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Esprit de France Offers Handcrafted Gifts With Meaning

Aquebogue’s source for international ‘upcycled’ gift items is open through the holidays.

After a somber weekend, Gabrielle Bradford thinks that many Americans are re-orienting themselves away from blind consumerism and back to the real meaning behind the holidays and gift giving.

The marketing consultant for Esprit de France, an Aquebogue gift store with a focus on upcycled goods made from recycled materials by those living in impoverished communities around the globe, said that she believes traumatic recent events like Hurricane Sandy and this weekend’s unthinkable elementary school shooting in Connecticut have changed the way many are chosing to spend money this holiday season.

“People are looking for gifts with real meaning, made by real people with a real story to tell,” Bradford said. “I think those types of gifts are much more rewarding than those bought from the mall.”

Esprit de France owners Laure and Matthieu Chatin stock only items handmade by real craftspeople with real stories behind them. The Chatins have a background in international humanitarian work and are always buying items while traveling — Ghanean and Senegalese baskets, for example, are made by rural women’s cooperatives and help alleviate rural poverty in underdeveloped countries. Handbags and belts made from recycled pull tops from cans come from female artists in Brazil, and the store stocks unique sports bags made from recycled billboards in Africa.

Esprit de France also stocks work, such as stained glass pieces of local vistas, from local artists amongst the eclectic international selection, taking cues from established North Fork boutique shops like the White Weathered Barn and Metal Monk in Greenport.

White Weathered Barn owner Rena Wilhelm said she found the concept of Esprit de France “fascinating.”

“They are definitely whimsical and fanciful and certainly clever,” she said.

Bradford said that the Chatins, natives of France, had vacationed many times on the North Fork before deciding to move to the area to pursue their dream of the retail store. After looking at locations from Riverhead to Orient, the couple chose to buy what was once a small log cabin home on Route 25 across the street from Comtesse Therese Bistro in Aquebogue and built around it.

They opened Esprit de France in March of 2012, stocking the store with items, many priced under $50, created by artists and their communities from Sénégal, Ghana, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, French Guyana, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, and others. Made from recycled materials like car panels, tin roofs, water pipes, and oil tanks, their sculptures include flora and fauna, pets, wild animals and sea creatures, suitable for the outdoors or as accents around the home.

Employee Sara Carter said that the summer was busy, especially from those on their way to and from wineries on the weekends, and that they will stay open through the year, Friday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. They will close for the winter and re-open in the spring, when the Chatins will be back in town from visiting France.

“Matt is really taken with the stories behind every item he stocks in this store,” Bradford said. “Customers have also been taken with the stories and know they’re doing something good when they buy one of these pieces.”

Esprit de France is located at 740 Route 25 in Aquebogue. Call 631-779-2815 for more information.

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