Shopping=Power: Hirokoko Kurihara Designs

Giving away your tattered old clothing to the homeless is one thing; handing out beautifully handcrafted, recycled polar-fleece scarves and blankets is a gesture of goodwill and community service that Hiroko Kurihara, founder and designer of the Oakland-based Hiroko Kurihara Designs, has managed to keep up for three years. The strategy couldn't be more straightforward: Purchasing one of her 100% Italian virgin wool blankets means another is donated locally to the homeless. "It's direct, tangible giving," explains Kurihara, who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in textiles and a yen to give back to the community. She seeks to encourage communal empathy while creating awareness of the political (read: ugly) side of consumerism and non-U.S. textile production -- a side to her art that she was always at pains to reconcile with. "I was a very reluctant capitalist," she says. "My husband (and business partner) had to remind me that we have to profit to exist, in order to make a difference." Wrapping up warm in one of her simple, geometric designs on a chilly night and knowing a homeless person is doing the same is central to her ethos. "Giving a scarf to someone who is in a very different situation to yours, creating empathy or a connection is the key link," she explains. To complete the circle, Kurihara's website will eventually enable the receivers to meet the givers via markings on the blankets and scarves, so that they might communicate and share like-minded ideas. She is also developing another direct-giving initiative with her tree scarves: If a scarf is purchased, a tree is planted.

Alex Zafiris

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