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The human touch

Buy Hand, which launched a year ago in Laguna Beach, aims for imperfect beauty with artisan-made crafts.

September 12, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • From left, Jill Cooper, Kavita Reddy, and Jamie Bichler at the Buy Hand store in Laguna Beach.
From left, Jill Cooper, Kavita Reddy, and Jamie Bichler… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

Jamie Bichler's latest project was a pair of wedding bands, each featuring the fingerprint of the wearer's spouse.

Instead of going to a big-box store in search of a flashy diamond or brand, a lesbian couple she met at the Sawdust Winter Fantasy three years ago opted to symbolize their commitment in this personal and increasingly popular way.

Although the hands-on process of developing the design was deemed special by everyone involved, the product wasn't perfect — or, at least, not in the generally accepted sense of the term.

"It is handmade," Bichler remarked. "Love went into it and I think that is felt, cheesy as that sounds."

Bichler, 45, of Laguna Beach, is one of about 30 artists whose work is on display in Kavita Reddy's year-old store, Buy Hand. Vibrant alphabet photography lines the walls of the sunny space, in which peace sign-toting organic onesies mingle with beady-eyed crocheted plush toys and polka-dotted animal collars.

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The store is advertised as a marketplace for reasonably priced handmade gifts, including gold and silver trinkets, witty one-liner cards, heavily scented Buddha candles and funky, sequined flamingos. The merchandise — which is either on consignment or purchased outright — is mostly provided by local artists, while a portion comes from residents of Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

Most everything is priced below $100, while some 22-karat gold jewelry goes up to about $400 and artwork to $550.

Reddy, 42, who spent more than a decade as a computer programmer and software architecture, was no stranger to the effects of the recession. While she and her husband retained their jobs, several friends weren't as lucky.

"I started thinking to myself, "Well, we keep outsourcing our production jobs — everything is mass produced and we're losing our connection to the human sources of those goods,'" she said. "Every time we buy something from somewhere else, we are not supporting one another, especially in these hard times."

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'I wanted to put down roots'

When Reddy stumbled across a report by the pro-local-business 3/50 Project stating that of $100 spent in locally owned businesses, $68 returns to the community through taxes and payroll, versus $43 spent at a national chain and zero online, she decided to "stem the tide" in her own small way.

Once the idea took hold, she rented an approximately 1,500-square-foot store and named it Buy Hand — a play on the phrase "made by hand."

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