by Emily Vanneman
With the rise of the fair-trade revolution, American shoppers are using innovative techniques to track down quality products while at the same time benefiting the global community. Chestnut Hill, known for its local businesses, serves as the home to Ali Souli, who has been a small business and fair-trade pioneer for the past 18 years.
After reaching a dead end with his local shop that sold handcrafted and hand-painted tile and stone, Souli decided to close Souli Tile & Stone, at 8113 Germantown Ave., with the idea to pursue a different path in handmade products.
“It came to the point where it wasn’t going anywhere,” Souli said.
In terms of local stores, Souli said, “You can see it all over the world – the change in the nature of business.”
He noted the failure of many small bookstores because of mass-merchandised products.
In 2013, Souli and his daughter Sarah ventured into the world of handmade textiles and leather, including leather boots and bags, made in small villages in Morocco and Tunisia by local artisans. The launch of their Etsy account in August of 2013 marked the beginning of a big idea for the pair.
“We found that there is more demand for this kind of product,” he said.
Souli began by testing the popularity of his products at Philadelphia flea markets. The support he found from the local community encouraged him to continue with his enterprise.
“We had a very good response from people,” he said.
While Souli remains passionate about the sale of the products, the process by which they are made is of the utmost importance to him and his daughter.
“We focus on fair trade,” Souli said. “Our concept is to work with small artisans and to continue with this tradition and maintain it.”
Souli acknowledges that consumers now desire quality, handcrafted products.
“You have the conscious buyer” he said. “They want to see what effect the product that they buy has on the environment.”
The increasing environmental concerns have lead to consumers who have their eye on the activities of businesses.
“These products are done one-at-a-time, it’s not mass production, it’s not made in China, it’s all natural leather,” Souli said, “We feel that these traditions of artisans are really very valuable to preserve.”
With his online store, Souli has been able to reach communities on a global scale, receiving orders from the United Kingdom and Australia.
Along with the leather products, Souli also sells cosmetics that are developed from the traditions of ancient times.
The transition from handmade tiles to textiles and leather products has been an easy one for Souli. Because of his experience in choosing and installing tiles, Souli has found that these products are much easier to sell.
Souli also plans to develop this business into something larger, possibly adding a line of distinctive shoes.
“Ideally, the idea is to have a shop for these shoes,” he said, “This is the start of a much wider concept for our business.”