Tucked away in the A Street alley, near the Ashland Food Co-op, is an Indian imports store called Indika. Although their primary business is wholesaling to retailers nationwide, owners Travis Luther and Farinaz Wadia have also opened Indika to the public.
In its current location since last August, Indika carries clothing, trinkets, toys, books, dishes and many gifts and furnishings. Many items have detailed descriptions set next to them on the shelves explaining their origin. The store evokes the feeling of an open-air market.
Wadia grew up in India and left in 1992 when she was 21. She and her husband lived in Canada and Washington before settling in Ashland with their 8-year-old daughter, Aisha. She says their decision to open an import store in Ashland grew out of a love for her native Indian culture and because the people here in Ashland appreciate beauty and quality.
"When I left India, it was then that I began to realize that India's rich and diverse traditions of artwork and handicrafts were very poorly represented in the United States," Wadia said. "Upon returning to India, I found that these wonderful art-forms were swiftly evaporating from the Indian marketplace as well, being replaced with cheap, machine-made 'junk.' Travis and I both felt a strong need to support these art-forms which are linked to the traditional ways of life. Our way of supporting these art-forms is to purchase items directly from the artisans at a price that pays a fair living wage to them. All of the items we sell are made with quality and care."
When asked to name her favorite item in the store, Wadia said that is was hard to choose because each item has its own story, is handmade and unique. One of her favorites is the Bandhni scarves, which are tie-dyed in the traditional Indian way.
"The artisans grow their thumbnail and little fingernail long, and with these long nails, they pick the fabric in little pinches, and swiftly tie bundles of knots," Wadia said. "The fabric is then tied and dyed, before the knots are released by pulling the fabric from opposite ends."
One of Indika's best selling items is their colorful prosperity hens.
"They are made in the desert in Rajasthan, which is in North India, by women who have set up their own cooperative of handicrafts there," Wadia said. "Hens symbolize prosperity to the women who make these ornaments. They make the hens from scraps of leftover fabric, embellish them with silver and glass beads and then tie a hand-made goat bell at the end."
Indika is different from other import stores because it only carries items from India, the owners said.
"Our selection is very unique. Every item we sell is entirely made by hand, and fairly traded," Wadia said. "We travel to India each year to select items and to make sure that the money we send there goes to the source we intend for it to go. Quality is most important to us. We also focus on the origin of each item, such as whether the women are free to work in their own homes or not, or if they work in a factory, what the working conditions are like."
In between their visits, Wadia's mom will send samples from India of items she thinks they might be interested in carrying at Indika.
Wadia and Luther say they let the words of an old Persian poet, Rumi, guide them when it comes to making decisions about Indika: "Let the beauty you love, be what you do."
Indika is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. On First Fridays they are also open from 4:30 to 8 p.m. to share snacks and the stories behind their products. For information, visit www.indikaimports.com or call Farinaz Wadia at (360) 421-3342.