“Every product has a maker, and every maker has a story,” says Clean Slate Goods owner Kari Matthews. She’s passionate about carrying beautiful, handmade goods that her customers will love and that also create jobs for artisans in vulnerable circumstances. As she’s learned more about communities of designers and makers around the world, she’s heard many stories and been inspired by the amazing transformation that happens when people have dignified work and earn a fair, livable wage.
Clean Slate Goods opened last year, tucked into its cozy spot around the corner from State Street on North Union. “I was happy and comfortable there,” Kari says, “and the last thing on my mind was a move.” But when the landlord mentioned that the larger, centrally located location where the landmark State and Union had been was becoming available, she said, “I’m not interested—tell me about the space.” She smiles. “But the doors continued to open, and although I couldn’t quite imagine another renovation so soon after the last one, it became clear that I’d regret it if I didn’t take the opportunity.” After a chaotic month of renovation and a nail-biting, down-to-the-wire photo finish, she opened on August 1st. She couldn’t have done it without help from her husband, staff, small group Bible study members, friends in the Kennett community, “and my mom, who was here every day,” she says. Now the bright, beautifully renovated shop is the newest addition to State Street’s vibrant shopping scene.
Kari has refined her vision for Clean Slate Goods over the past year. “I’m a little more maker focused,” she says. “I make sure that every brand I carry is helping artisans who lack opportunity for dignified jobs.” Staying true to such a mission entails challenges. “There are so many for-good brands,” she says. “Personally, I want to help every good cause out there—from planting trees and cleaning up the oceans to supporting local artisans.” But she knows if she tries to save everyone she won’t help anyone. “It’s cool how God puts different passions on different people’s hearts so we as individuals don’t have to do it all,” she says. “Instead, we work together as a community.”
Kari lives in West Chester with her husband Jason, who describes himself as “a soccer dad,” and their three sons. The shop, she says with a smile, gives her “girl time.” She’s found a caring community here in Kennett Square and the perfect home for Clean Slate Goods. “Kennett Square is beyond cool,” she says.
Part of what fuels Kari’s passion for the artisans whose work she carries is her own experience as a maker. “I know what goes into creating handmade goods,” she says, “and I also know how difficult and important it is to find the right marketplace for them.” Clean Slate Goods began in 2014 as Clean Slate Designs, as Kari created home décor pieces from reclaimed wood and sold her products at local vendor shows. As her knowledge of, and appreciation for, handmade goods grew, she also began to learn more about companies around the world that were training individuals in marginalized communities and providing them with sustainable employment. She partnered with some of these companies to sell their goods alongside her own work at shows and on her website. Her growing desire to be able to do good and make a lasting difference for these artisans developed into Clean Slate Goods.
The cohesive aesthetic of the store is also critical. “Pity sales only go so far,” Kari says. “In order for this market to be sustainable for the makers, they have to create goods that are high quality and that people want to buy. Often designers work with artisans to help them create product lines that are on trend.”
“These two pieces—creating jobs that pay fair wages and a high design aesthetic and quality—are my equation for accepting a brand,” Kari says. “Customers often come to Clean Slate to find the perfect, one-of-kind gift—something they know the recipient will actually love.” She carries such a great variety of unique products at affordable price points that people can find a great gift, with a story behind it, for anyone on their list. “It’s almost a two-for-one gift,” she says, “because buying a handmade product truly impacts the life of the person who made it.”
Supporting these artisans is a step beyond charity. When people in vulnerable communities receive a fair wage, they’re able to bring themselves and their families out of crushing circumstances including poverty, addiction, incarceration, and prostitution. “The point is not to make us feel good about ourselves because we’re helping the poor; the point is to be conscious of the makers behind the products we buy and give them the diginity they deserve,” Kari says. “Talent is evenly distributed—opportunity is not.”
Buying a handmade product truly impacts the life of the person who made it.
She enjoys highlighting the makers behind the products and sharing their amazing stories. “And,” she says, “as we buy their products we can be part of their stories too.” One of the new brands she’s carrying, Haiti Design Co., employs over 150 people and also helps to provide resources including healthcare and artisan entrepreneur training and mentorship so people can start their own businesses. Their products, including leather goods and beaded earrings, marry design with purpose. “We can tend to be more reactive in the aid we give to vulnerable communities,” Kari says, “but staying in a place and figuring out how to help create sustainability in that context is hard work.” There are many different and inspiring models for creating this sustainability. Instead of operating their own factories, for example, ABLE supports people in Ethiopia who already have factories by working with them. Causegear is yet another brand for good, and purchasing one of their beautiful and fashionable bags helps support and free women in South Asia from slavery and poverty.
“Bags are our bread and butter,” Kari says, and currently Clean Slate carries ten different brands of one-of-a-kind bags. She also carries a wide range of jewelry as well as soap, candles, beauty products, home accessories, toys, and more. In her new, expanded space she’s looking forward to adding a few key staple pieces of clothing made by artisans. A selection of fun and heartfelt handmade cards for every occasion makes Clean Slate Goods a one-stop-shop for gift giving.
Every product has a maker, and every maker has a story . . . and as we buy their products we can be part of their stories too.
Kari also wants Clean Slate Goods to be a place where people from the community can gather and be creative together, and she hopes to offer a creative workshop every month. After her October 3rd chocolate tasting with Estelle Tracy, plans are in the works for succulent and Christmas ornament workshops. Sign up for the Clean Slate Goods newsletter at CleanSlateGoods.com and follow her @cleanslategoods