Why My Passion For Fair Trade?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

I have some new gorgeous wallets from Cambodia in stock and I had a customer say to me  that I was really “enthusiastic” about the Fair Trade products that I have in store. Where does my enthusiasm for this simple wallet and all the other Fair Trade products come from? It is from seeing first-hand the difference giving people an opportunity to improve their lives can really make.


Vietnam holds a special place in my heart; it is where I meet Steffen, made lifelong friends, and my work as a Community Development Adviser cemented the direction of my career, a career strongly focused on working with survivors of Unexploded Ordnance (UXOs) accidents and researching the impact of remnants of war on communities. It put me in contact with some of the poorest communities and women across Vietnam and Laos. Steffen and I then moved to work in Laos where I worked with CARE Australia and Mines Advisory Group working with communities heavily impacted by the Vietnam conflict, with the secret war in Laos making Laos one of the most heavily bomb countries in the world, here my work focused on communities still impacted by unexploded ordnance. The photo below shows what is still a daily occurence in Laos, the finding of UXO's.

Whilst working in Vietnam I went to one of the villages on a monitoring visit to talk with some of the participants of agriculture training that our Project team had been running. Thao, my translator and I were waiting at one of the ladies homes; a very simple single room wooden hut which had a mat to sit on which was covering the dirt floor. My encounter with Tien is something that I will always remember. Once we sat down she held my hand and started saying “Cam on” “Cam on” (thank you, thank you) I knew by looking in her eyes as she held my hand with tears streaming down her face that she had had a very hard and difficult life and as her story was translated her tears were a mixture of shame, relief and hope.

This is Tien's story. When Tien was a teenager she was out working in her parents fields when she struck a UXO with her hoe causing it to explode, she had her hand blown off and also had large scars from shrapnel on her face. Tien had very little self worth, she described herself as ugly and that no man would ever want her. She was a single mother, caring for her 7 year old son alone.  It is very common for women who were injured by UXOs before they were married to have never married and believe that “no man would want a wife like them”. Women who have been injured by UXOs often survive on their own, or their injury increases the family poverty as there is a reduced number of labourers. It was for this reason that women, and in particular people with disabilities and their family were selected to be beneficiaries of project activities.

Tien was so thankful that she had been involved in agricultural training; she had received training, had support from our Project Team and was given assistance with establishing new crops. She explained that for the first time in a long while was hopeful for the future, hopeful for her son’s future and so thankful.

Sadly, all around the world there is poverty and with that poverty comes despair. Encouragingly there are also wonderful projects working with communities to ensure people are paid fairly and to assist people access markets for their products. Meeting Tien, and being fortunate to work with communities throughout SE Asia to assist communities improve their livelihoods makes me very passionate about the products that I have in store. The communities were so thankful that the project had come to support their village, however I was more thankful as I meet some of the most generous, kind-hearted and wonderful people in my travels. I would like to share with you some of the makers of some of the beautiful products that I have in the store from Cambodia, another country still recovering from war and the impact of mines and UXOs.

The Watthan Artisans of Cambodia jewellery is a favourite of mine, simple, unique and beautifully made. The staff are trained in production of fashion and home accessories made from re-claimed hardwoods and upcycled materials. Products are made from their workshops in Phnom Penh and by many home-based producers. They are an independent cooperative committed to providing hope and empowerment to people with disabilities and the economic development of Cambodia.

Kravan House means “Blossom House” and symbolises the hope given to all the workers who are given the opportunity to participate more fully in their communities. Established in 2003 by the wonderful Thanan Hok, who herself has a disability from polio, and employs  home-based, disabled workers (often from polio or landmine accidents) and women who have experienced extreme hardship due to homelessness. Thanan coordinates the women who receive training and expertly weave, hand-dye and sew the silks and cottons that make up their wonderful products. New to Elemental Barossa are these gorgeous clutches.

Tonlé clothing and accessories are made by small teams of sewers, printers, dyers and weavers based in Phnom Penh. They use mostly recycled materials and remnant fabric to utilise surplus material being tossed aside by large manufacturers.

This innovative group seek to connect you to the people who make your clothes, and strive to build a culture of communication where suppliers are not hidden, but celebrated as partners. They are working mainly with recycled materials – about 80-90%, mostly coming from garment factory scraps. Each month the design team visit the markets to handpick the best fabrics for their collections and base the production runs on what has been sourced. This means that the entire production process only makes 2-3% waste, as compared to a typical factory, which might waste up to 50%!

The garment industry still rates as one of the worst worldwide for incidences of child labor, forced labor and other basic human rights violations. At tonlé, all employees are paid well above the local minimum wage and are provided with benefits and training opportunities. The workshops are set up with a team structure rather than a traditional assembly line, so that each team member gets to work on different types of products and improve their skills and contribute more creatively.

Thank you for being part of the Fair Trade story; in a world where we are more inter-connected than ever before,  purchasing products where people have been paid fairly for their work and work in safe conditions does make a difference to people’s livelihoods. And your purchase is part of that positive story.

Have a wonderful day,

Lisa xx



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