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CBS Minnesota

Eco-Chic Baskets For Summer By Jeanne Beatrice

July 12, 2011 7:30 AM

By Nicole Crosbie

Eco-chic has become increasingly popular as designers pair the latest fashions with environmentally friendly materials. When Edina resident Laura Benson was in France with her husband and daughter, she was captivated by the way the French master that combination. Benson adored the beautiful handmade baskets that women used at the farmer’s market to carry their fruits and vegetables.

“I loved that the baskets were handmade and that they’re all unique. They’re made of renewable resources and I love just how natural they are,” Benson said. “It’s a natural, simple beauty. I loved how the French use baskets so frequently as an alternative to paper and plastic.”

When Benson returned home, she realized that she couldn’t buy the baskets in the United States. Benson was passionate about making environmentally conscious choices and thought that others would share her love for the baskets. She decided to start her own basket business, named Jeanne Beatrice.

“It was one of those light bulb moments where I thought, ‘Why not do something completely different?’ and maybe this was it,” Benson said.

Starting her own business was a very different career path for Benson who completed her law degree and worked in the law field for seven years before she decided to stay home with her daughter, Ella B. When Ella started kindergarten, Benson was looking for her next career move. While she knew that starting her own business would be challenging, Benson was determined and eager to start the next chapter in her life.

“Every step was kind of a leap of faith. Looking back it amazes me how it all pretty much clicked and flowed pretty well,” Benson said. “It definitely was a lot of work and definitely was scary, but also very exciting. Each thing that did go well was almost a mini celebration for me.”

Today, Jeanne Beatrice (named after Benson’s middle name and her daughter Ella’s middle name) has been fully operational for two years and sells the baskets across the United States, in Mexico and in Canada. As her business grows, Benson has become more and more involved in the design process, working with basket weavers to choose the size, handle and leather style for each basket. The baskets come in a variety of sizes and can essentially be used for any purpose- at the farmer’s market, grocery shopping, as a beach bag, a laundry bag, a sports bag- and are perfect for summer. The baskets are a stylish and environmentally conscious alternative to paper and plastic bags and that’s really what the baskets are all about for Benson.

“It’s such a simple thing we could do if we all got in the habit of it- to always just carry a basket,” Benson said. “I’m not just a fanatic about baskets, reusable bags are also great.”

Reusable bags are now available, in addition to baskets, on the Jeanne Beatrice website. Benson hopes that her baskets and reusable bags will help in the movement to be less dependent on paper and plastic in the United States and she also hopes that people appreciate the beauty of something handmade.

Each basket is hand-woven in individual homes in Morocco. While baskets are made in numerous countries around the world, Benson was immediately drawn to Morocco because of its beautiful landscape and friendly people. Moroccan women take great pride in weaving baskets and basket making is a tradition that is passed down through generations. After women make the baskets, they are transported to the city where men sew the leather by hand. The baskets are then sold to various markets in Morocco and around the world. Because they are handmade, no two baskets are the same. Benson hopes that people see the beauty and care that is put into each basket.

“This is cheesy, but they’re [the baskets] kind of an expression of love,” Benson said. “I don’t mean that in a romantic love sense, obviously, but there’s just so much beauty and naturalness that I hope people see when they look at them. Each basket takes six to ten hours to weave. Someone’s hands and hard work went into the making of it, and I hope that there’s appreciation for that.”