We like to keep people on their toes here at Eighteen Rabbit, so when we were thinking of ways to reinvigorate our side room the answer seemed obvious - let's open a record shop!
We've known all along that the side room was a tricky space to navigate. Some customers weren't sure if it was part of the shop or a back room, and no matter how many signs we put up, we struggled to get people to walk through the arch. This meant that customers were potentially missing out on some of our best lines, like our cool Glower tee shirts.
So when our friend Matt from Carmarthen's legendary record store Tangled Parrot approached us with the idea of collaborating, we jumped at the chance. We now have all of our fantastic fair trade stock in the main room, making it much easier for customers to find the pieces they want. And the side room has a new lease of life with racks of LPs, CDs and music books.
We were absolutely focussed on making it feel like one shop, rather than two, so don't be surprised to see some cool vinyl in the main room, or some fair trade socks in the side space! We hope it makes us one of the nicest places to shop in Hay. Pop in if you're passing and we can show you around!
It's a great time of year, as fair trade is in the news thanks to Fairtrade Fortnight. Many of our colleagues in other shops or suppliers are doing discounts or offers, but we know what you really want - some delicious Fairtrade chocolate from Zotter! So we're offering you the chance to win some :) Just follow us on Twitter and/or tweet our special message to be in with a chance of winning. We're testing out a cool app called "Rafflecopter" that lets us pick winners at random - if it works out we'll do more offers in the months ahead...
a Rafflecopter giveaway
One of our best-selling items from Mexico has to be our colourful, ceramic skulls. When we opened the shop four years ago, there was only a niche interest in Mexican art and traditions, but even in those few short years the fascination with these creations has skyrocketed. Pop culture has embraced the "Day of the Dead" celebrations, with films like "The Book of Life" and "Spectre" all increasing the buzz. We always try to bring some skulls back from Mexico, and these are among the best we've ever had.
They were made by Reynaldo, an artist working in Cuernavaca. We have bought skulls from Reynaldo before, although they were glazed whereas this batch has a matt finish. He moulds the skulls from balls of clay, fires them, and then hand paints them.
We sell the skulls as ornaments and curiosities, though it's important to note they are not really a "touristy" item - they are definitely the kind of thing you would see in a Mexican home. Mexicans have (in general) a different attitude to mortality than we do here in the UK - life is seen as more ephemeral, but definitely something to be enjoyed and celebrated. When death comes, the focus is on positive, uplifting events rather than gloomy, downbeat funerals. This can be jarring to our eyes, but there's certainly an argument it's a healthier way of looking at life.
We always love to see the skulls going to a new home. Each one is unique, and we always sell out quickly. We'll be trying to source another batch in time for the autumn.
One of our favourite states in Mexico is Nayarit, which stretches from the coastal resort of Puerto Vallarta up to the borders of Sinaloa and Mazatlan. It takes in amazing hidden beaches, jungle thick with wild animals and exotic fruit, and vast expanses of open desert. It's probably the place in Mexico we've spent most time in and where we feel most at home. It also has a mysterious, almost spiritual air, perfectly exemplified by the Huichol people who call Nayarit their home.
The Huichol are a proud, extraordinary people with an incredible heritage and history. They also produce some quite stunning pieces of art, inspired by the visions they experience having eaten peyote, a type of hallucinogenic cactus. This is not a kind of "turn on, tune in, drop out" vibe, however - the Huichol see taking peyote as an intrinsic part of their cultural and religious identities. It is not something they do lightly.
The results are staggering. We visited the Tanana Huichol Gallery in Sayulita, a fair trade organisation that supports a school and permaculture projects in the Huichol homelands. The range of incredible jewellery was a joy to see, though sadly due to exchange rates and the length of time it takes to make each piece, it wouldn't have been cost-effective for us to sell any in the shop.
When we got to Mexico City we were delighted to find a project inspired by the Huichol, giving their designs a modern twist. Ulises works with people living with AIDS in Guanajuato who ould otherwise struggle to find work. The designs are contemporary takes on Huichol designs (without the drugs). They use delica beads and Swarovski crystals to achieve the results, which we loved. The first capsule collection is available online now and we hope to be able to showcase more Huichol Harmony designs during the year.
Of all of the new products we discovered on our trip to Mexico in January 2017, probably the range that stands out the most is our "Fantastic Beasts" - surreal ceramic figures made in a style known as "barro betus." They weren't easy to find, but we were glad we made the effort.
We only had two days in Tonala, a suburb of Guadalajara famous for arts and crafts, so we had to move quickly to work out whether anything was going to be right for us. Most of the shops were selling much larger pieces - chairs and tables, floor to ceiling sculptures and the like - and while these were incredible they were not practical for us to bring back in our cases!
On our second afternoon however, we found some amazing animal pieces tucked away at the back of a furniture shop. Crazy colours, psychedelic designs, surreal combinations of animals - right up our street! The pieces were signed "Ortega," and the helpful shopkeeper explained as she was wrapping our items that the figures were known as "barro betus." A quick Google search revealed that we were in fact only a hop and skip away from the village where the Ortega family had their workshop - and a quick taxi ride saw us standing outside the door!
We were welcomed by Eleuterio Ortega, fourth generation of craftspeople who create the incredible designs. The courtyard workshop was home to further members of the family, along with a good number of wandering cats and chickens. We saw pieces at all stages of the design process, some newly sculpted, others being fired in the open kiln, while the finished shapes were hand painted as part of the final stages. A true family business and a truly amazing sight to see.
As the pieces are ceramic we were limited to what we could bring back - we chose some amazing whistles, frighteningly beastly masks, and some other cool designs which we have online now. We hope to be able to continue our relationship with the Ortega family for many years to come - for now, we are proud to be what we think is the only outlet in the UK for their fantastic beasts!