Cindy Pardo’s attic—brimming with textile squares, sewing equipment, and pattern swatches—is the mark of an intimate, lifelong relationship with fabric. Pardo has worked as a studio artist, making and selling original quilt designs, for three decades now; with her patterned shirts and dexterous hands, she appears quite at home wading through her attic’s cluttered sea of fabrics. But she is also concerned about providing other artists, specifically those on the South Side, with a place to show the world their own handiwork.
For the past few years, Pardo operated the Fair Trader, a shop on 55th Street in Hyde Park that sold clothes acquired through Fair Trade USA, a global organization that buys and resells, at what they believe to be nonexploitative prices, clothing made by farmers in countries such as Ghana, Bolivia, and Sri Lanka. The Fair Trader, Pardo says, initially grew out of a small Fair Trade practice run by the First Unitarian Church on 57th Street.
“What happened at the [Unitarian church] was we had our annual Christmas clothing bazaar, and we had gotten in some Fair Trade items. They sold out like crazy. People said, ‘This would be wonderful to have all the time. We like to feel good about what we’re buying.’…It just grew from there, as far as the Fair Trader was concerned.”
It was through the Fair Trader that Pardo made the transition from making and selling her individual art to serving as a judicious merchant of other people’s textile products. After several years in business, however, the Fair Trader was forced to close due to increasing rent prices in Hyde Park, which Pardo sees as partly the result of the increasing development of Harper Court on 53rd Street.
“We were forced out at the Fair Trader,” she said, “because our rent was too expensive. [Harper Court] didn’t do anything bad, they didn’t say, ‘We want to get you out of there,’ but realistically, the rent in this neighborhood is pretty high. You lose these small places.”
Despite the closing of the Fair Trader, however, Pardo has not given up on serving as a conduit for other artists and craftspeople. With Handcrafted/South, her new project, Pardo wants to gather together the numerous craft artists on the South Side and offer them a place to showcase their art (Pardo is still searching for a piece of real estate). Each artist who wants to sell their art in Pardo’s space will pay a portion of the place’s rent, and the building will serve as a sort of bazaar for all the handcraft artists on the South Side who would otherwise have no permanent place to present their work to the community.
The project is still in its early stages, but Pardo says she’s formed relationships with talented South Side artists and has a few dedicated partners willing to work on the project with her.
“Most artists don’t create just for the market,” Pardo says. “But I think if you’re going to say you’re a professional, you can’t be a professional if you haven’t sold things. That’s sort of a basic thing.”
“That’s what this project is: a way to give [South Side crafters] an outlet for the work they’re already doing,” she said. “Most of the people who’ve contacted us are already artists. They’re looking for a way to sell their art without setting up a tent in ninety-eight degree weather.”