Baskets, recycled sari, jute, jute and more jute. These were the main ingredients in our recent craft team trip to the intriguing Bangladesh.
The duo of myself Rosa (designer) and Lauren (buyer) spent two weeks in the South Asian nation to meet the makers behind many of Trade Aid’s handmade products. We were able to collaborate with local designers on new designs, witness first-hand the intricate skills behind basket weaving, papermaking and printing, and also fill our suitcases with delightful samples. This made for some anxious moments at airport bag weigh ins, but I think it was worth it.
Trade Aid has some of its oldest roots in Bangladesh – we teamed up with our longest continuous partner CORR the Jute Works back in 1973. And though the country has gathered some bad press for its troubled garment industry (problems often perpetuated by western markets), it was a breath of fresh air to see the waves being made by our partners and their positive fair trade alternative. Their products and social impact are innovative and exciting, plus we saw a growing a focus on environmentally conscious products – a perfect fit for a region ripe with jute.
The six groups we visited range in scale from large co-ops working with over 4,000 artisans, to smaller niche organisations like Saidpur Enterprises whose awe inspiring jute bag workshop provides income to 200 former refugees. Though our visits are filled with the delights of stunning sample rooms, smiling faces and delicious food, there are always emotional moments. Simmering beneath the factthat our partners make beautiful things that I want to fill my home with are the stories of the peoplebehind each product. Seeing first-hand those basic changes that fair work brings to the lives of these makers – being able to provide their families with nutritious food, or pay for their child’s school books – is both moving and motivating.
So if there is one thing to take away from our time in Bangladesh it is: wow our partners make some beautiful things! Wow they are talented! And wow this fair trade thing makes a difference to them. So what more can we do to support them in reaching a market and telling their story?