Bangladesh Artisans

As temperatures dip outside, there’s nothing that says “comfort and joy” more than the smell of cinnamon wafting from the oven. But here’s another way the aromatic spice can fill your home with the warmth of the season:

Decorate with it.villages_1599

This year we’re carrying a number of cinnamon bark holiday décor products from our artisan partner, Mai Vietnamese Handicrafts. Mai is an “umbrella” organization that helps numerous makers working with affiliated craft, sewing, crochet and woodworking groups.

Rather than individual makers or small workshops trying to design, market and export these handcrafted products on their own, Mai Vietnamese Handicrafts helps them through the process so their handicrafts can find broader markets. The fair trade organization also works with merchants to develop products that appeal to buyers in their countries.

Trim your tree with a… tree

Take the newly released Our Perfect Tree Ornament, a Canadian tradition brought to life in Vietnam. A perfect crochet tree is tied to the top of a family car on this whimsical ornament handmade by the women in Cam Duc – Nha Trang.

Canadian and Vietnamese teams worked together to develop the design over a number of months, says Kristen Fromm, Purchasing and Collections Planning Manager for Ten Thousand Villages. All that hard work paid off too.

“The ornament turned out to be even more spectacular than we initially imagined,” she says now.

villages_1606_1080Approximately 25 women do the crochet work from their homes allowing them to care for their children before and after school. It’s that family-friendly flexibility that has really made a difference for Ha Thi Dung, a workshop group monitor. Before working with Mai in 2005, she sewed for a living, but was barely scraping by. Today, she works seven of eight hours while her children are in school and makes a living wage. Not only does she say she has more self confidence, but Ha now has dreams for the future.

“(My dream is that) our children can go to university and we can pay for their expenses until they graduate,” she writes.dsc03629-edited-1080

Sweet smell of success

Meanwhile, Ngo Huu Quen also hopes his work with Mai will have an impact on his offspring and plans to pass down his business to them one day. He belongs to the Tra My Cinnamon Group in Da Nang, where vast forests of cinnamon trees grow.img_1060-1080

Cassia, or cinnamon trees, are a renewable resource and can be sustainably harvested after about six or seven years. Farmers cut the trees down to stumps and then allow branches to shoot from the base. The inner cinnamon bark can be stripped again four years later without doing lasting damage to the bushy tree.

Before joining a Mai workshop, Ngo ground cinnamon powder and made inner linings for shoes for the local market, but the work rarely brought in enough money. Now he says life is stable, there’s enough work for his workers and he has seen an increase in his income.

Even though the drying process can take weeks, (bark curls naturally and must be stretched as it dries) crafts such as his Cinnamon Bark Freestanding Trees and Cinnamon Swirl Bird Ornament provide a better living than powdered cinnamon spice.img_3104-1080

Ngo says he’s happy to think about his trees and ornaments in Canadian hands and homes.

“(We) hope we can make more nice things and can sell as many as possible to give us a chance to keep our jobs and generate income,” writes Ngo.

We hope so too! Every time we open a box full of cinnamon crafts from Mai Vietnamese Handicrafts in our warehouse, the spicy scent fills the area.

It smells like the holidays.

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