Orchid Lane, Leif explains, grew out of her artist mom's experience living in a Guatemalan village in the 1970s. "My mother got to know the women there, saw the traditional crafts they were making, and wanted to create an outlet to keep them alive," she says. "When women are forced to leave the village and get an industry job, they stop doing the craft, and it dies. My mom didn't want to see that happen."
Returning to the U.S., her mother settled in Ann Arbor and began importing crafts from Guatemala, selling them out of the basement of Bivouac on State. "We were actually out on the street with a little cart, because nobody knew we were down there," Leif Elias recalls. Her stepfather, Bruno Weckert, also an artist, worked with them in growing the start-up. Nancy Elias started a clothing line, which her daughter now helps design.
Twenty-three years later, the business has evolved into two stores on Liberty. Orchid Lane sells a broad range of clothing for women and men-some of which is "eco-chic" and made from recycled fabrics-as well as handcrafted gemstone jewelry, purses, and other items. Next door, Orchid Lane Warehouse sells clothing and accessories for $15 and under.
In Ann Arbor, "we were one of the originators of fair trade" retailing, says Leif Elias. What exactly does fair trade mean? "Selling goods at a fair price," Elias says, "and ensuring that people making the craft get a fair price and fair living wage."