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Crusading Catalogues Offer Socially Acceptable Goodies for the Guilty

December 19, 1986|MEGAN ROSENFELD | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Materialism without guilt is fashionable in some circles, but for those of you who still flinch when you enter one of those crass, sleek, increasingly opulent spending palaces that line our commercial boulevards, there is help on the way.

If you wear only natural fibers, eschew preservatives, buy granola in bulk and get your news from National Public Radio, there is a whole line of socially acceptable catalogues available for you.

Now you can order Christmas gifts that are politically correct and simultaneously help Third World peasants and liberated American workers who are more interested in peace and justice than in mere money.

These catalogues, unlike those appalling, glossy rags from L.L. Bean, Lillian Vernon and Horchow, advertise not only goods but a philosophy as well.

"These organizations . . . share common concerns for peace, justice and the environment," says the Co-op America catalogue (2100 M St. NW, Suite 310, Washington, D.C. 20063), which features goods from 95 enterprises.

"They operate as cooperative workplaces. They are dedicated to ethical business practices. And they are acting on their beliefs by helping to build cooperation, justice and social responsibility into our economy.

"When you place an order through this catalogue, you're helping to build the 'world of your dreams' by supporting these socially responsible organizations."

All this and materialism, too?

These merchants assume you are not crassly into acquisitions. "At Jubilee Crafts, we do not desire to increase the level of consumerism in our society," says this purveyor of Botswana bowls, Mexican shirts and Nicaraguan coffee (Sandinista, not contra, of course).

However, the catalogue adds in an introductory message: "If you do buy gifts, consider making them work for justice and joy."

Jubilee Crafts (300 W. Apsley St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19144) sells things made by peasants in more than a dozen Third World countries as well as by Thai refugees, American Indians and coal miners' wives in this country.

Its principle is that unlike the rip-off capitalists who stock most gift shops, ensuring that most of the cost goes to middlemen and not to the creators, it buys "as directly as possible from the craft producers, so we can find out what payment is needed to support a decent standard of living in their country."

Thus you can buy from Jubilee Crafts a Guatemalan wall hanging for $8.50, made by weavers of Mayan descent who are "constantly running, fleeing from the military." Or a set of 10 angel ornaments for $2.50, made by an independent handcraft cooperative of 20 Indian widows or "abandoned women" with families to support.

In the literature department, Jubilee offers pamphlets, available in bulk, describing the effects of multinational industries on the coconut industry in the Philippines, or the "detrimental effects of the U.S. bases on Philippine society." Thirty cents each; for more than 10, call.

Deva (the word angel in Sanskrit) employs 77 people in Burkittsville, Md. (specifically, Box S-86, Burkittsville, 21718), making natural-fiber clothes and dispensing Eastern philosophy.

"The Sun of Spirit shining in our hearts gives patience and understanding to weather our cloudy days," reads a comment on a page offering $17 Lotus shorts, $14 Deva shorts and $25 walking shorts. The promotions are in keeping with their low-key approach.

"I was given a piece of advice, or more properly philosophy," says a catalogue quote from someone who is apparently a satisfied customer. " 'Wear the world as a loose garment about you.' It's easier to do in a pair of freedom pants." Freedom pants come in 13 colors and cost $27.

Pueblo to People (1616 Montrose, Houston, Texas 77006), a nonprofit organization devoted to expanding "grass-roots economic and informational exchange" with Central Americans and Filipinos, publishes a catalogue aimed directly at the jerking knee.

"A million Salvadorans continue to live as internally displaced people or refugees in foreign countries as aerial bombing and political violence continue in El Salvador," its catalogue says on the first page, under a photograph advertising $49 sling rockers and hammocks. "We . . . seek to raise public awareness of their plight and the reasons behind it."

In describing the virtues of homespun products, Pueblo to People suggests that "Human community . . . becomes sterile, dull and repetitious when produced only to the dictates of profit, economy or social control."

Even as these small, craft-based communities are threatened by "landed aristocracies, eager to export and protect their fortunes, (who) see traditional communities . . . as little more than a roadblock to the vaster fortunes that could come with an industrialized economy," they are also "sometimes . . . wiped out in a single day with murder and fire."

But we can all make a difference. "We can buy from large corporations trying to construct societies like well-oiled machines. Or we can buy from small cooperatives trying to weave a society where people and community are paramount."

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