There’s something spellbinding about small-town markets that bring everyone together in a dizzying array of sights, sounds, and smells. At every turn, there’s a colorful display of creativity and humanity. These markets often tell the story of the townspeople. There’s such an openness in seeing the smiling faces of artisans as you discover their work. There’s such vulnerability in touching the maker’s hands as they offer them to you as a thank you. Maybe, it’s because we both experienced childhoods in small towns where markets were woven into the culture but this personal connection, this trading of more than just money for goods, is very important in what we purchase.
Alas, we’re not always in the Bahamas where we can run to the straw market for handwoven totes and warm hugs like when I was a child. Nor are we in Spain nearly enough to peruse locally harvested cork craftsmanship like Ron could when running around southern Spain. We’ve never been to Morocco to roam their textile markets and we’ve never been to Guatemala to witness artisans weaving traditional patterns into wearable masterpieces. Yet, this appreciation of the life surrounding these products made by artisans who know and love their craft leads us to want to purchase products that not only look cultural but that support local cultures. For us conscious consumers, that’s where fair, ethically traded brands enter the global marketplace making it easier to support the people and products you love all over the world without having to plan a vacation to get them.
What is Fair Trade?
Chances are you’ve heard of fair trade before. Maybe, you saw it on a box of tea at your grocery store or scribbled on a chalkboard at your local coffee shop. Companies can get fair trade certification from several international governing bodies by abiding to specific guidelines on income sustainability, empowerment, environmental stewardship, and community well-being. The World Fair Trade Organization defines fair trade as: a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers. As desirable as those $5 raffia earrings in the mall may be, wouldn’t you rather the person who made them also live a desirable life for just a few more dollars and bit more awareness? Visit Fair Trade Certified and Equal Exchange, two other certification organizations, you’ll find directories of their certified brands and even shopping guides. Two great resources for starting out in fair trade and finding brands you like.
What is Ethical Trade?
The ethical trade movement has developed out of the fair trade certification process. Companies that are built on fair trade practices like improved working conditions, living wages, sustainable sourcing, and transparency but may not actually be certified fall under the ethical trade movement. Since they aren’t moderated by a central governing body through certification, these brands require even more research to verify authenticity. It’s a treasure hunt just like wandering through a local market loosing minutes as you ask questions and gaze in amazement. Uncover all you can about brands that boast “ethical or fair trade”. Is it just written in their “About Us” and plastered on their home page in some exotic looking font? Or, do they share videos from their local weaving workshop? Do you know the faces and stories of the workers you’ll be supporting? Remember fair trade and ethical trade requires transparency that can be seen, heard, and even felt just like in a local market.
Brightly painted orange, yellow, and school busses buzz by as the video pans to an indigenous woman surrounded by a rainbow of flowers. She lights the video with her smile. We soon realize we’re on the outskirts of market. Closer in patterned tapestries hang creating invisible walls between vendors. This is the first look at Utz Threads, a women’s weaving cooperative from Chichicastenango, a mountainous region in Guatemala. Born out of the ancestral art of weaving and the very modern need of working in a global economy, Utz Threads offers handmade products that function in a modern world with traditional techniques. 12 women, some with rose-cheeked babies peeking from behind them, offer up proud eyes, nervous stances, and welcoming smiles as they let us into their world.
We all love South American cultures for their intricate patterns of colors and textures. But, did you know that many of the patterns are region specific and worn locally as an identifiable symbol of hometown pride? Utz Threads uses this symbolic nature of Guatemalan culture in their designs too. The Q’ij Tat collection means “father sun” in local Maya dialect and features a pattern of the sun on a burning red background which traditionally symbolizes respect for it’s power. The Ixkanul collection stands out in turquoise with a bold black and purple geometric pattern representing the areas beautiful volcanoes. On average, a 5"x10" sized pattern can take 3 days to complete weaving. Utz Threads has made it a part of their transparency mission to include indigenous and local models in their marketing. Celebrating the faces of the weavers and locals that bring this culture to life is an important aspect of fair, ethical trade for Utz Threads.
Our Featured Items
Ixkanul Laptop Case that fits a 13" screen. The touch of this laptop case sold me. The weaving feels sturdy and adds padding to the case in itself in addition to the anti-static lining. My 13" Macbook pro slides in and out easily. I love pockets on laptop cases and this one has three. There is a large pocket in front and two pockets on the back that are perfect for organizing small tech accessories and notebooks!
Men's T-shirt with blue and yellow textile print. Utz Threads offers the men's tee with three different accent textile styles. Ron loved the slender, fit cut and found the small to be true to size. He appreciated the way the subtle textile trimming dressed up a simple white t-shirt.