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Changing the world, one gift at a time
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Photo: Todd Mizener
Becke Dawson is owner of SiS International, 1605 N. Harrison, Davenport. Her business specializes in selling fair trade products from around the globe to support the livelihood of the people who made them. Handmade pottery from San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua, is pictured in the the foreground.
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Photo: Todd Mizener
Fused glass art from Ecuador.
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Photo: Todd Mizener
Recycled metal can art from artisans of a Soweto Village, Dakar, Senegal.
DAVENPORT -- Business is thriving at SiS International Shop in Davenport, which is good not only for owner Becke Dawson but also for the hundreds of artisans she supports through the sale of fair-trade products. The Hilltop Campus Village store is a manifestation of one woman's dream to make a difference.

When she opened the shop in August 2010, artisans from 47 fair-trade nations were represented; now that number is up to 55. Daily shoppers include many familiar faces as well as new customers thrilled to see such global representation in a quaint shop in Iowa.

"The mission is about awareness and seeing what is here," said Mrs. Dawson, adding that her purpose is to "expose people to fair trade and what it entails." Part of this mission involves sharing the stories behind the products, which "make it real to people."

Mrs. Dawson says this sharing makes her work exciting. "There's always new or emerging groups, wonderful and creative ideas and great social missions — I want to support what's going on!"

She brings in new products constantly, and her ever-expanding inventory includes creative uses of discarded materials such as plastic bags, aluminum cans and telephone books.

The social missions that encourage fair trade are part of the inspiration for launching the business. By providing the space for global artisans' goods, she is affecting their lives and providing a link for American shoppers to do the same. Fair trade means the artisans have been paid a fair wage for their time and effort and operate in safe working conditions.

While Mrs. Dawson blazed a trail to her dream job, she is amused and amazed that her vocation gives her an outlet for a few of her passions: talking, sharing and connecting people. "I truly, truly enjoy what happens within the walls in this store. I appreciate and value the efforts going into these products because I could never do it. But I'm the lucky person who gets to share them!"

What's inspiring about Mrs. Dawson is her personal connection to every product in the store (which number in the thousands). She knows what country each item came from, what group created it, and she has an idea of how its sale will benefit the artisans involved, whether educating women and children or teaching viable skills to impoverished workers.

Such involvement also gives Mrs. Dawson the opportunity to maintain a global awareness about fair-trade issues. For example, in Zimbabwe, the dictator recently closed the serpentine mines, a source of material for many artisans.

"We always have to be vigilant about the perception of fair trade and what people hear about it," said Mrs. Dawson, who works directly with the Fair Trade Federation to make sure the products she carries are certified.

For the Midwestern shopper, a visually stimulating experience greets those who step through the door. What's represented in the shop are real people and a need for creative expression that they can't deny. The craftsmanship, use of materials and vibrancy of colors and textures attest to their desire for beauty in what can be a challenging world.

"It's exciting for me to see people realize what this store is really about — to enjoy the stories, see what something is made of," said Mrs. Dawson.

Besides capturing the global market, Mrs. Dawson sees opportunities locally and in the U.S. A recent addition to her inventory includes worm-casting teabags, part of the Community Interfaith Worm Project facilitated by the Oaks of Mamre Catholic Workers in Davenport. She also offers products from Green Toys Inc., a company that uses recycled plastic and other environmentally friendly materials.

Mrs. Dawson knows her decision to provide a space for these products is creating positive ripples in a global economy. Her efforts mean personal and community empowerment, improved quality of life and solutions to environmental concerns, as well as an alternative to the corporate-dominated markets.

"And men like my store, too — which says a lot for a gift shop," chuckled Mrs. Dawson.


SiS International Shop is at 1605 Harrison St., Davenport. For more information, call (563) 424-2012 or visit sisshops.com.

Sharing the dream

Who: Becke Dawson, owner of SiS International Shop
Quote: “There’s always new or emerging groups, wonderful and creative ideas, and great social missions — I want to support what’s going on!”


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