With the holidays approaching here’s a question: how much do we really know about the products that we are purchasing? With every fair-trade product, there is a person, and there is a story. Seeking to understand the deeper meaning behind fair-trade products this holiday season, I, a Women’s Peace Collection intern, had the privilege of chatting with Anne Kelly of Mayan Hands. Mayan Hands is a fair-trade nonprofit organization that is dedicated to providing economic opportunities to over 200 Mayan women in 15 communities in the Guatemalan Highlands. They supply Women’s Peace Collection with unique pine needle baskets, which are emblematic of Mayan culture and economic prosperity for Mayan women. In addition, Mayan Hands provides Women's Peace Collection with wool animals created by women in Guatemala, who are earning fair wages while learning computer and business skills along the way.
The mission of Mayan Hands is to provide economic and educational opportunities for women in poverty. The organization also looks to support women in order to preserve Mayan culture and heritage. There are a half million weavers in Guatemala and the role of Mayan Hands is to help these weavers access the market with the true cost of their products. This exposure to the United States’ economy helps Mayan women feed their families by providing them the opportunity to earn month to month income.
So, who are these women? The artisan are Mayan women living in the Guatemalan Highlands throughout 15 cooperatives. These women have experienced a lot of discrimination and racism on the grounds of language, culture, and sex. Understanding the trauma that they have endured, the goal is to empower these women and lift them out of poverty. The Mayan partners bring a variety of skills to the American marketplace and they are master weavers.
While pine needle basketry is a traditional skill in Guatemala, Mayan Hands was able to send teachers from San Francisco that worked with the women to enhance their practice by teaching them how to stitch. The educational efforts have paid off, as represented by the exquisite and unique baskets Women’s Peace Collection is featuring. While the success of this product has been rewarding, it is the long -term relationships that have made an impact. To celebrate the story behind every artisan, each pine needle basket features a signed hang tag. With every product being signed by the woman who made it, the culture and experiences of the artisan partners is honored.
When talking to Kelly about the baskets, one story came to mind. She spoke of an artisan named Cecilia Chiroy. and to the heart and persistence behind her practice. Chiroy has been a leader amongst artisans in Guatemala. In an effort to speak with someone from Mayan Hands, Chiroy knocked on the door four times before she was able to connect with someone. “We want to make baskets” she said. Since then, Chiroy has played a critical role in the success of this partnership. She checks to make sure artisans are on track with orders, and will even assist those who need some help.
Beyond the baskets, daughters of artisans who are partnered with Mayan Hands are eligible for scholarships. Many of the artisans will point out that their children going to school is the most important thing to them. While the pine needle baskets make for a thoughtful gift, they are so much more. These baskets are the embodiment of economic and educational opportunities for so many women. Each basket tells a story. Each basket makes a difference. Happy holidays and a huge thank you to Anne Kelly from Mayan Hands for sharing the stories of these artisans!
One of my favorite product lines we started carrying in the past year is our repurposed kantha fabric jewelry. Simply put, it’s stunning, fun to wear and sustainable.
So what exactly is kantha? Kantha quilts, handmade in India, consist of layers of recycled cotton saris that are sewn together with a decorative running stitch throughout. There are now a number of organizations and businesses using repurposed kantha fabric to make handbags, scarves, wall hangings, etc. There is no limit to the creative uses of this colorful, vibrant fabric.
We were so excited to find jewelry made out of Kantha, a newer use of the fabric that is rarely seen. And it quickly became one of our most popular lines! Our Kantha jewelry is handmade by Indian artisans using a meticulous, intricate process. First, wooden beads are hand carved out of scraps that are collected from a local furniture company. The women then individually cover each bead with repurposed fabric from vintage saris and quilts. The fabric is attached securely to the bead with an adhesive, trimmed to size and then, voila, a bead is made! The beads are colorful and unique – no two are exactly the same.
The talented women who make the jewelry are consistently designing new pieces. Their creativity is limitless and they beautifully combine the beads with metal and other materials to develop stunning necklaces, bracelets and earrings that we can’t keep in stock! For the fall they have designed a new line called “kantha noir” that features black and gray beads for a dressier look. Stay tuned – there will be some in our new holiday collection!
One of my favorite things about this jewelry is how completely sustainable it is. From the recycled wooded beads to the vintage fabric, every step of the process involves re-using a material that otherwise would have been discarded. The resources on our planet are being rapidly depleted so everything we do to ensure that we live a sustainable, environmentally friendly life style will make difference. Thanks for helping us do our part!
This Saturday, May 12th, is World Fair Trade Day. We realize many people may have never heard of it, but it’s actually a very important event so I thought I’d take this opportunity to write about it.
WFTD is an initiative of the World Fair Trade Organization that takes place every year on the second Saturday in May. This year’s theme is “Live Fair, One Product at a Time.” Every year socially responsible businesses, non-profits and organizations across the globe celebrate with events that promote fair trade and educate the public about ethical purchasing practices. These include fair trade festivals, concerts, fashion shows, symposiums, debates and more.
I just love the concept of living fair one product at a time, and of course that’s what Women’s Peace Collection is really about. I believe we can truly change the world if every time we open our wallet we think about where the product we’re purchasing comes from, who made it and how the producer was paid and treated. Each of us is capable of ensuring sustainability and fair wages, little by little chipping away at the cycle of poverty.
So how do we do this? Women’s Peace Collection focuses on handmade crafts, but there are many additional types of fair trade purchases that can be incorporated into your life. Fair trade coffee and tea, for example, are among the most important ethically produced items we can buy. They’re easily accessible and drinking them is simple, ethical way we can change one daily habit -shifting our morning tea or coffee to a fair trade brand! Or even better, encourage your congregation or workplace to serve only these items. Just look for the fair trade symbol on the package (I can highly recommend Equal Exchange as a wonderful option).
How many of us think about fair trade when we purchase clothing? Fair trade clothes are a little harder to find but there are a growing number of companies producing stunning, sustainable wardrobe items. Some well known companies such as Patagonia, Prana and Eileen Fisher now have fair trade certified items, and less expensive brands like Maggie’s Organics (which we sell), Synergy Organic Clothing, Mata Traders and Fair Anita are creating beautiful, contemporary designs at reasonable prices. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Even committing to adding a few fair trade items to your closet each year is a huge step toward having an ethically produced wardrobe.
I know I’ve only scratched the surface on how we can each live fair, one product at a time. I hope this World Fair Trade Day will inspire you to review each of your purchases more carefully and do your part in making this world a better place. And don’t forget one delicious, easy to find fair trade product to sweeten your life –chocolate!
What a year! For the past couple of months our team has worked 24/7, or so it seems. Between weekend festivals and shipping packages we have become keenly aware of how much Women’s Peace Collection has grown.
In 2017 we focused more and more of our attention on selling products made by survivors of human trafficking and victims of sexual or domestic abuse. You have probably noticed how much our Freedom Collection has grown. As the owner, I feel increasingly drawn to supporting these women. The more I learn about the horrors women around the world experience on a daily basis, the more I feel responsible for doing my small part to help them live a life of freedom. The 3 non-profits we partner with, Her Future Coalition, Starfish Project and International Sanctuary, rescue the women, teach them how to make jewelry, offer healthcare, housing and counseling. I’m so grateful for each of these amazing organizations and the work they are doing to change the lives of these brave women. And of course the jewelry they make is so beautiful and our customers love it.
We also tried out some fair trade clothing for the first time, which was a huge hit. Our Maggie’s Organics organic cotton wraps and ponchos were the best sellers and we couldn’t keep them in stock. Easy to wear, one size fits all, and reasonably priced, it was exciting to find ethical clothing that women love! We will be adding more in 2018 so stay tuned.
Our commitment to fair trade practices continues to grow and one of the most rewarding benefits is being part of a fair trade community. New friendships have forged, and it’s gratifying to have colleagues who are as passionate about fair trade as we are. As each order comes in, I think of the artisans whose lives are benefitting and how ethical shopping really does make a difference. I wish I could personally meet each artisan - that’s a goal for sure.
One of things that touched me most this year was the outpouring of help we received from friends and family. As things got super busy the unsolicited assistance from loved ones was truly moving. To all of you - we couldn’t have done it without you and are forever grateful!
The fairs and festivals are where we get to meet our customers in person, which is a real treat. Each year I hear more and more positive comments from shoppers when they see the words “fair trade” on our sign, and it’s clear that people really do want to help others with their purchases. They want informational cards with the items so that the recipients can know that it’s not only a beautiful, handmade item, but also the story behind it. And I LOVE telling the artisan stories!
Thanks to all of you for continuing to support Women’s Peace Collection and our mission to help improve the lives of women and families across the globe. Without you we couldn’t do any of this. We are ever so grateful!
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!