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Why is a Fair Trade Retailer Writing About Earth Day?

#1 in a series about fair trade and the environment in celebration of Earth Day 2014.

Did you know Earth Day was started in 1970 by a U.S. Senator?

Earth Day 1970

A polluted town, circa 1970.

At the time, Americans were guzzling gas in their huge V8 cars, factories were dumping pollutants into waterways and onto the land.  Pollution seemed to be an accepted way of life. Continue Reading »

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“A Month We Should Not Need”

We like to think of January as the month of new beginnings, a month to erase the past year’s troubles and focus on fresh starts.  But for millions of women, men, and children a fresh start is beyond imagination.  They are the victims of human trafficking who, in the words of President Obama, “are bought, sold, beaten, and abused, locked in compelled service and hidden in darkness. They toil in factories and fields; in brothels and sweatshops; at sea, abroad, and at home. They are the victims of … a crime that amounts to modern-day slavery.”

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.  January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. A Massachusetts newspaper editorial1 calls it a month we should not need.  But reality makes it necessary. It’s a problem of enormous magnitude that deserves not just one month, but a year-round effort to eradicate. Continue Reading »


NYC First Graders Take Action on Fair Trade & Child Labor

Late last spring, an email crossed my desk that started with this sentence: “We have a class of six and seven year olds who are trying to make a difference in this world.”  It was from a parent at The Manhattan New School, PS 290, a public school in New York City. She was asking for product donations for a fair trade sale the children were holding.

The sale was the culmination of a process started by their teacher, Paula Rogovin, to help raise the social awareness of the children.  I was so intrigued by the idea, I not only sent them a couple of boxes full of fair trade products, I interviewed Paula over the summer to learn more about how the sale came about.

Student flyer for fair trade sale.

Student flyer for fair trade sale.

“It began with the students wanting to know how cupcakes are made for restaurants,” she explained.  Continue Reading »

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My Guatemalan Trip–I Learn To Make A “Princesa” Beaded Necklace

fair trade jewelry, Mayan beading, Guatemalan beaded jewelry

Princesa jewelry, available in a variety of colors.

The best-selling product in my store also happens to be my personal favorite, the “Princesa” line of hand-beaded necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.  So I was thrilled to visit the wonderful group of women who make this and a number of other stunning pieces of jewelry during my trip to Guatemala last month.

Given the complexity of the designs for the Princesa line, I wasn’t surprised to find out that it takes two hours to make one necklace and 3 ½ hours to create a bracelet.  It requires meticulous attention to detail and nimble hands.

I discovered I had neither.  The video below shows three people, including master beader Michaela, patiently trying to teach me to make a necklace, a task at which I failed miserably! 

The driving force behind this artisan group is Giovanna Mantilla, the founder of aMano Fair Trade.  She works with the women to create new and contemporary designs incorporating semi-precious stone chips with premium quality Czech beads.

fair trade jewelry, Mayan beading, Guatemalan jewelry

Princesa bracelets start with a bed of seed beads on which semi-precious stones and Czech beads are sewn.

Giovanna not only brings a keen design sense to the artisans, she also teaches the women about proper record-keeping and other basic accounting and business skills.  Aside from expanding their business knowledge, it helps the artisans see the value of their time and skill.

aMano pays the women 1.5-2 times the average wage rate in Guatemala and has a goal to increase that rate even more.  The women receive half their wages when they pick up the beads used to make the jewelry and the other half when they complete the work.  This keeps their cash flow on an even keel so there’s no gap in their income.

fair trade jewelry, Mayan artisans, guatemalan children

No shy ones here! Children of aMano co-op artisans.

Child labor is never used to produce their products. Beyond this, in an effort to minimize any need for the children to work, Giovanna’s company pays for school for the children of seven of their artisans. (School is not free in Guatemala.)

Goddess Necklace

Goddess Necklace

Twice a year, during Giovanna’s visits to Guatemala, she funds a food drive to feed local families in need.  Donations come from friends, customers, and part of the company’s profits.  On her most recent trip in September, aMano gave one week’s worth of food to 100 families!

I dare you not to smile while you’re watching this brief video!

In addition to the Princesa jewelry, the aMano artisan group also makes other jewelry available at Fair Trade Designs:  the Goddess necklace shown above, the Woven Beads necklaces and the Lustroso roll-on bracelets.

fair trade jewelry, beaded jewelry, Guatemalan jewelry

Woven Beads Necklace

fair trade jewelry, Mayan beaded jewelry, roll-on bracelets

Lustroso roll-on bracelets


My Guatemalan Artisan Trip–The Corazon Del Lago Co-op

Lake Atitlan Guatemala“Thank you for selling our products. Without people like you to sell what we make, we would not be able to feed our families.”

San Pedro Ikat Scarf, Mayan Weaving, ikat scarf, fair trade scarf

San Pedro Ikat Scarf

These were the parting words I heard at every one of the 4 Mayan co-ops I visited on my recent trip to Guatemala.  Talking with the women, learning about their craft, and in some cases seeing how they live, definitely solidified my commitment to fair trade.

The first co-op I met with is Corazon del Lago, “Heart of the Lake.”  It takes its name from the majestic Lake Atitlan on which their village is located. Its waters are surrounded by lush, natural beauty and the slopes of three massive volcanoes. Continue Reading »

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Fair Trade Designs founder featured In USA Today

Fair Trade Designs founder and owner, Stephanie King, was featured in the recent USA Today “Best Years” premium publication.  She, along with 3 other women over the age of 45, were selected as examples of reinventing our careers in our “second act” in more meaningful and fulfilling ways. Click on the article for a larger, easier-to-read version.

Stephanie King, Best Years, 2nd ActUSA today feature cover

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Fair Trade Is Elegant

Fair Trade Is Elegant

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