From left, Jill Cooper, Kavita Reddy, and Jamie Bichler at the Buy Hand store in Laguna Beach. (Don Leach, Coastline Pilot / September 8, 2013)

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Jamie Bichler's latest project was a pair of wedding bands, each featuring the fingerprint of the wearer's spouse.

Instead of going to a big-box store in search of a flashy diamond or brand, a lesbian couple she met at the Sawdust Winter Fantasy three years ago opted to symbolize their commitment in this personal and increasingly popular way.

Although the hands-on process of developing the design was deemed special by everyone involved, the product wasn't perfect — or, at least, not in the generally accepted sense of the term.

"It is handmade," Bichler remarked. "Love went into it and I think that is felt, cheesy as that sounds."

Bichler, 45, of Laguna Beach, is one of about 30 artists whose work is on display in Kavita Reddy's year-old store, Buy Hand. Vibrant alphabet photography lines the walls of the sunny space, in which peace sign-toting organic onesies mingle with beady-eyed crocheted plush toys and polka-dotted animal collars.

The store is advertised as a marketplace for reasonably priced handmade gifts, including gold and silver trinkets, witty one-liner cards, heavily scented Buddha candles and funky, sequined flamingos. The merchandise — which is either on consignment or purchased outright — is mostly provided by local artists, while a portion comes from residents of Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

Most everything is priced below $100, while some 22-karat gold jewelry goes up to about $400 and artwork to $550.

Reddy, 42, who spent more than a decade as a computer programmer and software architecture, was no stranger to the effects of the recession. While she and her husband retained their jobs, several friends weren't as lucky.

"I started thinking to myself, "Well, we keep outsourcing our production jobs — everything is mass produced and we're losing our connection to the human sources of those goods,'" she said. "Every time we buy something from somewhere else, we are not supporting one another, especially in these hard times."


'I wanted to put down roots'

When Reddy stumbled across a report by the pro-local-business 3/50 Project stating that of $100 spent in locally owned businesses, $68 returns to the community through taxes and payroll, versus $43 spent at a national chain and zero online, she decided to "stem the tide" in her own small way.

Once the idea took hold, she rented an approximately 1,500-square-foot store and named it Buy Hand — a play on the phrase "made by hand."

"When somebody comes into this shop and buys something, they're literally and figuratively supporting their neighbors, because the artists and I are from this town," Reddy said.

At the grand opening last year, she invited guests to place their palms in white paint and leave a permanent mark on her wall, which lists celebrating humanity, strengthening communities and supporting families over factories as benefits of choosing handmade goods.

A few patrons took decorating a step further by using their pets' paws and babies' feet to make an indelible print. One even put her lips into the dye and gave the wall a smackeroo, Reddy recalled with a laugh.

Such interactions have cemented relationships between the shop owner and community members — a connection that she craved.

Reddy, who relocated from Ottawa, Canada, to Dallas and then to Boston, Irvine and Huntington Beach, moved into her Laguna Beach home in 2010, thrilled by the cosmopolitan yet small-town feel of the beach city.

"I was so sick of moving around, and missed belonging to a small community and meeting new people," she said. "I wanted to put down roots, start a business and try to fit in with the unique artistic nature of Laguna Beach."