More Than a Blanket: The Open River Imports Story
by Lacey Eibert Keigley
Perhaps it was Goose Feathers where you first noticed them.
Those brightly colored and wonderfully unique blankets and table runners with an exotic look to them.
Once you reach out your hand and hold a Basha blanket, you can feel its weight and immediately recognize an unusual quality to it. There’s a story here that’s just as lovely as the blanket itself.
The Basha blankets come from a Travelers Rest local business called Open River Imports owned and operated by Karen Hubbard.
Open River carries blankets and jewelry, ornaments and stockings, all hand crafted in Bangladesh by women. The women of Basha have been rescued from dangerous situations and Basha provides a safe and reliable workplace and jobs with dignity and skill.
“Our family visited Basha in December 2011, just 7 months after it was started,” Karen shares. At that time Basha was in one location and employed fourteen women. “We visited the women working, the partner organization (which provided the housing and emergency care), and the daycare. We had tea with them and bought a bunch of blankets and a stocking there. All of Dhaka is very run down. This place was very run down, but it was clean, and the women were happy to see us. The entire week in Bangladesh changed my definition of poverty forever. I saw people who desperately wanted to work and who were happy and content to get along with basic human needs.”
After the visit to Basha and her family’s return to the United States, the women and the business stayed on Karen’s mind. Robin, the founder of Basha, is originally from Oregon and after Basha had been in operation for about five years, she came to the US for a visit. At this point, Basha had been put in retail stores in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and a few other countries. Robin needed help getting her stock to the American retailers that she was working with. During the summer of 2016, Karen and her husband Peter decided they were ready and willing to take on the role of being a distributor for Basha.
“God has been working in my heart in little ways about sharing the blessings He has given me,” Karen shares. “About the inherent value and dignity of work, and about the nature of God to give and how I can reflect Him by giving, not just money, but also myself.”
January of last year Open River Imports was officially born and named. Their own first official order was put in in January and received in July. Currently Open River supplies Basha products to over thirty retailers in the United States, from Hawaii to New York City.
The inspiration for the name Open River Imports comes from the Bible in Isaiah 41:18. “The verse says – I will open rivers on the bare heights,” Karen says. “The idea of God’s flooding desperate people with miraculous, life-giving help in places that no help is deemed possible is true on many levels,” Karen continues. “God did that in my heart years ago and continues to give spiritual life, as well as energy, to do the things He wants me to do. I want to pass on this blessing and to be an open river for these women, hoping and praying that they will be flooded with hope, joy, faith, love, dignity, fair and sustainable wages and opportunity.”
Although a newbie to the business ownership world, Karen has used her skills at former jobs to bring organization to Open River. She laughs at herself easily and keeps a light heart at the work load and energy that running a business requires. “I’m okay with learning at God’s pace, and I’m okay with being overwhelmed. I’m becoming less perfectionistic every day,” she admits.
Basha now has five different locations in Bangladesh and employs over one hundred women. “I have not met most of the women that now work at Basha’s five locations,” Karen shares, “but I feel a connection with them that we are working together toward the same goal. When I see the blankets and the work these women have done, trusting that a dignified trade is better than selling their bodies, hoping to provide for their children and give them a better life, trying to improve their skills in a country that makes it so hard to do so, I remind myself that my job is not so very hard at all.”
Karen runs Open River Imports from her home and she has begun offering tours and field trips for school groups and homeschool groups who are interested in learning more about Basha and the work that is being done there. The groups have the opportunity to learn about the country of Bangladesh through videos and Karen’s personal stories. The Basha blankets are made out of recycled saris and stitched together so the kids can see an original sari and even try one on.
The blankets come in several sizes, including a sweet small blanket designed as a baby’s quilt. You can also custom order a size and color suggestions but you’ll have to allow for time for the blanket to be hand stitched for you in Bangladesh.
The blankets can be purchased locally at Goose Feathers and this month you can also visit one of serval pop up shops to see the blankets and stockings and jewelry in person as well. Of course, you can also always send Karen a message and see them in person at Open River Imports.
Pop Up dates are:
Circa Pop Up. Friday & Saturday, Dec. 15 & 16, 10 to 2, 219 W Main Street in Easley
A Christmas Connection Market, Saturday, Dec. 16, 10 to 2, 109 Leader Drive, Piedmont