World Pulse’s New Issue Is Out…And It’s Really Good

wp- fulfill cover singleOne my favorite magazines that I’ve blogged about before is World Pulse. It’s this fabulous collection of stories and articles about women’s issues worldwide. It’s unlike any other women’s magazine I’ve ever read, being globally-minded and focused on the most positive aspects of what women are doing worldwide.

This latest issue focuses on new economic models from women visionaries, including those in the fair trade movement. A number of the issue’s articles are available online but you have to get the print edition to read the full issue, including the excellent fair trade article.

The fair trade article, entitled Unraveling Women’s Fair Trade, takes a hard look at the model of fair trade company such as mine at Bambootique and how difficult it is to make such companies sustainable not to mention profitable. I know first-hand how difficult that is. Thankfully Bambootique has been financially sustainable (i.e. broken even) since day one, but the profitable side for the most part is still a future hope and dream.  This is the reality for many similar companies for a whole host of reasons. The market is certainly there for our products and it’s rapidly  growing, but there are so many challenges too. They include scale (we can be inefficient because we are so small), shipping and customs costs, the communication difficulties related to working with small groups of women often working in remote areas, getting our products to market, etc.  The article points out that the joy of running such a business and knowing how much good we are doing far outweighs the challenges, at least for many in this industry. And many of us are getting more sustainable and more profitable, both business owners and artisans, as the market grows and our businesses get stronger.

Look for the latest issue of World Pulse on a newstand near you. I know I’ve seen it in the Portland area at Powell’s, Borders and natural food stores like Whole Foods.

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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!

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.

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!

Making Your Dollar Go Further In Troubling Times

Like a lot of people my husband and I are more aware of what we are buying, and we’re definitely cutting back even though our day-to-day income hasn’t been impacted at this point (investments certainly have been).  As the owner of a local small business myself, I’m trying to be more intentional with the dollars I do spend to make sure my purchases are purposeful and as local as possible.  It’s the little guys who are going to be most impacted by this downturn. The hairdressers whose clients come in every 6 months instead of every 6 weeks. The local restaurants who no longer see families coming in for dinner. The small retailers who can’t compete with big-box store prices when everyone is looking for deep discounts.  The local farmers whose produce consumers no longer wish to purchase for more than the cheap imported food.

Here are a few ways we’re spending our money to make sure the impact is felt as strongly and close to home as possible:

  • I’m still going to my hairdresser, Melody Oliver of J and J Hair Studio once every six weeks. I know she needs it as she’s had other clients have to cut back. My hair appreciates it too!
  • We’re buying our eggs from our neighbors who raise chickens.
  • We bought our Christmas tree from the farm across the street, Century Farm at 10050 SW Hazelbrook Road. We got a great deal too with a pre-cut for only $15!
  • We’ll be picking up some of Grace’s Christmas presents at Mudpuddles in Sherwood, a wonderful local toy store.
  • Although I don’t have to buy a lot of clothes for Grace, thanks to hand-me-downs from her cousin Sophia, when I do shop I like to go to Baby and Me or Katelyn’s Closet consignment stores. I know I’m supporting local businesses and shopping in an eco-friendly way.
  • We use Tidee-Didee diaper service, which means we’re keeping diapers out of landfills plus our diaper dollars are going to local jobs instead of multi-national diaper companies.

How about you? Do you have a favorite local business you are going out of your way to support? It’s not always the cheapest or most convenient option, but being intentional about how we each spend our money may help some of our local businesses weather this economic storm.

Thanks For Making The Trunk Show A Success!

I’m throwing a big THANK YOU out to all of you who attended Bambootique‘s Holiday Fair Trade Trunk Show this weekend.  Over 70 of you attended and it was a great mix. We had everyone from babies to moms to img_5006grandmas plus husbands, neighbors, and out-of-town guests! An especially big thank you to those of you who brought friends or family and introduced them to Bambootique for the first time. The more people learn about fair trade, the better for all the artisans involved.

If you’d like to attend the next trunk show, contact me and I’ll make sure you’re notified. Trunk shows are held twice a year, once in the spring (April/ May) and again in November.

A big thank you also to Connie, Mary Lee, Kecia, Becky, Karin S., Megan, Karen P. and Katie, who all helped me prep the week before as well as during the event itself. I couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you also to my long-suffering husband Steve and my daughter Grace, who put up with a house-turned-showroom for three days. Finally thank you to these fair trade companies who all donated free samples and/ or literature to the goodie bags, which every attendee took home to enjoy after the show.img_49881

Trunk Show Photo Gallery

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Cooperatives Work Here, Too

When I buy products for Bambootique, one of the things I look for is groups of women who have come together to form cooperatives. In a cooperative artisans band together in a way that benefits all of them to buy inputs in bulk, negotiate shipping rates for their products and to have bargaining power with buyers like me, among other things. This bargaining power of cooperatives is a central principle of fair trade and is missing from most economic transactions between the West and the developing world. It’s not just alive and well in my business, it’s also a thriving principle in my neighborhood.

Last week while playing and giggling on the floor with two little toddlers, one mine, it dawned on me that I am also part of a cooperative. The other toddler in that happy moment was my neighbor’s son, Braylon, who spends one day a week with us at our house while his mom works from home. Grace goes and spends another day every week at Braylon’s house while I get a few precious hours to work myself. The kids have a wild and crazy time and the moms get worn out but it’s all good fun.

By pooling our resources (time, patience, lunch, sanity, toys) my neighbor and I both come out much better off than if we each did everything on our own. Our little neighborhood co-op makes us each stronger and saner not to mention the savings on babysitting fees. This power we women hold together is definitely much greater than the sum of our individual strengths.

I’ve Been Published!

I just found out my article submitted to Ladies Who Launch was published on their site. The article is called “Is Fair Trade Green?” Check out my article on the Ladies Who Launch website. Does an internet article count as being published?

It’s Just Business – Tip #1

As a small business owner I’ll post from time to time what I’m doing to make my business as “just” and sustainable as possible. As a fair trade business it probably seems like that’s built right in but that’s not necessarily true. I have found I have to be conscious in every way beyond the products I sell that my business is being fair to all involved and has as little impact on the planet as possible.

Today’s tip involves my use of packaging materials. As an online retailer I obviously do a lot of shipping, which requires materials such as bubble wrap, packing paper, boxes, tape, etc. I am proud to say that in my one year as an online retailer (yes it’s one year this month!!!) I have never purchased any packaging materials. Everything I use to wrap Bambootique products for shipping (apart from the boxes and the packing tape) has been used bubble wrap, newspaper, packing paper, or those plastic air-pockets.

Last year I put an email out to my family and friends telling them of my need for packing materials. Within a few weeks I had amassed such a pile of bubble wrap I actually had to turn some away for lack of storage space! Since then a few loyal friends and family members have fed me a steady supply of packing materials when my stock gets low. Because of their forethought I have not only saved my business a fair amount of money but I can proudly say we have introduced no new plastic or paper packaging materials into the system and we have kept many pounds of this stuff out of landfills.

While we’re on this note, if you are one of my “suppliers” (or would like to be), I am getting low on the plastic air-pockets. I could also use more bubble wrap as well, so long as it is clean. I hate plastic peanuts since they make such a mess but if you need to get rid of some please, please DO NOT put them in the garbage. Most shipping stores (such as UPS stores) will take them from you and reuse them.

Thanks to all of you who are helping me make my business more sustainable. Now if I could only figure out a way to resuse packing tape….