Meet Bambootique’s Newest Artisans

Meet Mon Saman. She is a 23-year old widow and mother of a 2-year old little girl. She was born in Ou Taki village, a

Location of Bat Tam Bang, Cambodia. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battambang_Province

small rural village in Bat Tam Bang province in north-western Cambodia. Life in this part of Cambodia is hard, with most of the population surviving on subsistence agriculture. Mon carries the responsibility of raising her small daughter on her own. With only a 6th grade education, she found an opportunity for stability when she was accepted into a weavers’ cooperative in 2006. In this co-op Mon received intensive training in the traditional skill of loom weaving. She now has regular work with her co-op to weave beautiful silk and cotton textiles.

The textiles Mon and her fellow weavers make are used in the production of a number of items, including Bambootique’s newest line of natural-dye scarves. These are our highest-quality, softest scarves we’ve ever carried. The silk is hand-dyed with 100% natural dyes made from local plants so there are no chemicals used. They’re so silky soft and lightweight, perfect for spring.

See a sneak preview below and the full collection here.

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Empowering Women Is The Answer

IMG_5367One of the many seeds that grew into Bambootique was when I read in one of my MBA’s economic textbooks that, when women have work, they are far more likely than men to spend their income on improving their children’s future – food, education, healthcare, clothing, housing, etc.  That was a lightbulb moment for me, although it was several years later before that seed grew into an actual business.  Still it was my own moment of empowerment, when I knew that I could do something profound that could change the lives of women and, in turn, help those women offer their children a better, brighter future.

A few days ago the New York Times ran a beautiful and concrete article on the very topic of eliminating poverty in the developing world through women. The authors, a married couple who co-wrote the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, talk about how when women have work they are less likely to be abused by their husbands because they are seen as valuable rather than as a burden. They provide employment for their poor neighbors.  They invest in their children’s educations. And as a result they boost their countries’ overall economies both now and, hopefully, in the future through their children.

The authors conclude that foreign aid as a blanket solution to poverty is inadequate. Shoving money at problems doesn’t necessarily get rid of them and, in many cases, makes problems worse.  However the authors point specifically to microfinance (giving small loans, mainly to women, to help them start or expand their own businesses) as one aspect of foreign aid that is most successful. Be sure to check out this well-written, well-researched article for more insights on the power of women to change their own lives.

95% of Bambootique’s artisans are women and many are micro-loan recipients through local lending programs. I don’t turn away men who make great products. But my vision is to empower women, knowing that men tend to have greater access to markets and other ways to earn an income than their female counterparts. I’m proud, in my own small way, to be part of such a movement. And I can’t wait to read Half the Sky, which I already have on hold at the library!

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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Meet Aurora, The Creativity Behind The Craft

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Honduran potters who make eye-catching ceramic beads for Bambootique’s jewelry. Today I’d like to introduce Aurora, whose hands touch every piece by turning the beads into wearable worksaurora_for_web of art.

I don’t know a lot about Aurora. She is quiet, small and probably in her late 40s. She sits daily at a large table in a cramped room at ACTA de Honduras’ headquarters in Tegucigalpa.  The room is full of natural light, even on the cloudy day I visited. No space is wasted in this room full of product samples and drawers and shelves dripping in beads.

She shyly told me a little about herself when we met last month. She told me about her four children, the oldest trying to figure out how to pay for university. She told me how she moved to Tegus from her village a few hours away so her children could go to school and she’d have work. She told me about how she likes to go back to her village, as Tegus will never be home. And she told me how she enjoys making each piece of jewelry by hand, expressing both her artistic abilities and those of her colleagues who handmake each bead.

I love this jewelry from Honduras because of the contrast between the rough beauty of beads made from earth with fashion forward designs.  Aurora is a humble woman whose life revolves around family, work and traditions. She wasn’t wearing any of the jewelry she makes the day we met, and I doubt she ever does. But she smiled while she worked and seemed to truly enjoy what she was doing. Into each necklace or earring she shares a little of her people’s traditions with us. For that gift I am grateful.

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Aurora showing me how she chooses beads for a necklace.

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Cascada Tres Hilos Necklace

Home From Honduras

Last week I had the honor of visiting ACTA de Honduras, a non-profit in Tegucigalpa, Honduras doing economic development among indigenous Lencan people.  I’ve been carrying ACTA’s jewelry at Bambootique since the company’s inception over two years ago but had not yet met the artisans themselves. The visit was inspiring plus I came home with a suitcase full of beautiful new designs. Today I’ll introduce you to the bead artisans, next time to the designer and the jewelry maker.

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Meet Delia. She’s a single mother of two young children. Trying to raise two children alone in rural Honduras is a bleak outlook for many women. For Delia though, it’s a task to which she has risen. She earns enough through her involvement with the ceramics cooperative for her children to attend school, which means hope for their futures.

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The workshop in the small village of El Porvenir, Honduras is cooperatively owned by six ceramic artisans, all women and all single mothers. It’s humble but it’s theirs.

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The women make ceramic plates, bowls, vases and beads. They use techniques handed down to them from generations. For many of their pieces they use different varieties of clay and an open fire, rather than paint, to create beautiful colors and designs.

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The pieces are first formed by hand, then dried for days in the sun. Once dried by the sun, the pieces are fired in one of two wood-burning kilns.

fire1The pieces are finished over a scorching hot fire, which blackens the pottery or adds color, depending on the type of clay used.

finishedbeadsFinished beads. The blue/ green colors are glaze, the reds, blacks and whites are formed through an incredible combination of various clays and heat.

Next time…meet Aurora, who turns these beads into bold fashion-forward jewelry.

Lake Oswego Holiday Market This Weekend

This weekend Lake Oswego holds its 4th annual Holiday Market.  The two-day market features holiday crafts, local vendors, entertainment, festive food and drink and an all around great time. Bambootique is proud to participate for the first time this year.  Stop by and check out our fair trade gifts from around the acta-de-honduras-artisan-photoworld.

As I write this blog post I’m in Tegucigalpa, Honduras visiting a co-op of Lencan women who make jewelry for Bambootique. I’ll have some of the best pieces featured for the first time at the Lake Oswego Holiday Market, so be sure to come by and see them for yourself.

Lake Oswego Holiday Market
Saturday and Sunday, December 6 and 7
9am-5pm
West End Building, 4101 Kruse Way, Lake Oswego

Admission is free!

Everyday Just Living Home

Eco-Friendly Candles Saving The Cloud Forest

Antigua, Guatemala is one of my favorite little cities in the world. With cobblestone streets, beautiful cndl_sq_blarchitecture and fantastic handicraft shopping, it’s a traveler’s dream.

A few years ago, before I founded Bambootique, I picked up this gorgeous blue candle at a little corner shop by the city’s famous arch. I was drawn to the candle not only because its color and texture were unlike any other but because it claimed to help preserve the cloud forest. I didn’t really know then what that meant, but I bought it and when I returned home gave it to my dear friend Lisa as a birthday present.

Fast forward a year or so when I established Bambootique. I was on the hunt for great fair trade products and remembered that candle. I called up Lisa and thankfully she still had the candle and its wrapper, which connected me with Proyecto Eco-Quetzal, a Guatemalan non-profit that sells the candles.

Now candles from Proyecto Eco-Quetzal are one of the central product lines for Bambootique. They embody every value central to my company. First of all, they are incredibly beautiful candles. They are produced cndl_set_43primarily by skilled women. They are a traditional craft of the Mayan people. They are produced in a community village setting. They are 100% natural vegetable wax and dyes, with no added scent and lead-free cotton wicks. The best part is, these candles really do save the native cloud forest of Guatemala.

The candles’ wax comes the seeds of a native tree, the arrayan tree. The seed pods are collected and cooked to top_left_logoextract their natural wax. Because of the economic possibilities of these trees, the native people are fighting to keep their forest intact rather than cut it down to make farmland. The arrayan tree also happens to be part of the native habitat of a Guatemalan bird, the quetzal, hence the organization’s name. Both the trees and the bird have been threatened in the past, so the work of Proyecto Eco-Quetzal and its Mayan artisans is essential in preserving both.

Check out the full line of eco-friendly candles from Proyecto Eco-Quetzal here.

Everyday Just Living Home

The Faces Of Fair Trade At Bambootique

October is Fair Trade Month, as declared by Transfair USA, the only third-party certifying body in the United States of fair trade products and one of twenty similar organizations worldwide. The focus they’ve chosen this year is The Faces of Fair Trade. Fair trade is powerful because it connects producers directly with consumers. Here I share a few of the artisan faces behind Bambootique’s products. The life of each artisan is directly impacted through her involvement with fair trade and the opportunities fair trade offers her and her family.

Zoila is a young Mayan woman from Central Guatemala. She works with the non-profit Proyecto Eco-Quetzal to produce eco-friendly, traditional Mayan candles.

Jurina runs a fair trade purse workshop, where she and several other women produce bamboo purses made with local, sustainably raised bamboo.

Ritu is a young, single mother from Nepal whose husband abandoned her shortly after their daughter was born. She and several dozen other single mothers produce beautiful beaded jewelry and knitted bags, in a society where women on their own have few economic opportunities.

Okinaj is a young indigenous woman in northern Argentina. She’s part of the indigenous Wichi group, a people who have experienced incredible hardship. Okinaj and her fellow artisans collect and dry local seeds which they turn into beautiful pieces of wearable art including beaded necklaces.

Anna is a Liberian woman who has found employment and a livable income through a coconut oil cooperative. The coconut oil is used to produce Anti-Body skincare products.

Remember every time you see the words “fair trade” on a product you are purchasing, you are directly having a postive impact on the farmer, producer or artisan behind it. Thank you for supporting fair trade!


One More Bag From Afghanistan

This Kuchi bag didn’t make it up on my blog the other day but here it is. The Kuchis are a semi-nomadic minority group in Afghanistan and these clutch bags use their traditional style of exuberant detailed embroidery.  Sewn into the border are tiny little mirrors which dance and sparkle when they catch light. Afghanistan might well be the hardest country in the world to be a woman.  The highly-skilled women who make these bags live tough lives to be sure.  By getting a fair wage for their work hopefully their burdens are made just a tiny bit lighter.

Look What Afghan Women Can Do!

Yesterday DHL pulled up just as I arrived home. I love it when DHL pulls up! It means a big box of goodies has arrived from somewhere exotic. This time that exotic land was Afghanistan and the products were purses, totes and Christmas ornaments.

How do I get bags shipped to me from Afghanistan, you ask? Here’s the scoop. My in-laws went to Afghanistan earlier this year for a month to volunteer at a hospital. My mother-in-law, Florence, returned with a contact for me, an organization called Zardozi. I looked them up and was enamored with their products, not to mention their story. Zardozi has been around since the 80’s, when they started a sewing center to train Afghan women how to use their skills to make marketable products. Now they work mainly with Afghan refugee women who live in Pakistan or in eastern Afghanistan. Many are starting to return home and they’re able to bring their new skills with them, continuing to work and therefore provide schooling and healthcare for their kids. This is incredible in a country with a history of confining women to the house, let alone allowing them to work. Working with Zardozi allows the women to work from home, while they’re with their children, and still have an income.

The bags blew me away when I opened them yesterday. Only a few up are up on my site so far but more will be up soon. I love the Glitter Bag (above). It’s big enough for me with all the toddler gear I haul around and so pretty but sturdy too. My friend Katie was ooing and aaing over the Pomegrante Tote (below) when she saw it yesterday. And I can’t wait to show you the Kuchi bag, which I don’t have a good photo of yet. It has literally thousands of colorful stitches in this exuberant traditional style from a semi-nomadic people of Aghanistan plus those cute little mirrors you see sewn into South Asian textiles.

All in all, I’m thrilled to introduce Zardozi to the Bambootique family! Watch for more Zardozi products on my site in the next few days!

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