Our Thriving Earth: A Fair Trade Story
April 22, 2018
How Carrying Silk 1500 Miles Changed Our Lives
August 19, 2014
Travel is always such a whirlwind, isn’t it? There’s this manic scramble before you leave, packing, repacking and starting all over again, making sure you’ve got your cables and snacks and clothes and maps and lists and…. it just goes on and on.
But that’s the magic of it all, the unpredictable, unforeseeable beauty of gathering yourselves up and just going. We’ve been doing it a while now, and that is the only constant.
On our most recent trip, hauling ourselves all the way to the UK, and then bustling down into Nepal, we had some time to reflect on the process our materials and products have gone through as we grew.
Here we’d like to share some musings on that growth from a little while ago, when we rebranded from Fair Trade by HOPE to Global Groove Life:
Back in '98, after our first pop-up store, we literally travelled the length of India for interesting products to bring back to our customers in California for the following holiday season. Once we reached southern India, Mysore to be exact, we found ourselves not only high on the scent of sandalwood but intoxicated by the array of fine silks available.
Without a clue what we would do with it, we purchased yards of raw silk in just about every color imaginable.
This silk travelled on our backs via a third-class sleeper car from the southern tip of India back up and through the holy city of Varanasi. It travelled overland through a massive storm and leaky bus for three days from Varanasi to Kathmandu - over 1500 miles in total. And that's where we learned, after such a crazy journey, that Kathmandu was famous for embroidery!
Remember there was no Wifi in those days, Internet in that part of the world existed only in major cities and you could expect to wait up to three hours for your turn on the one computer. So we had no idea what we could expect to find anywhere in our travels.
So there we were with a pack full of silk surrounded on every street corner by the buzz of embroidering, and at Christmas 1998 we offered the most amazing silk cushion covers with intricate and colorful celtic knots that you have ever seen!
And now, in full knowledge of what Kathmandu has to offer, we carried fabric from afar once again. It didn't experience the authentic traveler's rite-of-passage journey as did our first go, but it did travel, albeit by jet...
From Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Delhi to London to Delhi to Kathmandu to Delhi to Bangkok and back to Chiang Mai.
Here in Chiang Mai the beautiful embroidered material is stitched into yoga mat bags, and then released out into the world to keep flowing to where it’s wanted. In keeping with Global Groove tradition, you can not get this in Kathmandu because the fabric doesn't exist there, nor can you get it in Chiang Mai, because this type of hand embroidery doesn't exist here.
It’s still amazing to us, after all these years, that travel and a small spark of inspiration led us to where we are today.
We started out with just a handful of artisans in the beginning, and now there are whole teams working to build this Global Groove Life together and to boost Fair Trade all around the world.
The Big Fair Trade Controversy
August 12, 2014 1 Comment
Over the many years since Fairtrade first began, the movement has seen many ups and downs.
As with any movement that seeks to change the comfortable status quo, there have been critics, naysayers and outright enemies from the get go.
The biggest criticism leveled at Fairtrade over the years has come from academics, who claim that an insufficient amount of the sale price reaches the original producer. This is an oversimplification of the facts, and a perfect example of economists wilfully misrepresenting data to suit their agenda.
Fairtrade farmers and producers are paid in a two-pronged system.
First up, producers are paid fixed price, agreed on by both parties before production and distribution goes ahead. This is known as the floor price, and it is designed to protect producers in the event that the market fluctuates and purchasing prices drop below what they would otherwise earn.
Producers then receive an additional amount, known as the Fairtrade Premium, that can be used for whatever they want. Many producers put this extra income towards developing their communities and protecting their local resources. This ensures that their way of life and income are protected, while benefiting others in their community - a rising tide lifts all ships.
Other critics will argue that implementing a floor price isn’t enough, that there are plantation workers who are unprotected because they are not part of a Fair Trade co-op, that conglomerates can abuse the Fair Trade system.
And those are legitimate concerns - but they are determinedly ignoring the big picture.
Recently Fairtrade International - the predominant certifying body - introduced hiring standards, meaning that even casual workers are protected and paid a living wage. It supports the unionization of workers, and greater freedom in their allocation of income.
Fair Trade USA, which split from Fairtrade International in 2012, has been globally decried for its willingness to extend certification to large plantations with internal management protocols. The FTUSA position has provided a loophole for large corporations to take advantage of the marketing clout of Fair Trade without helping to sustain or develop the movement.
The big picture is that over 1.4 million coffee, tea, banana and orange growers, cacao producers, jewelry artisans, and tailors all over the world have been tipped back from the brink of destitution by their Fair Trade affiliation.
Let’s call it what it is. The most vocal opponents of Fair Trade are the ones with the most to lose. They are the ones who, in the words of one insightful journalist, would have their apple carts overturned by ‘interference in the correct running of markets’.
We’ve seen this before. Just as it was an uphill battle for the civil rights movement to overcome the violent opposition of the white community, so it is an uphill battle to win fair, livable working conditions for all against the powerful corporations that run the global economy.
For you and me, though, it’s not such a battle. We have the privilege of simply voting with our wallets, and it is a small price to pay. A couple of dollars each time you go to the supermarket or pick up a gift is all it takes to start moving retailers and suppliers towards more and more Fair Trade purchases. Encouraging one or two other people can start a chain reaction.