While answering a shopper’s questions at a recent sales event, I noticed a woman debating whether to buy a lovely tagua necklace. She’d pick it up and look it over, put it down, look at something else, and come back to it. This went on for six or seven minutes.
When I was done with the first customer, I asked if she had any questions. She said no, she loved the necklace but wasn’t sure she needed another one. I told her the necklace not only saved rainforests and curbed elephant poaching, it also provided sustainable employment and fair wages for the Colombian artisans who made it. Without hesitating, she said, “In that case I’m definitely buying it.”
That’s what makes fair trade products more than just another pretty accessory. Connecting consumers with the artisans and causes behind the products creates an inherent value that mass-produced items will never have.
So what’s the full story of this stunning tagua necklace? It starts with a dancer, musician, and yoga instructor whose 2006 trip to Colombia changed her life and those of some remarkably talented Colombian artisans.
Monica Farbiarz of Grass Valley, CA, was so enchanted by tagua on her trip, she started Encanto Jewels, a jewelry-designing business specifically dedicated to transforming the tagua nut into wearable works of art. The seed of a rainforest palm tree, tagua is often called “vegetable ivory” for its similarity to elephant ivory.
Her partners in Colombia are the Misrachi family, owners of the Bogota workshop where her distinctive designs are fashioned. With over 30 years’ experience with tagua, Alain and Martha Misrachi and their son Dylan bring an uncommon level of knowledge, technique and quality to the production process.
Their employees meticulously select the highest quality seeds, free from cracks or other blemishes. Those that fall below standards are recycled as compost.
The family and their workers developed their own machinery to ensure precise cuts and a variety of shapes and sizes. They’ve also extensively researched the best methods for dying the tagua, allowing Monica to use the many vibrant colors she devises for her signature designs.
Both Encanto and the Misrachi’s are equally committed to the principles of fair trade. They are respectful of and dedicated to the growth of even their most seasoned artisans. Employees are paid fairly, treated with integrity and strongly encouraged to voice opinions about any aspect of the business, including designs.
But Encanto’s interaction with the workers goes beyond business. For example, when Monica recently traveled to Colombia, she held bodywork classes for all of the employees. She taught breathing exercises, postures and dance. The main goal was to introduce a basic exercise routine to contribute to the wellness of the men and women who work hard to bring her visions to life.
When Monica and her small U.S. staff are unable to be in Colombia, they communicate almost daily on Skype with the workshop. They talk about designs, schedules, and even personal matters. This ongoing dialogue over the years between Encanto and its artisans has grown into not only a solid business relationship, but a deep and lasting friendship as well.
In the six years she’s been associated with the Misrachi workshop, Monica has grown to become one of their larger clients. While definitely a benefit for her, more importantly it has meant sustainable, fairly paid employment for the artisans in a country where a third of its citizens are below the poverty line.
Encanto Jewels—beautiful products made more beautiful because the people who make them are treated fairly.