The women behind Oak Park Makers, a local arts collective, know that small gestures of kindness can go a long way. The group has pledged to use their talents for good by selling their creations and donating a percentage of the proceeds to benefit progressive political and social justice organizations.
“We decided that we wanted to give this money where we thought we could do some good,” said Madhurima Chakraborty, an Oak Park Makers organizer and currently a candidate for the Oak Park Public Library board of trustees.
Along with Chakraborty, the other six organizers are Alexandrea Flores, Bianca Bradshaw-Castillo, Brie Maldonado, Dima Ali, Keena Renee and Laurette Stefani Anderson. Wares created by Oak Park Makers artisans include soaps and body scrubs, jewelry and textile goods, as well as glassware and photography, among others.
The group came together and held its first event in February. In honor of Black History Month and to support Black candidates running for village board, the first event benefited the Represent Oak Park political coalition.
For its virtual March sales event, Oak Park Makers chose to donate up to 15 percent of its sales proceeds to the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE). Over 20 local artisans participated.
The event brought in a total of $1,007, raising $229 for CAASE. Another $50 from sales also went to CAASE from Oak Park Makers vendors that did not sell through the group’s website.
“We know that this is not a lot of money, especially for a wealthy community such as Oak Park that we know is capable of being very generous,” said Chakraborty. “But we do know that $200 is not nothing, and we hope we were able to raise awareness about CAASE.”
A Chicago-based social services organization, CAASE aims to rid the community of sexual exploitation, including sexual assault and the commercial sex trade, by addressing the culture, institutions and people that benefit from it. Its work includes prevention, policy reform, legal services and community engagement.
The March sales event allowed the Oak Park Makers organizers the opportunity to become better acquainted with CAASE as many were unfamiliar with the organization prior, according to Chakraborty.
“We’re hopeful that this has counted for a little something additional,” she said.
A core value of the group is supporting other organizations, but Oak Park Makers is just as concerned with supporting local artisans and promoting their work.
“In Oak Park, there are so many talented women,” said Ali, whose main source of income since the start of the pandemic comes from selling jewelry she makes. “But we are underrepresented. Nobody talks about us.”
Women are also underrepresented in the wider market, according to Ali.
“I found there is a huge lack in the market for people like us, women doing juggling kids, juggling life and cooking and filling orders, yet we’re doing it,” Ali said.
Ali hopes one day Oak Park Makers will open a brick-and-mortar store to sell pieces created by local women and hold special shopping events.
“This is the idea of getting us all together in one place and start promoting each other,” said Ali.
With the COVID-19 pandemic causing the cancelation of street festivals and art fairs, exposure for the group has been harder to cultivate. Still, the group is undeterred.
Oak Park Makers organizers are already planning on holding events in April and May. While they haven’t yet chosen organizations to donate to, they are interested in supporting groups working against Asian hate and violence.
“We are a group of bada– women who makes things happen,” said Ali. “We’re small but mighty.”