At times when communities feel like worlds apart, a trip to Rwanda can put us on a collision course that unites women around the world. Shannon Riesenfeld, owner of Mango + Main, brings fair trade products from far and near to her shop on Maryland Ave. From Rwanda to Peru to Haiti to China and back again, Shannon’s mission is to create global connections by developing long-term relationships between artisans and U.S. customers who seek authentic, handmade products. Her goal is to not just buy products, but make sure families have access to clean water, health care, education and food through fair trade.
We were able to sit down with Shannon and discuss her inspiration, current artisan products and contribution in the community.
What inspired your mission for the Mango + Main?
It was 2015, and I had to travel to Rwanda for work. I met a group of seamstresses there and they had their own workshop and a little store, but they needed more business. And so I bought a bunch of their products and brought it back. I had a blog at the time with a friend and we just set up a little online shop where we could sell their things to friends and family. It went really well and so I had them ship more and then the business just grew from there. I also went to Haiti with a nonprofit and met a group of women there that make paper bead bracelets, so I added those to the collection!
Why did you choose Annapolis for the storefront location?
My family and I are rooted in Annapolis. I love it here. I love coming downtown and shopping, but it makes me sad to see empty storefronts. As most people in the community feel, we want to see small family-owned businesses. For me to be able to be a part of that and contribute to the community, I was really excited about it when I thought about opening a store. I just feel like we really need to invest in our downtown to keep it thriving and alive.
What are some of your favorite pieces in the shop now?
The handmade woven baskets from Rwanda are one of our top sellers. It takes a long time for the women to craft them since they’re made from natural plant fibers that are dyed different colors. You can see the different patterns, lots of different shapes and sizes. People really love making basket walls or using them on their tables at home to serve things. Those are my favorite!
The other things that are really cool are our soaps and sugar scrubs made by Hon’s Honey, which is actually based in Baltimore. Also, all of our candles are made by refugees. It’s important to me that we partner with groups here in the U.S. too that are doing similar fair trade work – providing opportunities for women coming out of addiction, homelessness and trafficking.
How does Mango + Main participate in the local community?
We’ve hosted quite a few events at the store and partnered with some local nonprofits. We did an event for the Scenic Rivers Land Trust where we gave 10% of the proceeds to them. We also partner with Connect Rwanda, which is really cool because it’s a nonprofit based here in Annapolis that also does work in Rwanda. All of the proceeds for the coffee that we sell goes directly to Connect Rwanda. We just had an event for The Bernie House where we gave 10% of the proceeds to them. I’m excited to bring in local nonprofits and get people connected to those organizations as well as to give back to them.
What can customers expect to see in the shop in the near future?
We’re always getting new products in. It’s really exciting for me to find new products and source things from different countries. We have a shipment coming in from China, which I’m really excited about because “Made in China” has a negative connotation in our minds, “Oh, it’s really cheap, people aren’t paid well,” but there are a lot of organizations that are doing really great work in China. I found one that is partnering with women that are rescued from trafficking and prostitution. They are creating really incredible jewelry, and so I was really excited to find them.
Annapolitans can always expect to find something new on the shelves at Mango + Main. Their fast turnover reflects the interest their customers take in the products and mission that the shop provides. To learn more about Shannon and her journey, check out her website. And be sure to follow on Instagram and Facebook for updates about new products and events.