Bangladesh Artisans

Images that helped inspire the summer collection from Ten Thousand Villages Canada.

Fibre into fabric. People into relationships.

The crossing of threads becomes a crossing of paths,

Forever intertwined, connected to community.

A year ago, when Purchasing Director Kristen Fromm was beginning to build the 2017 summer collection, there was not yet a clear direction for the release. The lines and few images above, from the team that builds collections in the US, was the only starting point.

There’s something special about a handcrafted tablecloth. Whether hand loomed, printed, or embroidered, each one carries personal touches. There are always tiny imperfections – imperceptible to anyone but the maker and you– that reinforce the ties between your purchase and the life of the person who made the piece. It’s a special thing.

But if you’re not the kind of person who uses a tablecloth every day, you may be wondering what you’re going to do with the tablecloth outside of hosting a fancy meal a few times a year. Is it worth the investment, even when they’re a fantastic price?

We think so – and we’ve pulled together five awesome ways to use your tablecloth, even if you’re more inclined to show off the grain in your live edge table.

  1. Picnic In The Grass

Oh, Canada. Our country turns 150 this coming weekend and communities from coast to coast are planning to throw the ultimate bash.

But fireworks and festive frivolity aren’t the only ways to celebrate the Big-150. Considering this country provides everything from white sand beaches and pastel sunsets, to swaying wheat fields and staggering rugged mountain views, perhaps one of the most Canadian ways to celebrate is to head outdoors to marvel at it all. So should you decide to plant your umbrella, lace up your comfortable shoes or grab a paddle? Here are seven family-friendly activity ideas to add Canada Day spark to your summer.

The sound of hammers on metal reverberates around the Croix-des-Bouquets neighbourhood of Haiti’s sprawling capital Port-au-Prince. Hundreds of makers, mostly men, are continuing the tradition of a uniquely Haitian art form, one that is helping families plan for the future.

Every day, decommissioned oil drums are brought from the port to Croix-des-Bouquets. The drums arrive full of oil, which is sold at the port. Deemed too expensive to ship back empty to their countries of origin, the drums are discarded by the shipping companies, but they don’t go to waste.

The barrels are brought 10 kilometers from the port to Croix-des-Bouquets. Some are brought by hand. Others ride on the roof of taxis. Eventually, they make it to metal shops, where skilled makers do something extraordinary with a hammer and chisel.

Fer-de-coupe, what we call Haitian cut metal, almost never made it off the island. The first known cut metal in this unique style was practiced by a Haitian blacksmith named Georges Liautaud, whose work making metal crosses for the communal cemetery impressed visiting American artist DeWitt Peters, sometime around World War Two. Encouraged by the American, Liautaud began breaking down fuel cans, drawing freehand designs on the flattened metal in chalk, and then cutting and hammering the material to give it three-dimensionality.

As Liautaud’s work began being featured in museums around the world, he gained disciples at home, eager to learn how to transform trash into something that could be featured in art galleries. These disciples developed into a community of artists, a community that remains active today.

In 1972, the Comité Artisanal Haïtien (CAH), a non-profit co-operative, was formed to reduce competition between makers to help artisans earn the income they deserved. Today the organization represents more than 200 makers.

In Haiti, the unemployment rate is near 40%. This means that most of the makers with CAH produce metal art as a primary income. Many are their family’s sole income providers.

One such provider is Bouchard Jean Roosevelt. Bouchard is 40, and has been working in a Fer-de-coupe workshop for the past 20 years. He began outside of CAH, making copies of other designs, before apprenticing with one of the craft’s great teachers, Hubert Bernard.

Bouchard told us, ‘Before I worked with Hubert….I was not making much money. Once I trusted myself enough to create my own pieces, I realized I could make it on my own. Now, I have my own workshop that helps me make enough money to take care of my family and my workers.’

Thanks to CAH’s fair trade programs, Bouchard is able to send his children to school. School is technically free in Haiti, but in reality only about 40% of Haitian children can afford to attend.

In the evenings, Bouchard likes playing soccer, and spending time with his family.

As Father’s Day approaches, we’re thinking about the makers in Haiti, who with ingenuity and drive have pursued excellence in their craft. Thanks to his partnership with CAH, and their partnership with Ten Thousand Villages, Bouchard has built a business that thrives. This is the world that fair trade envisions: one where people like Bouchard can turn drive, skill, and heart into a bright future for their families.

It’s a warm morning in Lakhmipur in lower Assam, India, and Gobin Hazarika is wandering between his tea bushes, bending down to check for pests and insects. Everything is under control.

An organic operation, Hazarika keeps the pests at bay by planting Neem trees among the plants or burning tobacco leaves on his two-acre Meen Mohan Tea Estate.

Father’s Day is coming, and we have a hunch that you haven’t gotten around to finding a gift yet. Cheer up – you’re not alone! If there’s one thing that everyone who has worked in a Ten Thousand Villages can agree on, it’s that Dads are notoriously hard to buy for. As Father’s Day approaches, we thought we’d give you a head start, and suggest six of our most popular gifts for Dad.

Ask Agung Alit, co-founder of Mitra Bali, an artisan partner in Indonesia, to roll up his sleeve and you’ll discover an eye-catching tattoo.

The words “fair trade” scroll up his forearm.

The permanent marking is just one indication of how committed and passionate Agung and his wife Hani are about empowering handicraft producers in the area and supporting them by giving work opportunities based on respect and trust.

Spring is here, which means wedding season is ramping up! If you’re like me, you have a number of them to attend this year. And although each wedding is unique, I love that all weddings ultimately do the same thing: they tell stories. A wedding is the story of how two people fell in love; of the family (either given or chosen) that has supported them; of the journeys they have completed; and of the adventures yet to come.

In that way, a wedding is the expression of not just love, but of values and ideas as well. And for those who are excited about doing good (not just looking good), supporting local wedding vendors and gift stores is not the only option. In fact, you can literally go global while still making a big difference in small communities – with a fair trade wedding.

When I’m shopping, sometimes it feels like it’s getting harder and harder to make the right choices.

As ethical shopping options proliferate, it gets trickier to keep track of the overlapping benefits and drawbacks. The new field of choices comes with an expectation of nuanced understanding, but staying up to speed can be draining. For instance, when I’m at the market buying apples, it’s not just the variety that I’m considering. I’m also deciding whether to prioritize local, heirloom, or organically grown apples, each with their own health, community, and environmental impacts. This gets stressful.

So when I can, I default to fair trade. Right away, I know that the issues that matter most to me are being addressed. It’s built right into the system. Gender equality and non-discrimination. Fair pay. Environmental stewardship. Economic self-determination.

And that’s just the baseline. So many fair trade workshops and employers go beyond. Some organizations fund schooling for the children of makers all the way through university. Others provide microloans to their employees with very low or no interest – allowing makers to improve their home, attend to sick relatives, or start their own businesses.

More than anything, I know that fair trade is a trust-based system that puts the long-term needs of economically disadvantaged makers first. And that’s how I know I’m doing the right thing.

Working fair trade into your life doesn’t need to happen all at once – just work in stages as your budget allows. Here’s a look at how you can get started.

  1. Wake up to fair trade.

The easiest, most immediate way you can incorporate fair trade into your life is by switching to fair trade coffee and tea. The surest way to know whether your coffee is fair trade is to look for the Fairtrade mark. However, some roasters, including Level Ground Trading, forego the logo and instead commit to total transparency – which is even better. Beware of vague language like ‘responsibly grown’.

  1. Fair trade is served.

Why not pour your new fair trade coffee into a fair trade mug, and sweeten it with fair trade sugar? With fair trade serving dishes, spices, rices, and olive oil, there are lots of ways to prepare food while keeping fair trade in mind. These changes can happen gradually, too. Run out of a spice? Swap in a fair trade one. Soon your pantry will be fully (and fairly) stocked.

You can also look for fair trade at the grocery store. Bananas and chocolate are the options most people are familiar with, but look too for fair trade avocados and quinoa. In both cases, North American food trends have led to an explosion in demand, making them too expensive for the farmers to afford for themselves. No fair trade options at your supermarket? Talk to your grocer.

  1. Think outside the big box.

A little outdoor décor can go a long way – for you, and the maker. Ceramic pots, windchimes, birdbaths and wall hangings are the kinds of purchases you make less often; however each one can have an outsized impact.

A terracotta pot goes through at least six stages before being shipped, and the workshop we source from in Bangladesh employs twenty people. Choosing fair trade outdoor décor helps to keep communities like theirs thriving. 

  1. Go flare trade.

If you think all fair trade jewellery is just a few beads on a string, let me be the first to welcome you to this century. Fair trade groups across the developing world are getting incredibly sophisticated, using familiar materials like brass, silver, and bronze, as well as more exotic materials like bone, tagua, and capiz. While simpler pieces remain an entry point for new jewellery workers to get their start, you’ll be amazed at the variety available.

Looking for an engagement ring? Let fair trade be your guide in this department, too. Ask your jeweller about fair trade gold, platinum, and gemstones.

  1. Relax into fair trade.

Fair trade home décor is worth a second look. For lots of people, fair trade home décor pieces have a reputation of being dull coloured, having poor construction, and being unstylishly designed. Today, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

New materials and in-house designers have helped makers maintain traditional techniques while updating designs to better fit a more modern aesthetic. Can you still find authentic pieces from around the world at Ten Thousand Villages? Of course. But you’ll also find pieces that work in minimalist studios and retro kitchens.

  1. Wear fair.

The complexities of the fashion industry have made it an uphill battle for fair trade clothing manufacturers, but today you can find everything from socks and leggings to dresses and tops that are 100% fair trade – but depending on where you live, online shopping might be your only option.

Accessories are an easier switch. There’s no compromise on quality when you switch to fair trade bags, scarves and clutches. Many of the makers that we work with are second- or third-generation tailors or leatherworkers with a deep understanding of their craft. With trendy pieces that appeal to this season’s fashion and classic pieces that last a lifetime, Ten Thousand Villages should be your first stop for fair trade accessories.

  1. Fair trade… beyond?

As comprehensive as this list looks, it’s certainly not the whole picture. Fair trade is a set of principles, not a set of products, so as more people start shopping fair trade, the variety of items available should keep expanding. Who knows? Maybe soon we’ll be able to buy fair trade phones, or toasters. The possibilities are limitless, so keep your eyes open, and remember: when you start feeling overwhelmed by your purchasing choices, choose fair trade.

Most of the makers we work with are women, and most of those women are mothers. With Mother’s Day approaching here in Canada, we just had to tell these stories. Each one shows the resilience and exceptionalism of the maker mothers of fair trade.

Every day, as we unpack, sort, ship, shelve and gift beautiful fair trade products, we think about the hundreds of amazing women who have turned a handicraft into a livelihood, and a livelihood into a future.

Tamil Arasi, maker with Blue Mango, India:

 “My daughter graduated from high school and is now studying to be a nurse.”

“I joined Blue Mango in 2009 after my husband died of a heart attack.  I was at a loss about what to do. How would I support my children? I had worked as a health worker part -time in the past, but decided to come to Blue Mango instead because of the support they provided for me as a widow, and the steady work. I like it here because it’s friendly and I can forget my troubles. My daughter graduated from high school and is now studying to be a nurse. My son is in 12th grade and he wants to be a policeman. I don’t like that idea because I don’t want him to get hurt. I’d rather he was safe behind a desk at a government job!”

Rawshan Ara, maker with Prokritee, Bangladesh

“My future dream is to create a better life for my kids.”

“Before joining Shuktara, I had no source of income and struggled to provide the basic needs of my family. Back then I wasn’t able to send my kids to school. I was leading a hopeless life.”

“At the very beginning of my career here, I received a three-month on-the-job training on making handmade paper products. Later, I received more lessons from the design team of Prokritee.”

“Now, I am able to earn and provide the basic needs for my family, and send my kids to school. I also learned that I enjoy making handicraft products.”

“My future dream is to create a better life for my kids. I want them to get higher education. I also want to own a land and a house of my own. To me, fair trade means getting fair wages to support my family, working in a peaceful environment, and living with dignity.”

Rajakumari, maker with Blue Mango, India:

“People told me that my life was over, but I didn’t listen. I was not going to live in poverty and rely on charity.”

“In 2000, when Blue Mango started in a tiny shed, I was one of the first 4 women to join. After some time, the program expanded to the point where Tamar madam needed help and in 2005, I was offered the position of Supervisor. Although the job is stimulating, I often feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of running a program of 55 women especially since I only have 8th grade education.”

“Several years ago, my husband collapsed on the road from a stroke. At that time, my son Pradeep was fifteen and my daughter Jeyanthi was ten.  People told me that my life was over, but I didn’t listen. I was not going to live in poverty and rely on charity. I could see that the only way to raise my kids was to continue to work at Blue Mango and build a new life for us.”

“Thanks to Blue Mango, I was able to raise my children on my own. My son has a computer job in a company and my daughter has graduated and is a school teacher. Nobody from my family has ever gone to college. I don’t have to depend on my father, I don’t have to depend on my brothers, and I won’t have to depend on my son. I have pension and savings, and does that ever feel good! My neighbors have never seen an independent widow before.”

“Because of my story, new women immediately learn that Blue Mango is not a charity, but a place where women develop financial strength and pride through perseverance and hard work.”