Heartisans Marketplace: Organization supports local women through sale of homemade goods

Heartisans Marketplace president and founder Julee Rachels poses for a photo in the retail area of the store Thursday, May 7, 2015, in Longview. (Kevin Green/News-Journal Photo)

Lisa Harris especially likes the jewelry she finds at Heartisans Marketplace, at 112 W. Methvin St. in downtown Longview.

The handmade crochet items also catch her attention, though, and then, there’s the home décor.

“I love Heartisans, and I’m always telling people about it,” Harris said. “There’s so much to look at and buy. You want to go in there with $1,000, there’s so many unique things.”

Shopping at Heartisans completes a circle in Harris’ life. The organization opened its doors in 2014 with a customized job-training program to help unemployed and underemployed women.

Harris was unemployed when she joined the program in February 2016. She graduated that May.

Now, she works as an archives specialist for KSA Engineering and in a church nursery on Sundays. She attends Kilgore College where she’s studying communications and she was named features editor of the student newspaper, “The Flare.” She’s hoping to work in some kind of communications or advertising field when she graduates.

Julee Rachels, Heartisans’ founder, hopes shoppers think of the women they’re helping when they shop at the marketplace. The store is a mixture of items that are about 75 percent handmade by volunteers and clients, with the rest purchased at market.

“We just need them to come and shop with us and know that their money is going to a good cause,” she said. “These are women in our community that are part of our community. They’re moving off welfare to be a part of our community.”

Heartisans grew out of work Rachels did with First Baptist Church in Longview, first to teach women living in Belaire Apartments how to cook healthy meals. That grew to a course in crockpot cooking.

As she worked with the women, Rachels realized many of them were stuck in poverty because they didn’t have the skills and education for higher paying jobs.

Heartisans is the result of her realization. Heartisans provides training and testing to help match women with jobs. Bible studies and the formation of friendships with other women are part of the program as well.

The products sold at Heartisans help provide for the participants’ various needs while they rebuild or build new lives. It also helps pay the organization’s rent at its store, for its first employee – a newly hired program director – and for a computer lab the women use.

“It’s huge that we have shopping. That is the biggest part of our funding is shopping,” Rachels said.

The biggest thing the organization does is “client services,” Rachels said, explaining that Heartisans helps women overcome various hurdles while they’re in training and starting off in jobs. That could mean helping a woman put tires on her car, paying medical bills, providing food and insurance or helping with rent.

“We’re going to stay with the women who come out of our program until they are good, until they’re on their feet,” Rachels said, but that doesn’t mean that the women can’t call Heartisans for help two years later.

The store’s handmade items are produced in several in-house studios – sewing; monogramming, embroidery and quilting; a manufacturing studio where natural health, beauty and cleaning products are made, as well as soup mixes and candles; a printing studio with an 1885 letterpress printer that makes such things as coasters and wedding invitations, sold in-house or made-to-order; basket weaving and vintage book journals; and a handwork studio for knitting and crocheting.

“The quality that comes out of our studios is amazing because we have such talented volunteers,” Rachels said. “We match their skill sets into the studio they fit.”

Volunteers select products to make that they think will sell the best.

“We don’t want to carry what everyone else has,” Rachels said. “We want to be a good gift shop because it is our major source of funding.”

Items are selected at market to complement or balance out the items made in-house. The store carries merchandise for children, men and women and items for the home.

The ultimate goal is that “when you come in, if you can’t find a gift, you’re not looking. We’ve got all price ranges,” Rachels said.

Heartisans wants to be a place where the community can serve through volunteering and by shopping.

“We want people to support our mission, but we don’t want them to feel like they’re coming and buying stuff they’re not going to use or throw away because it’s not good quality or not something they want,” Rachels said. “That was the whole concept behind the marketplace.”