We have a pretty straight-forward mission — sourcing ethical, socially responsible, and fairtrade goods from around the world. What does this mean? To the best of our knowledge, people have not been exploited in any way in the making of our products.
What do we mean exactly by “exploitation”? It can be as simple as adults working in traditional cotton fields with nasty pesticides or as complicated as grandmothers embroidering t-shirts in a Harry Potter cupboard under the stairs. We believe in paying a fair wage in the local context. A trade for a trade.
The way to stop this topsy-turvy seesaw is to change expectations about the products we buy. We’re as guilty of snapping up a cheap shirt as much as the next person, but we’re changing our buying habits step-by-step, and we hope you’ll do the same. Companies aren’t about to advertise the fact that they’re paying Filipino workers $2 a day to sew pantaloons, so it’s up to all of us to ask questions, and be conscious about where we spend our money. A Trade For A Trade is a way to make it easier for you to distinguish the truly non-exploitive products from the secretly-exploitive products.
Although A Trade For A Trade focuses on aiding the developing world in their battle with poverty, we also seek out traditional craftsmen and women in developed countries struggling to keep crafts unique to their cultural heritage alive. If we don’t encourage them to continue throwing teapots, carving woodblock stamps, and painting, these crafts are going to disappear. That’s why you’ll find goods from Japan, the U.S., and Australia on our site. However, we hold artisans in these countries to even higher standards because they have access to more resources.
Whether the goods are from developed or developing countries, we favor products that fit into our ethical categories:
Non-exploitive: We want to be clear. Even if we find a product that is 100% eco-friendly, we still want to know that it is non-exploitive. For us, paying people a lousy wage just to make a new eco-friendly product is not really “a trade for a trade.” We research like crazy, and when we can’t find information about a company or individual we fill in the gaps by asking about employee rights, owner’s information, mission statements, working conditions, product origins, and a myriad of other things—all so you don’t have to. We’re also lucky to be able to buy many of our products directly from the producers, thus cutting out the price-jacking middleman. We don’t mark products as non-exploitive on the site, because all products fit into this category.
Handmade: We look for things that showcase truly beautiful handiwork. We try to trace the components that make up a handmade piece, but if the bulk of the product’s worth comes from the handmade portion, then we’re just pleased we get to offer an artisan a fair price for their hard work.
Recycled: We seek things made of recycled materials such as plastic, glass, paper, cotton, tin, metal, as well as products made of recycled components. Some artists are able to take “trash” such as old potato chip bags or rice sacks and turn them into baskets, bags, and stools - incredible pieces of art.
Fairtrade: Fairtrade is a term that refers to the developed world’s relationship with the developing world’s goods. It means that artisans have been paid a fair wage in the local context, have the right to organize, and have above-standard working conditions. Although all of our goods are Fairly-Traded, we only mark Fairtrade goods as those that have been certified by an outside organization such as the Fair Trade Federation.
Eco-friendly: There’s a lot that goes into this category. Eco-friendly goods include those made from sustainable resources (such as bamboo, hemp, birch and lokta bark to name a few), reclaimed, repurposed or vintage materials. We also seek out organic fabrics, like cotton, and organic ingredients in our bath and body products. Organic cotton, for example, is grown without using harmful pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, while conventional cotton accounts for approximately 25% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides. Not great for us or the earth.
In the case of vintage pieces, we often can’t find the true history of a given item, but we believe recycling has to be the cornerstone of any modern society. We also stock books in our Resource section that will give you a little more information on socially responsible shopping — they’ve helped us as well.
Heard of a great product that we would love? Are you an artisan yourself? Been traveling and stumbled across a new craft in a remote corner of India? Have more questions? (We always do, it’s our job.) Contact us — we’d love to hear from you!
Kendra Langford Shaw and Johnathan Shaw
Why aren’t all of your products certified fairtrade?
The U.S. has a few great fairtrade pioneers who have blazed trail, and we’re excited the fairtrade movement is picking up steam. Although we work with many fairtrade organizations in other countries, we also travel to look for the little guy, the NGO working with remote villages in Nepal, the woman making traditional black stone Indian teapots, the Japanese woodworker struggling to make ends meet. Some of our favorite producer groups are afraid that certification will turn them into “fairtrade sweatshops,” little better than what we have now. Fairtrade certification takes time and money, and it’s not for everyone.
Where does the money go when I buy a product from you?
Let us start by saying that we do not take any goods on consignment. We purchase products from groups we believe in, which puts the business risk squarely on our shoulders. It’s the height of unfairness to expect a poor women’s cooperative in rural Africa to purchase supplies with money they don’t have to make products they can’t sell.
So first of all, the money goes back to the groups to re-invest in more goods. One of the beauties of fairly traded goods is that it supplies sustainable and long-term support to some of the people who need it most. Second, it goes into research (both time and travel) to find new products.