Global artisan shop finds a home on the edge of downtown Clawson

After years of traveling and living abroad, Ojas Akolkar is ready to stay put--at least for a while.

The Mumbai native and long-time Troy resident has spent years traveling the globe, even stopping long enough to live in a list of places that include China and Mexico.

Over the course of her travels, Akolkar visited numerous artisans along the way. And not just at local shops and markets, but in their actual homes and workshops, getting to know the people and places where they work.

It’s through these experiences that Akolkar developed a deep appreciation and keen eye for unique, one-of-a-kind handmade crafts.

That appreciation for artisans’ goods is what led Akolkar to the eventual founding of Tribalfare, Akolkar’s boutique gallery of handcrafted items she’s collected from all over the world.

She celebrated the grand opening of her Tribalfare global artisan shop in Clawson over the weekend.

"We have this hashtag that says, Magic happens when cultures meet," Akolkar says.

"We have so much in each culture that we can learn from. Not one is perfect but there is lots of inspiration to be had from everywhere."

Akolkar first started Tribalfare in 2015, winning a TechTown award that allowed her to open a two-month pop-up retail location in Detroit’s Midtown district. She’s made use of a number of Detroit’s entrepreneurial resources, including the BUILD Institute and Eastern Market’s Sunday Street Markets.

Following the pop-up, Akolkar operated Tribalfare out of the third floor of TechTown for a year before moving with her husband to Mexico in 2017. Upon their return, Akolkar began the search for a permanent location for Tribalfare.

The Clawson location occurred somewhat by chance. After spotting it while driving past one day, Akolkar fell in love with both the intimate homeyness of the 1923-built house, as well as its low visibility. While that may seem counter-intuitive to some shop owners, Tribalfare is currently open only by appointment.

Appointment-based shopping suits the products best, says Akolkar. She prefers a more immersive shopping experience, one where guests spend an hour or two browsing the rooms at their leisure, and maybe stopping to chat for awhile after Akolkar makes them some chai tea.

Each room showcases the items as they might be found in someone’s home. There they can find an array of items that include rugs from Morocco, bedding and linen from India, and textiles from Mexico, and all handmade.

"It may have recently become trendy to be eco-friendly here but artisans all over the world have been practicing in eco-friendly ways for generations. But we don’t know that because maybe we don’t have the ability or time to travel," Akolkar says.

"So I can do the traveling and bring the artisans here."

Though she’s working on that, too. Akolkar is arranging a ten-day immersive trip to Jaipur, India, where guests will learn about local techniques of natural dye and block printing. She also plans to open the Tribalfare house up to events, workshops, food pop-ups, dance lessons, and more.

Tribalfare is located at 288 W. 14 Mile Rd. in Clawson. Visit them online for appointments.

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.