KAILUA-KONA — From a backyard in Kona to an upscale resort on the Kohala Coast, the Ladies Artisan Market has taken founder Aesha Shapiro places she never expected.
The all-female traveling market features exclusively local wares crafted by local artisans and is never the same twice, varying in locale and theme with each iteration. On Friday, it will assume the form of the International Women’s Day Pop-Up Market at the Fairmont Orchid.
Sponsored by the Fairmont Orchid’s RiiSE Committee, AccorHotels’ gender diversity network dedicated to workplace equality and equity, the market is free to attend and will run from 3-7 p.m. in the Luana Lounge at 1 N. Kaniku Drive in Kamuela.
And while all 15 artisan vendors will be women, men are encouraged to join in celebrating the wahine of West Hawaii.
“This celebration is designed to support local, female-owned businesses and offer a way for travelers to connect with women entrepreneurs on Hawaii Island,” Catherine Cambra, director of public relations and communications at the Fairmont Orchid, wrote in an email.
The Ladies Artisan Market (LAM), wherever it pops up, is destination shopping with a twist, flavored with unique entertainment meant to transform an event into an experience.
Beyond featured art, jewelry and a variety of other crafts and products available for purchase Friday, the market will include live music by Ninamarie Jeffrey, wine tasting, haku lei making, Henna art, live portraits and Tarot card readings.
“Who wouldn’t love to shop in that environment?” asked Pam Decker, a vendor whose stand features malas and ocean-inspired jewelry. “Locally made, very artistic and variety, Aesha has all that going on.”
The catalyst for LAM, however, was not to fill an authentic, artsy niche. It was simple necessity.
“I started it because I ended up becoming a single mom unexpectedly in a very traumatic way and was left with no income at all,” Shapiro said. “I was doing furniture restoration as a hobby at the time and had to all of the sudden think quickly about how I was going to pay my rent for my son and I.”
Shapiro’s first market convened behind her home in 2016, taking shape organically. In fact, she initially intended to sell only her own work. Then a few friends mentioned they’d be interested in setting up booths, word spread and 75 people showed up.
“It was this really magical first night,” Shapiro remembered.
Her second market was planned. It was held in Kona and boasted 28 vendors. More than 500 people attended to enjoy fire dancers and trapeze artists while supporting local female artisans.
So busy organizing, Shapiro never vended at another LAM. But the idea helped her launch a new career as a marketing entrepreneur with the opening of Aesha Rose Event and Design.
“It was all born out of that desperate place and just wanting to feel supported and needing help,” she said. “Then I was able to help other women. And now here we are at the Fairmont, which is like the fanciest hotel, doing something really awesome to celebrate women on International Women’s Day.”
The utility of LAM is multi-layered. It’s become a powerful networking tool and birthed the Ladies Artisan Market Networking Group For Women with nearly 800 members in its Facebook group. Group members meet monthly for coffee or happy hours and the group also hosts quarterly mixers.
“The mixers are a networking opportunity where these women get to meet and connect and form their own relationships and collaborations,” Shapiro said. “It’s pretty amazing, some of the stories that have come out of that.”
LAM also eliminates the necessity of a storefront, which most local craftswomen are priced out of because of exorbitant rental rates. And all market vendors receive social media promotion across four platforms with substantial followings.
Still growing and evolving, Shapiro hopes to expand the market to the Hilo area and potentially even to other islands. Those interested in linking up with the Ladies Artisan Market can find it on Facebook or contact Shapiro via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I didn’t know where this was going,” said Decker, who was in the backyard the night of the first market. “What I just love about it is the energy. It’s amazing because you’re in this environment where it’s all women and no one’s shy. Everybody wants to say hi and talk, and everyone is smiling and happy and just pumped up. It’s just really fun.”