Those of you who have been following this blog for a while, will already have figured out by now just how much I love fair trade. Really, I wish that there didn’t even have to be a term such as “fair trade” as the very wording implies that some people are not being paid fairly. Sadly, this is a reality for many people around the world, but it is so encouraging to see just how many fair trade groups there are all around the world who are ensuring people are being paid fairly for their work and helping them to escape the cycle of poverty that they live in.
I always love finding new fair trade groups. My go-to here in Canada is Ten Thousand Villages, as they offer a great variety of wares (mostly jewellery, scarves, housewares, etc), they have travelling fairs which come through all the small towns, and if I buy online I don’t have to worry about import/duties. I always love finding items that are both fun and unique (this is why I also love thrifting!), so if those fun and unique pieces are also fair trade, well, that’s just the icing on the cake.
Just this last week I learned about a new (to me) group called Fair Trade Friday. At my church’s final Ladies Bible Study, one of the ladies in the group surprised us all with a gift from Fair Trade Friday. Fair Trade Friday is a monthly subscription box based out of the USA, where each month you receive three to four handcrafted items such as jewellery, housewares, fashion accessories etc. which have been made by women all around the world.
It is a program which is run by Mercy House Global. Their aim is to help empower women who are living in impoverished conditions, struggling single mothers, and women who have escaped the sex trade (or other slavery and abuses) by helping them to obtain meaningful employment. They work with various fair-trade artisan groups around the world, who are dedicated to providing assistance to these women, not through charity and hand-outs, but rather by helping these women out of their situations, teaching them skills and providing employment for them to make a living wage and support themselves.
In each box, there is also information about the women who have made the items, which countries the items came from, and how many jobs were provided that month because of the box. Some of the items are signed, or have a tag including information about the woman who made the item, which is such a lovely personal connection. Additionally, some of the artisans’ websites also have information about their teams, and give background information to the women who are making the items.
You can buy individual boxes, or sign up for a monthly subscription, which you can cancel at any time. They also have a “Bracelet of the Month” and “Earrings of the Month” offer, and they also sell individual items in their shop. And the best part is that 100% of the money from the purchases goes towards the workers.
I think that the unique part of subscribing to Fair Trade Friday is not only do you receive a fun surprise package in the mail, but you can also consider it to be a donation to help their ministry. And, if you decide that you don’t want to keep the items for yourself you can always give them to others, just as the lady in our group did. She was originally going to choose an item for each of us, but then decided to instead let us each choose our own item. Here is what we (my Mom, my sister and I) chose from the box!
I, amusingly enough, picked out the exact item that she was going to give me! I guess she knows me well 🙂 I chose this hand dyed cotton Batik and leather jewellery roll by Batik Boutique. This artisan group is based in Malaysia and employs over 50 people. The women who work for the Batik Boutique set their own wages and hours which gives them the flexibility to be able to support their families monetarily, while still being able to care for them. The income they earn making these items is helping their families to escape poverty. They offer a small selection of Batik items such as other jewellery rolls in different patterns (this one is not available anymore), place mats, scarves, and various bags.
I am so excited to use this jewellery roll the next time I travel, as the last time I threw all my jewellery into a zippered pouch and ended up with a bent earring and a lot of tangled necklaces 🙁 This will be much nicer for organizing, and it’s just really pretty too!
The gift that my Mom chose is this beaded necklace from Kenya. It is made of gold beads interspersed with lacquered rolled paper beads and was made by a lady named Rose, who works for a group called Have Hope. This group started up with help from Mercy House Global and consists of housewives who had no income because their husbands were unemployed. Originally the women were meeting for a Bible Study, but with the help of Mercy House Global they were also able to start making jewellery for Fair Trade Friday. The women now have a steady source of income, are able to feed their children, are moving out of the slums, and are even starting their own businesses. I don’t believe that this group has their own website, as I couldn’t find any, but they do sell through the Fair Trade Friday shop and the subscription boxes.
My sister chose two items (as there were some extra gifts left over at the end). The first is this beautiful leather journal with recycled cotton pages made in northern India by the talented workers of Village Artisan. Village Artisan has been around for sixteen years now, and provides fair employment for over 100 artisans as well as being an eco-friendly company. They sell other eco paper products, recycled sari scarves and bags, jewellery and other items. I am a stationery hoarder, so I am eyeing up all those beautiful card sets 🙂 Also, a bonus for me and my fellow Canadians is that orders over $50 USD receive free shipping to Canada!
This bead and pottery necklace is from Haiti by the group called Papillon Marketplace. Papillon Marketplace trains women who have had no education in order to give them marketable and useful skills. They use as many local products as possible to benefit the Haitian economy and pay their workers a living wage which is three times higher than the country’s minimum wage. They make pottery, tote bags, jewellery and t-shirts.
It is so exciting to see these beautiful handmade items, but also to know the story behind them- who made them, where they came from and how these women’s lives have been changed because of it. One thing that really stood out to me, too, is how so many of the companies’ prices are not much higher than, or are equal to, the prices you would see for similar items at a retailer. I often have a misconception that because items are fair trade they are going to be a lot more expensive, but really most of them have not much for markup and the majority of the money is going directly to the workers themselves.
I looked into buying a subscription box for myself, but because the program is out of the USA, with shipping, dollar exchange and duties, sadly it ended up being too expensive for me per month. I also wondered, because I do dress in a very defined vintage style, if many of the pieces would end up not fitting with my “look”. (With just my luck, the subscription box would include a t-shirt, coffee, a fabric headband and scented soap. Hint- none of these items are things that would work for me!)
However, I did look at some of the sites of the artisan groups who sell to Fair Trade Friday. The majority of these companies sell jewellery, scarves, pouches and bags and other small items like that. They sell lots of things which I think would make great gifts, even if you don’t need them for yourself.
The company JOYN in India, sells both leather and vegan leather and canvas purses and bags. They have a really lovely brown satchel, which is kind of a modern take on the classic 40’s style bag.
The group Purpose Jewelry sells jewellery and they have a collection of simple and graphic pendants and chains. Their main focus is on providing employment opportunities for young women who have been rescued from sex trafficking. (hence their name “Purpose Jewelry”)
Vi Bella has centres in Haiti, Mexico, the USA, and also partners with workers in India and Ecuador to create jewellery. They have some more “global” pieces of jewellery made out of products like horn and clay, as well as more delicate pieces made of metal and polished stones.
Have you ever heard of Fair Trade Friday? Have you ever purchased a subscription box of any kind? What are your favourite fair trade companies to buy from?