Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tex Dworkin, working for Global Exchange was the originator of this idea and has been spearheading all - from conception to finished product to sales and marketing. I'm a worker bee...and glad to be.
While I would have looked into environmentally friendly paper and soy-based ink, I don't know that I would have had sources like Consolidated Printing who coerced New Leaf paper to greatly reduce their price to make the calendars more affordable as a fundraiser. Or that I would have been astute enough to hire a design firm that is worker-owned, which translates to fair trade right here in the USA.
I also just finished a nearly 3 hour conference call with the Fair Trade Federation Board members. Phew! Talk about everything you need to know about Fair Trade! While I won't go into details about the meeting, I will say, there are varying levels of Fair Trade and many mindsets. Not a hard and fast rule, necessarily and certainly when talking about practices. Which leads me to this blog...
I am coming to the realization that we all have a place on this planet and that the die-hards can co-mingle with the novices and each can learn from the other. I find that in the shop, I tend to get defensive. Oh, you're just like 10,000 villages. No, I'm not. Sure, we have a common goal - provide a safe, secure, sustainable environment where the neediest are given some attention for their labors. With that, we also want to make sure there is some environmental stewardship for everyone's future.
But the women I work with are small groups, working from their homes, working when they can. I have come to the conclusion lately that creating a factory setting where they produce for a wide number of retail stores would do San Bushmen women in particular more harm than good. While my friend's paper bead org in Uganda has over 100 women as members, with thousands more making hundreds of pieces of jewelry from recycled materials for other orgs. Ostrich Eggshell is precious, with eggs only hatched three months out of the year. Recycled paper is in abundance. The San women live in settlements that they are happy to call home. They have many of their needs provided for them in one way of another and so don't truly NEED cash, they could use more, but they can survive with limited amounts. The women in the Acholi Quarter are relocated refugees who must live in shanti towns. They live in a cash society. They need to make money to buy food, put their children to school, live...The women have different situations and so does each wholesaler. Our jobs are to educate the public with awareness, let people know what the living conditions of people are in third world countries and through the sale, offer a way for us to help.
But I don't want the idea of charity to enter into my business. I firmly believe that a business relationship is what is needed to honor the skill and artistry of the crafter/producer and that a fair payment is what will enable artisans to sustain their skill, not a hand out. I'm not a religious person, but gotta love the "teach a man to fish" analogy. Give a woman a dollar and she'll eat for that day, provide her a means to sustain a business and earn a fair wage and you feed her and her family forever. With her elevation in financial means/status, she brings a world of hope and promise to her children and her children's children
I have a greater appreciation of what that means in terms of people like me who have small groups that we work with directly and those who work with larger groups providing products to "chain" stores. As it is, I will be opening another store this holiday season with the promise of keeping it open should there prove to be a market here in Poughkeepsie.
With Fair Trade ideals just coming to Main St America (god I hate catch phrases like that!), there's a lot of room to grow, a lot of ways to see the end results and in the end we will all be better off realizing that people live at different standards around the world and how much we can help, what we can do, and how we do it is going to change and differ depending...It all depends on us.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Friday, August 7, 2009
A wonderful day in the shop yesterday.
I met a woman with a store outside of Philadelphia who appreciated the fair trade aspect of the products and also the beauty and craftsmanship of the jewelry!
I met three lovely young women, two of whom had lived and worked in Uganda for four months through their universities and one who had just returned from two weeks in South Africa. One of the women lives in Fishkill and says she often brings her friends into the shop. She is leaving in a matter of weeks for a year in Egypt and upon her return she will attend Pace University for her international law degree. Wow!
Julia Frazier came by. It's been far too long since we've seen each other. She was astounded by how "big" Macallan had gotten. She leaves for England to defend her dissertation and hopes to leave within weeks of her return to take a job with a nonprofit in the Congo!
Another encounter that makes me feel the shop is vital and worthwhile is when three women (and a man) came into the store midday. "This is my all-time favorite store" a beautiful woman who was impeccably dressed said as she escorted her guests in, "we just have to go in here!" Her one friend saw a bag (basket with straps to carry on your back) and fondled it briefly. "It's a shop full of African stuff," her other friend said. "and you're looking at a bag from the Philippines." This comment was made significant because the women were African American. They explored the store a decent amount of time and left without much interaction with me or Macallan. The one woman had apparently been in many times before and basically knew the layout better than I did. She guided her friends around like an expert - which made me appreciate my store manager, Portia, that much more. When "strangers" know your store better than you do, that means the store is in good (great!) hands while you are away. They left without buying anything, but I got much from their visit. By the end of the day, we'd had something like 70 people come through the door, not a bad Thursday with an OK sales total. And out of the blue, the three (plus the gentleman who must be a saint) came in with a flurry. I heard a voice proclaim, "If it's still here when I walk by, I'm going to buy it." As soon as she walked in the door, she could see it was still hanging on the hook. "I was going to get on that train (back to NYC) and be very sorry I didn't buy this bag." She told me with the basket in hand. "I know how that is." I responded. She bought it and was very pleased with herself and her purchase. "Thanks for coming by." I said to anyone who would listen. "Next time you come up" the leader of the visit began to say, but I didn't hear the rest since they were already down the block rushing to catch their train.
A great day because of the many wonderful supportive people we met and because I get to share it with my daughter. She probably will never inherit this business since she wants to be a veterinarian, not a shop owner, but she will inherit the goodwill fair trade practices bestows on the world for the women who produce, the women who shop and the women (Macallan, Portia and myself) who bring these values to the world we encounter daily - all of us doing our part to make a difference.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I spoke to him at length about his business and his artwork. He was from Zimbabwe, able to cross the border to sell his crafts. He supported his extended family, basket weavers and woodcarvers. He had a wife who stayed behind in Zimbabwe to care for his two children.
Since we were in Africa for two months, I placed an order with him and set a date when we would return to pick up the prints. We found him several weeks later, just where we met him. He was a bit flustered and upon shaking his hand hello, I realized why. He said he had been in a terrible bus accident on his way back to Zim. The bus turned on its side and he hurt his hand badly. Wanting to complete my order, he got the help of his brother and they managed to have the prints ready. His hand was bandaged and bent. I hoped he'd be fine soon. I hoped the accident, or more common, the treatment would not hurt him for good.
I've been buying from Emmanuel thorughout the year. This is the latest order, a large one with sizes as small as 3" x 4" and as large as "13"x 15". I was happy to send him the money - I know how tough it is right now in Zimbabwe.
His prints sell particularly well at the Cultural Survival Bazaars where people take the time to find genuine arts and crafts. You can't see from these pictures how the elephant dung (OK, it's not all made of elephant poop. That's just what it's called since it contains natural fibers, but there is some elephant dung in there, I guarantee.) is used within the print. Emmanuel's images are enhanced and made that much more charming with his titles. This one is called "Collecting Water for a Wedding."