The Oak Park Women's Exchange, evolving with the times

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Editor's note: This story is part of Women in Business 2011, a special advertising section produced by Wednesday Journal and Forest Park Review. Click here to view the entire Women in Business Section.

The Women's Exchange movement in America started in 1833 in Philadelphia.The first Exchange was created as a place where "gentlewomen in reduced circumstances" could supplement their family's incomes by selling handcrafted items. Today,the Federation of Women's Exchanges has 38 locations in 16 states.

The Oak Park Women's Exchange was established in 1974 and over the years, this artists' co-op has evolved along with the times. Their storefront, the Artisans & Crafters Unique Boutique, is a not-for profit marketplace for artisans to showcase and sell their art. This precious locality, gives women an opportunity to experience the entrepreneurial world of fine arts and crafts.Artisans who become members, are exposed to the learning process of pricing, marketing and packaging of their artwork within an economical retail setting.They can determine the salability of their handcrafted items within the scope of todays fast-paced competitive foreign market, making the changes they feel needed to best impact their sales and profits.

Long time member, Deanne Alexander, started making soap shortly before she joined.The whole process, from packaging to diversifying her product line and pricing, was a journey that continually involved the input of the Exchange's membership. Artist Mary Jansen, showcases and sells her fine art work, as well as her traditional folk-art forms.She makes time-honored crafts,such ashand woven wheat decorations, Ukrainian egg art and unique twisted wirework jewelry.

The Artisans and Crafters of the Woman's Exchange has a diverse group of members, from homemakers wanting to make additional income, to professional business women who don't have enough time to sell their artwork, to artisans with a passion towards their work, who just want to make a living selling it, as well as patron members who just want to be a part of supporting the arts. What started out in 1974 as a group of women, who supported each others dreams in the field of arts and crafts, still passionately provides the same service 37 years later.

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