Fibres of Life
Our (Ever-unfolding) Fair Trade Story
Fair Trade keeps you humble. At every turn you find out what you don’t know, and what you have to learn.
But there’s one thing I DO know - One thing for certain – fair trade is an adventure.
A big, incessantly expanding adventure – that lasts a lifetime for mavericks in our field. It’s a journey that is never-ending, and is filled with beautiful new people at every turn – the creative artisans we work with, their advocates through fair trade associations, and our brilliant customers who support, teach, and inform us as we grow. Fair trade is a journey that is stimulating to the max – filled with colors, textures, smells, and even tastes (one of my favorite places in the world to eat is the Association for Craft Producers free cafeteria!). And fair trade is an adventure of not to be underestimated growth, commitment, and darn hard work that is fueled by its social and environmental drive. It’s a journey I like to describe as stumbling towards ecstasy. And the stumbling and the ecstasy both come at surprising times – sometimes at the same time!
How appropriate, then, that Fibres of Life all came about by chance – or so it seems – when I, working in community development and conservation, popped out of a public transport vehicle in Kathmandu, Nepal, on my way to an information interview, and landed straight in front of The Association for Craft Producers – the first fair trade association we began work with 6 years ago, and who we now share a deep partnership with. While I watched others come and go from breathtaking mountain treks, I had begun to question my insanity of buzzing around the busy and sometimes polluted streets days at a time to meet with people in the country working on thought provoking social and environmental projects. Should I have sent my trusty hiking boots home in that hockey bag? What was I doing? But I do believe that the story isn’t over until it is over – and that was the day Fibres of Life, as it became, began – as I walked excitedly into ACP and felt the first sense of possibility and reality in months of travel and seeking. Over the next few days, before I knew it, to buy product, I had withdrawn $3000 from the bank machine in multiple small withdrawls, and realized I had no idea how to export and ship the goods. Never one to be shy, a coffee and talking with others in the area pointed me in the right direction and so it landed on Canadian soil.
While my main motivation and passion with Fibres of Life has been to be a part of an international collaboration to support social and environmental development, this project has called on myself, and those who I work with, in unexpected, and often, deliciously surprising ways. Discovery #1 to 10 - No fair trade project or artisan can succeed economically or otherwise without gorgeous, unique products that inspire. Early on, with no ‘design’ background, I quickly had to learn how to observe the creative capacities existing in the fair trade groups we work with, and locate my own skills to design and develop products that would demonstrate the unquestionable value of handmade, ethically produced, quality products. Products that would draw people in from their originality and progressive style, and inspire people who may not have cared about fair trade or socially responsible consumerism to think about it, support it, and spread the word. I believe we need to create products that are not bought charitably. No beige, no ‘do good’, no ordinary. We strive for color, whimsy and intelligent design that people will WANT and will be moved to think about intentionality and to care - to think about where it came from, and their role as an ethical shopper.
Fair trade products have taught me that beauty inspires. It engages our own creativity when we see it, and ignites us to tap into our spirited and resourceful side to be great creators in our own way for good. Beautiful, ethical products just look different – smart – edgy – pushing for more. It gets great people at the supermarket and on the street asking about them and starting interesting, change making, conversations between themselves. Now isn’t that a trippy and important experiment to be a part of?! It’s amazing what pretty and purposeful in a public domain can do.
This is the adventure of fair trade we are on. Along with the unexpected twists and turns, administrative headaches, bumpy jeep rides, hot masala chai’s, gentle laughing artisans, and street dogs on our way - from farmer or artisan to buyer, it brings fantastic people together who are injecting more into the world. It’s a movement – not perfect, but growing and improving our capacity as we go. Thank you to everyone who keeps this project bouncing and bumping along!
Fibres of Life