July 30, 2014
The different heritage, languages, belief systems and world views are always opening us up to new ideas, new experiences and a greater understanding of the world around us.
Thailand has a huge range of ethnic groups, each with their own languages, traditions and styles. Thais make up about 90% of the general population, while minority groups account for the rest.
With a population of around 400,000 people in Thailand, the Karen themselves are a diverse collection of smaller ethnic groups. Two of our artisans, Dia and Ning, are part of the Karen community who live in and around Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand.
The Karen are primarily from Burma (Myanmar), and have had a tumultuous history. From clashes with the central Burmese government and subsequent British administration throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Karen have been massively displaced from their original land.
They also live in parts of Myanmar, Laos and Yunnan province in China. Civil war in Laos and Myanmar meant that like the Karen, the Akha were forced to flee, and now a population of over 80,000 are settled around Chiang Mai.
Ahsu and Nueng, our master jewelers, are from the Akha community. Many of their compatriots still work in agriculture, which has traditionally been the foundation of Akha economy. Today, however, ‘ecotourism’ means more and more people make their living from entertaining the tourists who come to spend a day in the life of the village.
Jane, one of our tailors, is Lahu and again, their story is one of displacement as a result of civil war. Once known as tiger-hunters, the Lahu now live sparse lives, relying on back-breaking subsistence farming, blacksmithing and weaving to continue their way of life.
All these people - their rich heritage and culture - will be eroded over time if they do not become empowered and autonomous.
This is at the root of why we seek out talented artisans in these communities.
For many it’s the difference between making a respectable living and doing something that would alienate them from their people and themselves.
It empowers them to care for family members who cannot work, to educate their children, and to contribute to their community in the unique and meaningful ways of each people. Fair Trade guarantees them a livable wage - meaning that the desperation that can destroy whole cultures is removed from the equation, person by person.
Of course, we love delivering beautiful goods to our customers, and it’s our joy to have a business that creates such high quality jewelry, yoga gear and homewares.
But at the heart of it, our passion to see justice brought to the people who toil to create those goods is what drives us forward, and we’re honored that you’re along for the ride with us.
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