It’s no secret that the commercial tanning process for
leather is hazardous. Not only is leather tanned with compounds that are
harmful to the environment, but this chemical process is also damaging to the
health of the people working in the leather production industry.
Many of our bags, purses and wallets are handcrafted using eco-leather by makers working with the Craft Resource Centre (CRC). CRC is a fair trade resource and marketing centre in India that tans their leather products without using harmful chemicals. In other words, instead of using azo dyes, formaldehyde and other harmful substances, eco-leather is tanned using environmentally-friendly materials derived from sustainable tea bark extracts and waxes.
Indro Dasgupta is the director of CRC and we were fortunate
to spend time with him this past spring. During his visit with us, he outlined
the eco-leather process. He explained that since the government in India has
banned the use of cow in the production of leather, CRC eco-leather products
are made with water buffalo. The water buffalo are first used for milk and
meat, and then the skin, which would typically be considered waste, is sold to
CRC for the production of leather. In other words, no animals are killed for
the purpose of making leather. CRC is simply upcycling the waste produced by
Indro also explained that after the raw hide is collected, it
is tanned with eco-friendly materials on a drumming machine and then it’s set
out to dry. Once the leather is dry, it is then waxed, shined and sprayed.
Finally, the leather is assembled into beautiful purses, wallets and bags.
Mallika Manjari De is a quality checker and packer working
with CRC. She is 28 years old and has been working with CRC for almost two
years. When asked about how her life has changed since working with CRC, she
said, “Life was difficult. I found it difficult to make ends meet. Now, I am
able to buy necessities for my home.”
Eco-leather is more than a fashion choice; it’s a way to better the environment and improve the lives of people like Mallika. Browse our handcrafted eco-leather collection online.
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.
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.
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 tototal transparency – which is even better. Beware of vague language like ‘responsibly grown’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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