture, and often using their profits to give back to the community in DC or their home country. As gift-giving season is upon us, we’ve created a list of 13 stores in the DMV that are owned by immigrants and/or support international artisans to shop from for some last minute gifts this holiday!
DC is My City
DC prints, postcards, stickers, and magnets
Carlos Carmonamedina is a visual artist and graphic designer born and raised in Mexico. When he moved to Washington, DC after living in France for seven years, he began the project “DC is My City” in 2016, designing postcards of DC’s famous landmarks and hidden gems. Five years later, he has continued this project and now has more than 200 prints and postcards, which have been featured in several exhibitions. In 2018, he was included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “40 Under 40: People Saving Places” list. “Led by circumstance and fortune, I use my art to establish the familiarity of home in strange lands. Through my experimental narratives – drawings, animations, digital records – I situate and stretch the limits of my reality.”
Sankofa Video, Books, & Cafe
Books, videos, apparel, accessories
Ethiopian filmmaking couple Haile and Shirikiana Gerima opened this bookstore and cafe across from Howard University in 1998. Named for their internationally-acclaimed film, the Adrinka term for “going back to our past in order to go forward,” Sankofa specializes in videos and books about the African diaspora and has become a Pan-African cultural hub. In addition to books and videos, they also have stationery, African clothing and accessories, and one-of-a-kind earrings made by African Artisans.
Award-winning Venezuelan Master Chocolatier Anabella Arcay wants customers to “experience the art of chocolate.” Arcay Chocolates offers a variety of chocolate bars, spreads, chocolate-covered snacks, and colorful truffles, as well as new hot chocolate bombs and a chocolate paint kit for kids. The shop is located at Union Market in addition to the online store.
Wooden Pencil Co.
Owner Suwachi is an artist, designer, entrepreneur and mother of two cats. Originally from Kyoto, Japan, her cross-cultural life and design experience led her to the most recent art project, Wooden Pencil Company. Her unique prints feature state symbol art with vintage maps included in the designs. "Authenticity and trustworthiness are the essential qualities I strive for as I seek to re-establish a closer connection with my nature and past. My illustrations are forged with lasting appeal and modern flavor."
Clothing, fashion, jewelry
Ibhana was founded in 2002 when its founder, Meena Tharmaratnam, returned from a trip home to India with 100 beautiful cashmere and silk pashmina shawls. She sold all 100 in the first week to a local store, came home and designed her business card. The next month she quit her job and launched Ibhana Creations. You can visit their brick-and-mortar location in Bethesda, MD.
Clothes, accessories, home goods
Described as “a lifestyle brand where artisanal techniques meet cutting-edge design,” NOVA BOSSA works with more than 30 artisanal brands to sell a range of clothing, accessories, and home goods. Founder Carolina Furukrona’s mission to preserve the culture of her native Brazil and Latin America broadly as well as the environment is clear in NB’s partnership with sustainable brands from Brazil, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico, “to offer a new style that is modern, authentic and rooted in the desire to preserve traditions, champion better lives and respect the environment.” Visit the store located in Union Market!
Japanese pottery and handmade crafts, kimonos
Miyajima Tomomi started Tokiya to provide a platform for artists from her local community of Toki City in Gifu, Japan. The storefront next to Hana Market in DC features a collection of traditional and modern Minoyaki pottery, a style of pottery that originated in Gifu and dates back to the seventh century, and a selection of other Japanese handmade crafts and kimonos.
From Egypt With Love
Jewelry, jewelry boxes, blown glass ornaments, Egyptian statues, Cartouches, leather slippers, embroidery
Mostafa Epy grew up watching his father make and sell jewelry in the Khan El Khalili bazaar in his home of Cairo, Egypt and describes him as a “master” craftsman. Now based in Springfield, VA, Mostafa is working to carry on his father’s legacy by sharing his designs — from beautiful handmade jewelry to intricate blown glass ornaments — through his Etsy shop. He hopes to give his customers “a little piece of egypt they can carry forever.”
Art, woven items, figurines
Since 2015, Tamara Barnabei has been supporting artisans from her home country of Venezuela through her shop. ARTTEPUYDC offers unique hand-made figurines, hand-woven pieces by Warao and Yekuana artisans, and a range of religious art. With this store, Tamara aims to share with the world “the passion and unlimited resilience of Venezualen artists and makers.” ARTTEPUYDC will have a pop up shop at Union Market until January 1.
Meaning “star” in Uzbek, YUL d’UZ creates outerwear from ikat, a traditional material from Central Asia. Ikat fabric is hand-made with pure silk and cotton and is commonly worn in the founder’s home country of Uzbekistan. It’s made by master craftsmen in Uzbekistan whose families have used the same technique for generations. Whether it’s a jacket, scarf, or pillow case, owner Yulia Semchenko says customers will know their piece is “one-of-kind, and will be able to share the history of the material when these bright clothes inevitable cause friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, and even strangers to stop and admire.”
50Hertz Sichuan Pepper
Pepper oil, dried peppers
Born and raised in Chongqing, China, 50Hertz founder Yao Zhao is bringing the flavor of his region to Washington, DC and beyond with his Sichuan pepper oil and dried peppers. 50Hertz was named for the frequency measurement of the tingling induced by Sichuan peppers, which Yao believes will strike a chord with foodies all over the world. And he’s proven his point - the New York Times called it “an oil that tingles and transforms.” The online store offers both green and red pepper oils and dried peppers, as well as gift sets.
Inspired by a neighbor in her native Moldova who shared childhood stories, knowledge, and sentimental items with her, Oxana Rusu wanted to share all that she had been given. She found an outlet through Romotiv, which she started as a way to share her creations with others. Romotiv’s Etsy site offers Oxana’s traditional Romanian and Moldovan hand-made pieces, including earrings, necklaces, and pins.
Skincare and haircare
Shea Radiance started in co-founders Funlayo and Shola Alabi’s kitchen, where they began making products for their family’s dry skin and eczema, and realized that shea butter was “the ultimate healing balm.” Now, they offer a range of products inspired by the traditional use of unrefined shea butter, including body creams and butters, hair care, and African Black soap. All of their shea butter is sourced directly from women-run cooperatives in Nigeria, the founders’ home country, to help create a pathway for economic growth and sustainability in their community where around 16 million women make their living from this product.
KAMA DC provides a platform for immigrants to teach classes and share stories based on their skills and passions.