Inspired by an artisan show that her friends organized, Maria Patricia Duque began collecting and selling Colombian art two years before opening Touched by Green in 2008.
The gift shop, which sells exclusively handmade art, is at 271 South Main St. in Providence.
Duque landed in Providence after moving to the United States from her native Colombia in 1993. She had studied economics in Colombia before owning a wholesale food-product business there that involved contracts with the government. After that experience, Duque promised herself she’d never own another business.
Upon her arrival in the States, Duque worked in retail for many years at Chico’s fashion and accessory stores in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Though happy to receive a steady salary, she felt compelled to start something of her own again.
“It’s just something in your blood,” Duque thought in 2005 when she left to open her next wholesale business, Ethnic Pride Marketing, selling Colombian art in Providence.
Touched by Green has been Duque’s most fulfilling business on a personal level, she said.
In an interview, Duque, of Providence, discussed her experience running a small business in Rhode Island. Here are excerpts:
How is your business different from similar businesses around you?
Everything at Touched by Green has been made by the hands of an artist. I have relationships with the indigenous tribes of the world that I bring into the store, and I find that knowing the artist and his or her community helps me to identify work that tells a story. I’ve developed an eye for this type of art. We sell products from South America, some from the U.S., some European and some African.
There are so many people who make wonderful things and who struggle to put them on the market. All the art for sale here is handmade and as eco-sustainable as possible. Every transaction that I make with an artist must be one that benefits the artist and the artist’s community. When you purchase something at Touched by Green, you are putting money in an artist’s pocket; something that feels great for me and for my clients. There is no one around here who makes this promise of conscientious business to such a high degree.
How has the business evolved over time?
I started this business by selling wholesale products to boutiques around New England. Opening our store on South Main Street provided me with a home base and gave me the opportunity to reach our local community. I started to expand what I was selling little by little, making sure that the products always met the same requirements. Everything I bring in has to be handmade and purchased directly from the maker. The business has flourished and now has deep roots in our community. We have many loyal clients and, through my work at the store, I’ve developed loyal friendships. Words cannot express my gratitude for this support.
How is the business going financially?
It has the ups and downs of any business. Last year, we had a few weeks of work being done on the sidewalks and that was a challenge, but despite that we have had steady growth. I am proud to say that Touched by Green has shown growth each year without compromising the integrity of our product. The quality of our merchandise keeps our clients coming back. I’ve also noticed that so many people who walk through these doors seem like they want to buy something just to help. There is an outpouring of support for small business, and I’m fortunate to be on the receiving end of this support.
Has anything surprised you about being a small business owner in Rhode Island?
I have been surprised by the appetite for art. It seems like many people are craving unique and high-quality items. There has been a movement toward conscientious consuming and away from fast-fashion and other mass-produced items. The awareness of consumers in Rhode Island and their desire to purchase items that are humanely produced and eco-friendly is something that has surprised me.
What are your goals?
I bring on part-time employees during the busier seasons, but I would like to hire someone to take on a greater role in the business. I would like to focus more of my attention on finding new and interesting art for Touched by Green and less time doing paperwork and accounting. I would also like to open a few other branches if the timing were right for the business. Most importantly, I will endeavor to continue having the privilege of knowing brilliant artists and gracious art collectors. I think it’s been successful so far. I feel very satisfied with the store’s evolution. It really is a business that’s grown on its own.