Last August, Cargo Inc, located just blocks from our office in SE Portland, invited us to participate in an art show in their beautiful brick warehouse. The shop is mesmerizing, expertly decorated with trinkets from all over the world - strings of fabric elephants, bowls of bright blue evil eye beads, flowing tunics, and an entire basement full of rustic furniture.
We were selling handmade tikar mats, which are a traditional form of art in Kalimantan. Since our partner ASRI accepts non-cash payment options to cover medical bills at the Clinic, patients handcraft these mats and use them as barter for health care. The mats are made from sustainably harvested nipa palm and are colored with natural and synthetic dyes. Each of these mats is an example of accessible health care!
After a successful evening, the Cargo staff generously offered to let us continue selling the mats in their store. Even more, they would give us 100% of the proceeds from mat sales - which gets donated right back to ASRI! Almost a year later, they're still selling our mats, and continue to be grateful for their kindness and support. Today, I had the chance to chat with Patty Merrill, Cargo's owner, to learn more about this unique shop
Darya Minovi: Cargo is definitely a favorite in the Portland community, how'd it get started?
Patty Merrill: I started Cargo 20 years ago. I was originally working in middle-management at a bookstore on Hawthorne, but I was always interested in ethnic art and traveling. So, it was my passion that drove the business!
DM: Cargo features an array of imported goods from all over the world - many from Asia. Have you had the opportunity to travel to Indonesia?
PM: Indonesia was one of the places I started - 19 years ago was my first trip. We started in Mexico and Indonesia and then expanded to China, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Guatemala.
Our paper bags are made out of recycled newspaper. We are able to support an entire village in Java, where they make the bags for us. I've been working with the same families in Indonesia for the last 18 years, I've seen children take over the businesses - it's a remarkable experience to be part of a global family.
DM: Are you supporting local artisans?
PM: We are a small business, so we really only work with small businesses. On my last trip, I met some of the most amazing female entrepreneurs. They create products, collect handicrafts, and foster female artisans. Throughout the years, our partnership with artisans have gotten stronger, so we have a whole new Rolodex of female entrepreneurs around Asia.
DM: In addition to supporting international entrepreneurs, you've also shown a commitment to supporting local organizations in Portland. Why did you decide to support Health In Harmony?
PM: We believe in you, and are happy to support you. We know how much of an impact your program has on the lives of families in Indonesia.
DM: Is Cargo doing anything special for Mother's Day?
PM: A lot of us are mothers, so we're just celebrating ourselves and everyone who comes through our doors! We've got an open heart for mothers, and we're supporting a community of them around the world.
With Mother's Day around the corner, we encourage you to explore Cargo for the perfect gift. Don't forget that you can also buy one of our tikars, which are great for picnics, camping, or a day at the beach! By purchasing one, you are supporting a unique work of art that saved a life.
Cargo is located at 81 SE Yamhill and is open 11am-6pm every day.