As Thanksgiving rolls around I always like to reflect on what I am grateful for. This has been a challenging year for our country and it’s so easy to focus on what is going wrong. All the more reason to stop for a moment and focus on gratitude and all the good in our world!
In spite of all the political turmoil, I’m incredibly grateful for the millions of concerned citizens who have stepped up to the plate to march, protest, write letters to their congressional leaders and form community activist groups. People are angry, yes, but also excited and energized and eager to make a difference. (My husband and I at the Climate Change March in DC, below).
I’m forever grateful to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, the Berkshires of Massachusetts. As much as I prefer warm, sunny days, the woods outside my home are stunning even without the leaves, as everything turns brown. I could choose to focus on how I’m dreading winter, how I hate the cold, and admittedly I often do. But today I’m choosing to notice the beauty of it all and appreciate the changing seasons, the cycle of life, and knowing my sunny summer days will return! A cliché? Maybe, but true, right?
And I can’t talk about gratitude without mentioning my amazing family (my sons, Jeremy and Ben, shown above). Women’s Peace Collection, while my initiative, has become a family business. Although I’m the only woman in the gang, my husband and sons are invaluable in making it a success. My older son is truly talented with the web work, my younger son helps out at festivals and with all sorts of tasks, and my dear husband is at every event setting up, organizing products, and making the tent look awesome! But of course I’m mostly grateful for all the love and joy I feel in their presence – and yes, all the great meals (I don’t cook at all!).
I could go on and on about the things that I’m grateful for and one of them is having the privilege of running a fair trade, socially responsible business. Yes, it’s a ton of work and can be overwhelming at times. But whenever I feel overwhelmed I think of the artisans who make all of our products by hand. I imagine myself sending them positive energy and love. I think about how every item I sell helps them improve their lives. (Shown above is one of my favorite artisans, Bernabela from Guatemala). Then I keep going…..and focus on gratitude.
My husband Peter and I just returned from a fabulous trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. Yes, we were there during one of the earthquakes - our hotel shook to its core and it was quite frightening. While we were fortunate that the city of Oaxaca was spared for the most part, it was disheartening to learn of the severe damage in other areas.
Oaxaca is replete with stunning gardens, architecture, great museums, fantastic markets and some of the best food in the world. I can still taste the mole with blackberry sauce! And while exploring the city we were on a quest for fair trade artisans whom we could support by purchasing their products. It didn’t take long as right in the city center we found 3 spectacular fair trade cooperatives. They were comprised of a multitude of artisan products from surrounding villages. The artisans bring their wares to Oaxaca to sell in a cooperative where each artisan receives fair wages. It was incredible to see so much spectacular handiwork under one roof!
However, what we had really come for was to visit the nearby villages and buy from the artisans directly in their homes or shops. Oaxaca is surrounded by so many small pueblos that it was hard to decide where to focus our attention. The first one we visited was Teotitlan del Valle. This is the village famous for rug weaving. It seemed like every home had the most stunning rugs, handbags, pillows, scarves and wall hangings for sale. It was a sea of color and some of the artisans continue to use natural plant dyes. We were treated to tours of artisan homes and weaving demonstrations from some of the most gracious, welcoming people I’ve ever met.
The village artisans use ancient weaving techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation. Many are weaving on backstrap looms, a traditional wooden loom with no foot pedals. Rather, the weavers sit on the floor or on a chair and weave using a very simple, portable loom on which they create stunning pieces. This was truly a feast for the senses!
Next on our list was San Bartolo Coyotepec, a village famous for its barro negro, black pottery. This style of pottery has been in existence since the Zapotec era, but the black glaze was developed in the 1950’s by a woman named Doña Rosa Real. Doña Rosa discovered that by polishing the pottery while it was almost dry and lowering the firing temperature the clay turned a shiny black. Rosa died in 1980 but her grandchildren have continued the business and we were able to visit their workshop in the village. The pottery is gorgeous and varied, and we brought home several amazing pieces.
The last village we visited was San Martin Tilcajete, where the famous alebrijes are made. Alebrijes, hand-carved and intricately painted folk art, can be found all over Oaxaca, but the tour we received at a workshop called Taller Jacobo y Maria Angeles was spectacular! We were shown the process of making an alebrije from start to finish, along with much interesting lore. We even were told what our spirit animal was according to a native astrological system!
The process of making an alebrije is very involved: the copal wood is hand-carved into the desired shape using no power tools. It is then left to dry for several days or even weeks, depending on the size of the piece. Once dried the piece is intricately hand-painted by skilled and very talented artists.
The workshop we visited had various stations where the painting occurred. The less experienced painters were working on simple pieces, whereas the more seasoned ones were working on extremely detailed and sometimes enormous animals that had been commissioned. The artists are all paid fair wages and are learning a skill that will support them throughout their lives, as the demand for this type of folk art is high throughout the world. We were thrilled to see yet another example of successful fair trade in action!We’re back home now but are still reveling in the wonderful art and aromas of Oaxaca. If you get a chance to go please do – you will love it!
Human trafficking is a topic we are loath to discuss, but so important it can't be denied. Most people likely don’t know that the United Nations has designated July 30th as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. In 2013 the General Assembly held a high level meeting to address and implement a global plan of action to reduce trafficking worldwide and adopted a resolution that included World Day in order to raise awareness of the issue. (Read more about it here: http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/68/192)
If you’ve perused our website and read some of our other blog entries you know that human trafficking is one of the issues we are most passionate about at Women’s Peace Collection. Our Freedom Collection, consisting of jewelry handmade by survivors, is rapidly expanding as we find more and more beautiful products and organizations working to eliminate trafficking across the globe.
So what exactly is human trafficking?
Human trafficking is most often described as a form of modern day slavery where human beings are exploited for profit. The most common forms include sexual exploitation and forced labor. There are millions of people trafficked worldwide annually and it is estimated that 71% are women and many are young children. Families in impoverished areas are often tricked into believing that there are employment opportunities for their children in the city. They send off their daughters in hope of a better future, not knowing that these young women are then taken into prostitution where they have little avenue for escape. Yes, unfortunately slavery does exist in the modern world, including in the United States.
Hope for the future
But there is hope as many organizations around the world are committed to eliminating this horrendous human rights issue. Organizations such as International Sanctuary, Starfish Project and Her Future Coalition, as well as numerous others, are devoted to rescuing women and teaching them crafts in order to prevent them from future trafficking situations. (We sell jewelry made by women in all 3 organizations).
What we are doing to help
At Women’s Peace Collection we are committed to doing our part in reducing human trafficking. We believe that empowering survivors by creating a market for their handicrafts is the best way we can help prevent them from being trafficked in the future. If the women have a means to becoming independent and self-sufficient they can live with the freedom and dreams all human beings are worthy of. We aim to help restore dignity and hope to formerly enslaved women. This is fair trade in its essence. Our goal is to source more products each year made by survivors, thus contributing in our own small way to the alleviation of human trafficking. Thanks for helping us do this!
I wanted to take a moment to wish all of the amazing mothers out there all across the globe a Happy Mother’s Day! I spent the day with my wonderful husband and awesome sons, who now in their 20’s, treated me to the most incredible brunch I’ve ever had. I was reveling in the joys of motherhood and how grateful I am to have raised such gracious, socially responsible and thoughtful young men.
My husband and I spent yesterday vending at a festive event in Jamaica Plain, MA, (near Boston) called Wake Up the Earth, an annual festival with music, food and crafts celebrating the beginning of spring. We had a blast and Women’s Peace Collection’s mission and products were well received. What moved me most were the young boys/men and girls/women buying gifts for their mothers. I watched and listened to kids of all ages carefully selecting gifts that were not only beautiful for their moms but that were meaningful. These young folks had clearly been raised in socially conscious families and delighted in giving their moms something made by impoverished artisans, knowing they were helping others with their purchases. I do have hope for the next generation!
And of course there were numerous husbands and adults doing the same thing (yes, lots of last minute shoppers!). I truly do believe that most people love helping others and if we can all do so with our purchases by supporting fair trade artisans this world will be a better place for all.
Last but not least, I think of and cherish my own 82 year old mother and recall all that she has done for us. When it comes down to it we human beings just want to love, help and support each other........don't you think?
Did you know that International Women’s Day has been celebrated across the globe since the early 1900’s? Every year on March 8th the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women are celebrated and honored. This year’s theme is:
Will you be bold with us? Our mission at Women’s Peace Collection is to empower women all over the world by supporting their creative enterprises through fair trade practices. To us, every day is International Women’s Day, but we love to celebrate on March 8th with individuals and organizations who share our dreams for a world based on equality and inclusiveness for all genders.
Each year Women’s Peace Collection chooses an organization to support on International Women’s Day that we feel is bold in its efforts to help women achieve their goals and dreams. Last year we donated a percentage of sales to Dining for Women, one of our favorite non-profits. This year we are donating to International Sanctuary, another stellar organization that rescues women from human trafficking. Their mission is “to empower people escaping trafficking to embrace their true identity and worth.” Isanctuary provides the following services to the women they work with: counseling, job training, employment, micro-loans, education, scholarships and medical and dental care.
Much of The jewelry in our Freedom Collection is made by the women that Iscantuary is working with. Their pieces are simple, elegant and contemporary and are some of our best selling items. After being rescued, the women are taught jewelry-making techniques, which provides them with a lifelong skill and thus helps prevent them from future sex trafficking. Isanctuary is truly saving lives and empowering young women to achieve their dreams of a life of freedom!
We hope you will join us in being bold for change this year, supporting women in whatever way you feel moved to. Thanks for being on this journey with us.
Alas, another year has passed and we are thrilled with the growth and achievements of Women’s Peace Collection. A look at our website will quickly glean that we have increased our collection multi-fold. One of our objectives for the past year has been to focus on sourcing fair trade products with a specific cause attached to them. While everything we sell is fair trade and thus helping marginalized women and families across the globe, we have in our hearts a deep need to help certain groups.
The first area we expanded is our Freedom Collection, which consists of jewelry made by survivors of human trafficking and those at risk of being trafficked. We were fortunate to discover new NGO’s working with women in India and China who are teaching them to create stunning, affordable jewelry. The new groups, Isanctuary and Starfish Project, rescue the women and then offer them safe shelter and counseling, and teach them a trade to reduce the chances of them being trafficked again. These are highly successful programs and happen to be our best selling collection of jewelry!
Another new favorite is our From War to Prosperity Collection, which consists of jewelry made from melted down artillery shells in Ethiopia. The farmers find the bullet casings scattered across the fields from former wars and a large fair trade cooperative consisting of HIV positive women handcraft the jewelry. The designs are unique and gorgeous and the cause fits perfectly with WPC’s mission to help eliminate poverty and create peace in the world.
We also expanded our Hear My Voice Collection of jewelry, handmade by deaf women in Kenya. Deaf women have an 85% unemployment rate in Kenya and are shunned in their communities, thus severely limiting opportunities. Our collection of wrap bracelets and stunning brass jewelry have been great sellers and we look forward to expanding the line in 2017.
I’d like to offer a huge thank you to all of our loyal customers – both online and at festivals – for your ongoing support of our mission and artisan partners. Here’s to an even better fair trade 2017 for all!
Since October is Fair Trade Month I thought it was a perfect time to write about an important topic - Fair Trade vs. Free Trade. I often hear people refer to fair trade as free trade, assuming the two are one and the same. Fair trade and free trade are actually quite different in both intent and execution. With the presidential election around the corner one of the hot topics lately has been trade. For example, the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the latest proposed trade agreement, involving 12 nations in Asia and the Americas.
The Fair Trade Federation, our membership organization, recently published this chart that illustrates the difference between these 2 types of trade.
Hopefully this will clarify some of the confusion around this issue. The graphic below is another wonderful illustration of what fair trade is all about so I wanted to share that too. And I'm always available to answer questions or talk more about this topic that I am so passionate about.