Fair Trade Is Alive And Well Through The Fair Trade Federation

ftflogoI’m still recovering from the annual Fair Trade Federation conference I attended this weekend here in Portland. My head was spinning so fast when I came home the second night, I had to do a 20-minutes brain dump onto a piece of notebook paper just to get myself to sleep! The conference was a priceless opportunity for me as a fair trade business owner to interact with hundreds of similar companies. Since we’re a rare breed us fair trade companies, the networking, wisdom and experience were invaluable.

I get dizzy when I think about it too much but here are just a few nuggets that were most interesting to me:

  • In this down economy, consumers are looking to make a bigger impact with the dollars they do decide to spend. Fair trade has caught their eye and many fair trade companies (Bambootique included) are feeling somewhat less of a pinch than many conventional companies.
  • 70% of consumers today seriously look for social and/ or environmental good from companies they buy from.
  • Bambootique is somewhat unique in the fair trade world in that I have chosen to be an importer (work directly with artisan groups), a retailer (sell directly to customers) as well as a wholesaler (sell to small shops to resell to their customers). Most fair trade companies are either a wholesaler or a retailer, but for various reasons few are both. Being so many things to so many people has its own set of challenges as well as benefits.  No wonder I’m so tired all the time.
  • Wonderful, unique fair trade shops exist from coast to coast across the US. Look for one in your area on the FTF’s website!
  • Even more exciting is that courageous entrepreneurs are opening new fair trade shops even in this economic downturn, and they are achieving financial success.

Despite all the dizzying details and ideas that left my head fuzzy, the number one takeaway for me from the conference was one of inspiration. There were companies represented that have been in business for several decades and others for only a few months.  The common thread we all shared is a driving passion to change the economic landscape in our world from the grassroots up. We believe business has the power to do good. We believe it must. And we are proving it every single day.

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Bambootique on Better TV

I was just thrilled to be featured today in a segment on the TV morning show Better.  It was great to share the story of pewter_circle_earrings2Bambootique with interviewers Marni and Holly as well as highlight some of my favorite artisans and their handiwork. Here are links to some of the items featured on the show.

Honduran ceramic and pewter jewelry: Traditional ceramic beads and pewter made cndl_set_41from recycled soda cans.

Guatemalan candles: Handmade by Mayan people using local vegetable waxes and dyes.scarf_multi

Silk scarves: Handwoven silk. Beautiful scarves.

Bamboo bags: Bamboo is a sustainable resource in Thailand.

Silk bags: Handwoven silk from Cambodia.

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Thanks to Melissa at Itsa-Belly for the story idea, to Marni and Holly for believing it was a good one, and to everyone who watched!

Oregonian Reports: Fair Trade And Green Go Hand In Hand

oregonian_articlePortland’s daily newspaper, The Oregonian, featured Bambootique today as an example of a “green company” that supports the planet and people.  I love that columnist Shelby Wood, who reports regularly on environmental sustainability issues, is on to the reality that we have to protect people as much as we protect the earth. When she interviewed me I told Shelby how it bugs me to see products labeled as “green” or “sustainable” that were likely made in a sweatshop. For example, just because organic cotton is used in a pair of kids pajamas does not mean the people who picked the cotton or who sew the pajamas in China were paid a fair price. Looking for the fair trade label is the only way to be sure.

True sustainability requires conscious consumers to look for ethically traded and responsibly made products. Shelby points out some great resources to do just that, including next weekend’s Fair Trade Federation Conference and Expo to be held right here in Portland.  The Expo is free and open to the public, and will feature more than 40 fair trade vendors from around the country, including Bambootique of course.

Expo Details:

Fair Trade Federation Expo
Saturday March 28, 3:30-6pm
Doubletree Hotel, Lloyd Center, Portland, Oregon

Zoleka Makes Bags Like Nobody Else

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Meet Zoleka. Age 28, resident of Khayelitsha just 30 miles outside Capetown, South Africa.

She has a beautiful smile, doesn’t she? Zoleka left home when she turned 18 because of a stepfather who mistreated her. full_circle_messgr_bg_pnk1She turned to her older brother for help but burdened his family for years while she looked for work.  Without skills or training , Zoleka didn’t have a lot of options as a young woman. When she heard about Learn to Earn’s vocational training program however, she wholeheartedly enrolled and learned to sew beautiful skirts, dresses and Bambootique’s latest line of gorgeous messenger bags.

Zoleka has worked with Learn to Earn for two years and has saved enough to move into her own home. After years of being a financial burden on her brother, a shaming position but so common for women in South Africa, Zoleka is now giving part of her pay back to her brother to help support their younger siblings.

So that smile you see above? That smile shows the pride of a young woman standing on her own two feet. Bambootique is equally proud to introduce these super adorable bags, all priced under $55 and already selling fast.

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Grateful For Diaper Service, As Gross As It May Be

TV’s grossest show, Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, recently featured my diaper service company, Tidee Didee. They 250px-dirtyjobslogofilmed at the Sacramento location but I’m sure the Portland location is just as disgusting.  My two-year old’s cloth diapers are nasty but what’s even more foul is the thought of all that waste going into a landfill and just sitting….and sitting…and sitting. For a very, very long time.

I’m grateful that Tidee Didee comes to my house every Friday morning and takes away the bag of soiled diapers, leaving me with a bag of fresh clean ones for the week.  I’m also grateful I don’t have to do the at-home equivalent of what you see in the Dirty Jobs clip.

I would like to point out that I flush Grace’s poo down the toilet. From the looks of this yucky video, many cloth diaper service users throw the poo in the diaper pail with the diapers. So are you people smelling that all week long until the diaper service comes to pick them up? Yuck, yuck and double yuck.

Thanks Tidee Didee for what you do. We could never pay you enough for the service you provide us, not to mention to our planet.

10% Off All Indonesian Bags, Made By Tsunami Survivors

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For a limited time I’ve marked down all our gorgeous bags from Indonesia. They’re sewn by women who survived the devastating tsunami of 2004 in the region of Banda Aceh. While the media has long turned their eye away from this area since the tsunami, life continues to be a challenge as communities struggle to rebuild. The local economy especially is still especially shaky but manufacture of these incredible bags provides a living income for several dozen women in the area.

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Nurali (above) is one of the women who supports her family sewing handbags

using traditional Acehnese embroidery designs.

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Some of my favorites from the Indonesian collection

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A close-up view of the incredible detail of the embroidery. No computerized machinery is used. The women sew the embroidery freestyle with old-fashioned foot-powered sewing machines.

Cadbury Creme Eggs Go Fair Trade, But Not In The USA

Once again Europe is paving the ethical way for the world to follow, showing that profit and fair trade can coexist even cadbury_eggs_whitein the biggest of companies.

It won’t be in time for this Easter, but by the end of this summer 100% of all Cadbury chocolate products will use fair trade cocoa only. At least, if you live in the UK or Ireland. Those cute little chocolate eggs filled with that sugary, creamy center will only be sweeter when the chocolate shell comes from cocoa beans raised on fair trade cooperative farms in Ghana, West Africa. But not yet for us in the States.

In the US, Cadbury branded products are made by chocolate giant Hershey’s. Hershey’s is not exactly known for ethical cocoa trading practices. In fact, they have been criticized by Co-op America for buying cocoa from farms using child or slave labor.

Still Cadbury’s move in Europe is huge for a few very important reasons:

  • It shows fair trade practices can still result in profit.
  • The move demonstrates that consumer pressure on big corporations to act ethically works.
  • Fair trade cocoa exports from Ghana will triple as a result of this switch.
  • Cocoa from Ghana is considered some of the best in the world, so flavor and quality will only improve.

Cadbury is the largest chocolate company in the UK so their example will certainly be watched closely by our biggest chocolate manufacturers, Hershey’s and MandM/Mars. In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to enjoy my favorite fair trade chocolates like Theo, Divine, Dagoba and Equal Exchange. Anyone know where I can get my hands on Cadbury creme eggs made in England?

My First Round-Up, And Not The Kind You Spray In Your Yard

Believe it or not fellow Portlanders, today was my first time to drop by one of Metro’s Household Hazardous Waste Round-up events. I had a bowl full of about 50 dead batteries I’d been hanging on to. When I received a flyer in the mail announcing Metro’s visit to Tualatin, I marked it on my calendar. My stop was quick, easy and educational. Here are a few tidbits I picked up at the event:

  • Metro collects all kinds of toxic stuff at these events. You can safely dispose of old paint, unused lawn or pool chemicals, dead batteries, motor oil, and so much more at a Round-up. For a full list visit here.
  • Metro uses the Round-up events as a community education platform as much as for recycling. Before I even pulled up to the drop-off point, a volunteer waved me down and chatted with me  about organic gardening. I just spent 2 hours hand-pulling weeds this morning so I picked her brain some good ideas to control our prolific weeds.  She also gave me some great free literature on natural gardening.
  • Metro offers a ton of free gardening workshops. Who knew? I have the July 11th Winter Veggies workshop down on my calendar. I want to delve into growing some of our food year round. Steve and I have the summer fruits and veggie thing down but we have much to learn on growing during the winter.
  • The guys and gals who run these Round-ups have a lot of fun with it. Grace loved watching them sling empty paint cans up into the dumpster and the guy who took our batteries thought it was hilarious that he was wearing white gloves. He kept calling them his “Mickey Mouse” gloves, and Mickey Mouse (or any mouse for that matter) is a big favorite of Grace’s.
  • If you live in the Portland area you can find a list of Hazardous Waste Round-ups here. If you live elsewhere, don’t dispair. Try Earth 911’s site for help on where you can dispose of your hazardous waste materials. Or else look into moving to Portland.

New York, You Are Soooo Lucky. Stumptown Is On Its Way!

Portland’s iconic coffee roaster, Stumptown, is opening a roastery this month in Brooklyn, NY and, eventually, they will be adding a cafe as well. Having a Stumptown enter your neighborhood is akin to having a fine wine store move in when all you’ve had available is 2-buck Chuck.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters is so much more than a morning drink. Stumptown buys their coffee far and above fair trade prices, and owner Duane Sorenson personally knows many of the farmers he buys from. He even flies them up to Portland from time to time and hosts events in Stumptown’s coffee shops for customers to meet the farmers. Steve and I attended one such event last year, where we heard from coffee farmers from Panama and Costa Rica. Some of the coffee Stumptown imports is so fine and rare it sells for hundreds of dollars per pound (think $20 per cup!).

But don’t think Stumptown is pretentious. Oh no, not at all. Their coffee shops are gritty and loud. Most of their varieties are perfectly affordable and their individual coffee drink prices are competitive with Starbucks, but taste so much better.  What I love is that Duane doesn’t just care about his coffee farmers or the quality of his beans, he cares enough for his baristas that they all have health insurance. Not many small businesses guarantee that any more and it surely cuts into his profit margin, and yet he does it.

I’ve been hearing about Starbucks closing shop right and left in New York City. Now there’s just one more reason for them to do so. Stumptown is moving in and New York coffee will never be the same.