Category Archives: messenger bags

Love and stuff

Haitian metal art sign "love"

it's ok to love love

I don’t usually think about love.  It’s not that I’m anti-love or anything like that, it’s just that I have plenty of other things on my mind.  And, I do think about stuff, quite a lot in fact, since I’m pretty much in the business of finding and designing great, ethically made stuff and then selling it.

And, just recently, yesterday, in fact, I began thinking about loving stuff.  I had a wonderfully high number of great customers–and I do have the best customers–at The Under the JFX Farmers’ Market who were either buying stuff that they loudly exclaimed that they loved, or had come back, after buying something a week or month ago to say that they had a Three Stone Steps bag, or key chain, or bit of recycled metal art from Haiti that they loved.

you can love a key chain made from recycled juice packs.

It made me happy.  I told my customers that I loved it that they loved it.

And, I love most of my stuff.  Like a parent who doesn’t quite want to admit it, I do have some favorites.  I guess it’s only natural.

Ok, I admit it. This recycled metal snake is one of the pieces from Haiti that I have that I love.

Probably if I were to sit down and think about this all in my usually overly analytical way I might think it silly. Really, how do you love an object?  But, it’s not really silly at all.  I think people are not only loving what they bought (and who could blame them?) but loving how it makes them feel.  They love knowing that they got a great product at a fair price, made by real, unexploited workers, without harming the planet.  And,the product looked good on them, or fit their needs perfectly, or was an appreciated gift.

I love that.

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Filed under Baltimore, fair trade, Haiti, messenger bags, recycled, sustainable, trash bag

Miss Landmine and other "beauty" contests

The always interesting site, Global Voices, had an especially fascinating post about the Miss Landmine contest being canceled in Cambodia. As detailed in a statement in The Mirror, an overview the Khmer language press, The Ministry of Social Affairs Veteran and Youth Rehabilitation does not support the Miss Landmine contest, because it can create misunderstandings among the public towards the honor of disabled people, especially of disabled women. And, while I might not have worded it that way, I definitely agree.

Let me give some background. Many, if not most, of Three Stone Steps products are made in Cambodia. And, most are made by landmine and polio victims. In fact, Three Stone Steps’ silk and cotton producer has horribly disfigured hands due to something that happened to her during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. She has never showed the slightest bit of discomfort with her appearance. In fact, why not just let you see her? (She’s the one in the gray shirt, and apologies for the bad photo of her):

Now for a very long aside:

Whether I like it or not, Three Stone Steps, which sells bags, wallets, scarves, and jewelry rolls, etc., is part of the “fashion” industry, or at least part of the “fashion accessory” industry. And, as a progressive and “green” business, I often gasp when some of my “eco-fashion” cohorts shoot photos of their organic cotton shirts or bamboo bamboo bags using conventional fashion magazine models and poses. Really, the way I look at it, if you’re going to take on conventional clothes and accessories, you may as well take on the conventional way that they’re shown.

But, now back to the the Miss Landmine contest. According to an article in The Guardian last year, the pageant was started by a male film and theater director from Norway. (According to the article, Norwegians find beauty pageants very “politically incorrect.” And, while I wouldn’t use a loaded term like “political correctness,” I also find them sexist and dehumanizing.) The pageant organizer thought that juxtaposition of a pageant and landmines was theatrical. He’s right. It got attention. It got me to write a blog post on it. But, of course, that doesn’t mean it’s right. It’s just as exploitative as regular beauty pageants, and on top of that, it reinforces Western notions of beauty.

So, in honor of the canceled Miss Landmine Pageant, below are pictures of some of the truly beautiful women who create Three Stone Steps’ products:

Except for the final photo, all of these photos are taken in the outskirts of Phnom Penh:

At the sewing machine:

Sewing beads on jewelry roll by hand:
Sewing by hand and by daylight:
Silk dyer, Takeo Province:


Filed under bamboo, Cambodia, jewlery rolls, messenger bags, Phnom Penh, silk

Just in time for Mother’s Day: A Trunk Show!

Please join me at Alexa Webb Artisan Jewelry, on May 7, from 6 to 8 pm for a Three Stone Steps trunk show, where we’ll be unveiling brand new items from the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Pictured left is a great new travel set, a cosmetic case and jewelry pouch, made of jacquard silk from Vietnam. The set costs $25, or $15 each piece.

And, to the right, we have a cute, perfect for that summer event clutch fairly made in the Philippines of seagrass. If seagrass isn’t eco-chic enough for you, the lining is made from recycled flour sacks. And, you can carry this this incredibly sweet bag for a sweet price. It’s a mere $23!

Oh, and there’s so much more! New hand loomed silk scarves from Cambodia. New colors of the very popular silk screen on cotton messenger bag, more colors and styles of the lovely Angkor bag, complete with matching silk wallets, and purses made from recycled junk food wrappers.

We’ll be serving some light refreshments, and hope that you’ll join us.

Alexa Webb Artisan Jewelry is in Federal Hill, at 1028 S. Charles Street.

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Filed under abaca, Baltimore, messenger bags, scarves, silk, silk screen, trunk show

And, why do you think they call it the "Manila envelope?"

I received a shipment from the Philippines last week. Three Stone Steps now has brand new colors and designs of messenger bags and other personal accessories. Very exciting. But what’s actually blogworthy is that these bags come in rarely seen in the U.S. fibers. So, in addition to mosquito netting, recycled metal, silk, and cotton, Three Stone Steps now boasts such fibers as recycled tetra pack (think those little juice boxes where you poke a hole with a straw) and used (but clean) junk food wrappers, bamboo (made into hip jewelry), seagrass, and abaca. Of all these wonderful fibers, I must admit to having somewhat of a mini-obsession with abaca. Plus “abaca” is just such a magical sounding word.

I’ve posted photos of my abaca products before on this blog–in the should Venus, the mannequin, be naked post–but it’s time to do it again so you can see just what I’m talking about:

Cute, huh?

Anyway, without getting all Latin plant name on you, abaca is the fiber from a tree that looks exactly like a banana tree, just without the fruit. The fiber is harvested from the outer sheaths of the trunk, a process done by hand that doesn’t harm the tree at all. In fact, in a couple of years, the same outer sheath grows back. And, while abaca is grown in various parts of the world, it’s said to be indigenous to the Philippines, and the Philippines leads the world in its production. Ok. End of botany lesson.

Abaca is generally considered to be the strongest natural fiber available. In fact, cordage, especially for ships’ ropes, is among its most notable use. And, not only is its strength legendary, abaca is incredibly lightweight. Talk about having it all.

But wait, there’s more. Abaca, this friendliest of eco-friendly fibers is, at least in the Philippines, grown by small farmers, working maybe five or ten hectares. So, we’re not talking some big multinational paying workers peanuts to harvest this fiber on plantations, this fiber comes from real small farmers. And, once it’s in fiber form, it’s taken to another small producer to dye and weave. All this is done by hand, too. And, then the producer I work with, on the big southern Philippine island of Mindanao, and I figure out how to design this woven fiber into bags you will love.

These bags have other special, eco-friendly features like lining made from recycled flour sacks, but I’ll leave the inside of the bag for another post.

Oh, and the Manila envelope trivia question thing? Abaca is sometimes called Manila hemp. And, envelopes used to be made out of it, hence the Manila envelope. And, now you know.

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Filed under abaca, messenger bags, mosquito net, Philippines, recycled, silk

Blue Skies Smiling at Me

For the first time, in what seems like forever, the sun is shining and the sky is blue here in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, home of the worldwide headquarters of Three Stone Steps.

And, with this weather, my thoughts turn to this weekend, specifically for Saturday, when the weather is supposed to be even more glorious, and Three Stone Steps will be in Druid Hill Park to take part in, for the second time, Baltimore’s EcoFest.

Last year, EcoFest was terrific fun and incredibly inspiring (almost, but not quite as inspiring as everyone’s new favorite singer, Susan Boyle–ha!-trying to figure out a way to get Susan Boyle in this post, and I did!) If you’re interested in what I thought about this wonderful event last year, I did blog about it in 2008, and it can be found right here.

And, if you’re hoping for a sneak peak on what Three Stone Steps will have on tap, well, our famous repurposed mosquito netting items will have some special (read low) pricing, and, with hope–praise deity of your choice and fingers crossed–some brand spankin’ new items from the Philippines. But, don’t hold your breath.

If you make it there, please stop by and say hi.

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Filed under Baltimore, green week, messenger bags, mosquito net


WSVW= What Should Venus Wear?

Venus is the name of my armless mannequin. (Incredibly obvious name, I know.) Anyway, I use Venus to show off Three Stone Steps‘ bags, so that buyers can get a sense of their size and how to wear them. However, she is naked. This never bothered me before. In fact, I thought that usually a mannequin was much less alienating than using a live model, since, well, since live models can sometimes be intimidating because, well, who looks like that? (Of course, Venus has the same ridiculous dimensions as a Barbie doll, so that theory has more than a few holes.) Anyway, I just shot some more photos, and realized that this nudity is not good. It’s time to dress Venus.
But, What should Venus wear?

I’d love your suggestions!

Naked Venus models an abaca shoulder bag, with recycled flour sack lining, with little abaca flower brooch.

Naked Venus is carrying the mint green color of the Luna Shoulder Bag, in repurposed mosquito netting. (It’s on sale, by the way.)

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Filed under abaca, eco-chic, luna bag, messenger bags, mosquito net

Krakow, Phnom Penh, and Remembrance: A difficult post

I returned on Sunday from a two week, unexpected, free, and non-Three Stone Steps related trip to Poland. I’ve never had much desire to go to that Central/Eastern Europe nation, but my partner’s provenance is, as he likes to say, 100 percent pure Polish, and, well, free airline tickets are hard to resist.

Poland, especially the area around Krakow–a lovely, if overly touristy city–was, during World War II, the epicenter of the Nazi atrocities. And, certain Krakovians are oh so cleverly taking advantage of this fact, opening “Jewish style” restaurants, offering tours to Schindler’s factory, the Jewish ghetto, and, above all, to Auschwitz. It was all very disturbing, this overt marketing of a lost Jewish community in a Disneyland kind of way, and this marketing of a genocide. But, maybe some people need to be reminded, or worse yet, even learn what happened. Ok, and also disturbing is that no one running the tours, or really awful restaurants were actually Jewish. There was this mythologized version of it all; as if there was some really colorful people and past that is now gone. It’s all well, it’s too bad, but we’ll play loads of uplifting Klezmer music anyway!

So, what does this have to do with Three Stone Steps‘ silk scarves, bags, and other fine fashion accessories? Well, they are from Cambodia, a nation with a much more recent genocide. I’ve been to Cambodia, specifically Phnom Penh, often. My first time there, I visited the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, a chilling experience since it’s left pretty much it was when abandoned by the Khmer Rouge in 1979. It’s very respectful, and the staff actually consists of actual Cambodians. I’ve met Cambodians over 35. Lovely people, as soon as they have some time alone with you, they talk and talk about life under the Khmer Rouge, still trying to make sense of the horrors.

So, it was with some dismay that today I read a New York Times article titled, “Pain of Khmer Rouge Era Lost on Cambodian Youth.” It’s all really chilling. As horrific as it is to remember the atrocities, it’s even more horrific to forget.

I’m sure marketing gurus would tell me not to publish this post. Who wants to hear about genocide when purchasing a messenger bag? But, Cambodians still live in Cambodia. I work with one producer who has told me about life under the Khmer Rouge. All the people she hires are her age or older, and are mostly polio and landmine victims. Cambodia may the land of the amazing Angkor Wat, and incredibly beautiful silk products, but scratch the surface, and you’ll find people still trying to make sense of the not too distant past.

Now that this post is finished, I promise that my next one will be more uplifting.

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Filed under Cambodia, messenger bags, silk