John Hodgson and his partner Katia always look forward eagerly to April Fool’s Day, but not because they want to play tricks.
That is the day each year when they re-open their two Drift shops – one at 11, Bath Road, Cowes and the other at 1, High Street, Yarmouth – so their customers can see the latest exquisite, unusual and unique items they have brought back from their latest trip to farflung lands.
Shortly after Christmas the couple set off on their treasure hunt travels. But these are not hit-or-miss trips. Over the years John and Katia have sought out and carefully built business relationships with craftsmen and women from as far away as Burma, Indonesia, Palestine and Russia to source the finest hand-made goods.
These are NOT trips to ‘sweat shop’ outposts where kids work 12 hours a day for pennies – nothing could be further from the truth. John and Katia ensure all their suppliers are reputable sources, and in turn pay them fully for what they produce. And as John points out: “Although we find exotic and unusual items, because we buy everything at its source, and organize the shipping ourselves, we manage to sell at surprisingly affordable prices. And it is far more fun and interesting to do it the way we do. We know the price we pay is fair, and we are giving the money to someone who knows the value of their work.
“To verify the provenance of each item, its production and the materials used, we source directly and in person with the artist, craftsman or family enterprise who created it. And wherever possible (or permitted!) we take photographs of the person who made each item, and then display the photos so customers can see who actually made each piece.”
Stepping into one of the Drift shops is like taking a mini-trip through Europe, Asia and beyond. Not only is there fabulous jewellery, but such breathtaking items as Hebroni glass made on the Gaza strip, Armenian pottery, gold-decorated Burmese lacquer, Russian shawls and hand-woven Lao silks.
John emphasised: “We source exceptional items, we’re not interested in finding ordinary, branded, high-street items. Wherever we go in the world we find extraordinary treasures made by extraordinary people. That’s what we try to bring back for our customers. Much of our jewellery is made specifically for us; Katia designs all the hand-bags; our Zardozi wallhangings are rare and of museum-quality; and we commission dhurries (Indian rugs) from antique designs and to customers requirements.
John and Katia, formerly an accountant and an aeronautical engineer respectively, always travelled in their previous jobs. But John explained: “Although we travel perhaps even more now this is different. We go off the beaten track because if you want authentic hand-made goods you don’t find them on the generic High Street. We bring back opulent, exclusive and gorgeous.
“We are not going to make a fortune from what we do. We just want to make a decent living, see the world, meet some fantastic people, and find things that are extraordinary.”