Designers in D.C. work with home in mind — whether home is in the city or a faraway place that adds extra texture and color to their products. Each maker featured in our October Issue is unique, but a common theme persists: a focus on cultural appreciation, sustainability and naturalness. We tell their stories and dive into details of each business below, from cocktail syrups to minimalist earrings to vintage repurposed maps.
Tamara Barnabei heads ArtTepuy, a shop within La Cosecha that curates and showcases art and wares made by women in many Latin countries. Earlier this year, Barnabei helped our very own editor-in-chief Monica Alford get replacement earrings from one of her vendors, as the pair came with a loose backing. That’s the kind of care and attention Barnabei offers each guest and vendor.
District Fray: What’s the story behind ArtTepuy?
Tamara Barnabei: I’m from Venezuela, though my mom and dad are immigrants from Italy. When I first tell people I’m from Venezuela, they talk about the bad things [about the country]. I needed to teach people that Venezuela is more than politics, and the way I could do this is through art. I started working with different Venezuelan artists from the middle of the Amazonas, communities that don’t have support from anybody. I bring all these pieces to the United States to show the beautiful things about Venezuela and to support artists in my country. When I started with La Cosecha, they asked me to expand my reach, so I got in contact with different artists from Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia as well.
How do you find your vendors?
They have these government-formed groups that support women makers. I get to work directly with the artists, so I get to know their beautiful stories — beautiful, sad stories. I get involved with each of them and we learn together, and I teach them things. I have one lady in Mexico selling to the United States for the first time. And I remember I taught her how to wrap the pieces to put in the bags because she [wanted] to get it right.
What is one product you’re really proud of?
In Guatemala right now, I’m working with a lady who is my hero. She makes bags out of 97% recycled plastic from the ocean. She taught women in poverty how to make these bags, how to weave everything, and now they work for her.
How do you know a product is perfect for ArtTepuy?
Each piece needs to have a story. I’m trying to have products for everybody; it’s important to not be too expensive, but still, I will never undersell a vendor. It’s their art, their wares, their many hours of work. The story behind the product is important. Latin America is color; it’s beautiful.