Fair Trade: Good for People, Good for the Planet

FTeverydayRecently, we focused on Mai Vietnamese Handicrafts‘ coiled magazine products and artisan group Sapia‘s work with tagua nut (the “vegetable ivory”) and orange peels. For Valentine’s Day, we took a tour through some of the hearts and roses that our different artisan groups have to offer, plus the “Double Your Love” earrings recycled from metal air freshener cans by Bombolulu Workshops in Kenya.

In celebration of Earth Day 2013, we’re introducing you to other environmental heroes and upcycling masters from South Africa, Burkina Faso, Nepal, Guatemala, India and the Philippines…


Intern Corey jams on a thumb piano for the soda can critters.

Atelier de Formation et de Promotion des Artisans and Africa Home
Burkina Faso and South Africa

The “thumb piano” or Kalimba has been played throughout Africa for thousands of years. Its song was believed to draw spirits from heaven back to Earth. Because they were commonly used by traveling storytellers called griots, an indigenous translation of the word is, “that which makes walking easier.” Our thumb pianos are handcrafted by the Atelier de Formation et de Promotion des Artisans of Burkina Faso, and are hand-tuned and handcrafted from cans, wood and metal.

Victor Chiteura and Artisan George Gareta

Victor Chiteura and artisan George Gareta

The South African artisan group African Home was founded in 2002 by two women to provide employment in craft production for disadvantaged artisans. Now the group works with 500 artisans in 90 groups. Artisan Victor Chiteura, a Zimbabwean refugee, leads his team in Cape Town in the production of these soda can critters.

Upavim and Mayan Hands, Guatemala
Rebecca is holding  makeup bags woven out of plastic bags and Kathryn has on a pull tab necklace from while holding butterfly earrings made of cans

Volunteers Rebecca (L) holds cosmetic cases woven from plastic bags and Kathryn wears a pull-tab necklace while holding butterfly earrings made of cans.

Upavim is in the spotlight for its awesome ability to upcycle products into adorable and attention-grabbing accessories like these colorful butterfly earrings made of soda cans, or this regal-looking pull-tab necklace. Supporting not only women in the community, Upavim has developed a medical clinic and a daycare center with Montessori-trained teachers.


Mayan Hands was established in 1989 and works with about 150 women in eight Guatemalan communities. Mayan Hands seeks to preserve the ancient Mayan weaving tradition while providing a fair work environment, and eco-conscious customers love their interesting and innovative approach to weaving with plastic bags.

Rolling out the Recycled Tire Products for Earth Day

with Ganesh Himal Trading Co. and Hope for Women!

Alice May with our tire display! We have lots of unique recycled-tire products from Ganesh Himal of Nepal, Sapia of Colombia, and Noah's Ark of India.

Alice May with our tire display! We have lots of unique recycled-tire products from Ganesh Himal of Nepal, Sapia of Colombia, and Noah’s Ark of India.

Improperly discarded tires impose huge threats to our health and the environment. Tires become a breeding ground for disease-causing pests, and their incineration and decomposition release toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

Groups that have mastered the art of stylishly upcycling tires include Ganesh Himal, an American importer that works mostly with Nepalese women and Tibetan refugees, and Hope for Women, a collective of women artisan groups in El Salvador, India and Colombia. Hope for Women also works with Sapia, which designs the ReStyle line of bracelets, wallets, and bags crafted from tires.

Rosa, a Hope for Women artisan: “I think the sky is the limit for me. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t have the chance to study when I was young. With this work, I know I will be growing everyday and I can take care of myself and my family.”


Mother and daughter volunteers Carmen and Eva display some recycled bike products: a clock, frame, bottle opener, and a birdhouse made of weaved candy wrappers!

Noah’s Ark International Exports
Moradabad, India

In 1986 Samuel Masih founded Noah’s Ark in a family home in hopes of preserving the handicraft traditions of India, and it provided fair work for artisans at risk of exploitation. Today Noah’s Ark represents 49 artisan groups, employing over 500 artisans who all make fair living wages (which are 10%-15% higher than the average wage of the local economy). In addition to providing steady incomes and a safe work environment, Noah’s Ark developed the NGO Noah’s Ark Handicrafts and Artisan Welfare Society, which oversees four social welfare programs.

The Women’s Multipurpose Co-op
Baguio City, The Philippines
Volunteers Jessica (L) and Teresa with some of our coolest recycled newspaper products. The Women's Multipurpose Co-op also makes products from juice boxes, candy wrappers and chip bags.

Volunteers Jessica (L) and Teresa with some of our coolest recycled newspaper products. The Women’s Multipurpose Co-op also makes products from juice boxes, candy wrappers and chip bags.

The Women’s Multipurpose Co-op was established in the Philippines to provide employment for women struggling during grim economic conditions following the 1990 Luzon earthquake, the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption, and the subsequent abandonment of the Clark Air Base by the American military. The Co-op was originally a group of 18 women pooling their resources to aid each other with training, product development, marketing, and savings and loans. After developing a line of products made of recycled materials like newspapers, juice boxes, chip bags and candy wrappers, the Co-op has expanded from the original 18 to 33 women, with an additional 200 artisans working on transforming trash into treasure!


Women’s Multipurpose Co-Op artisans working on a handbag woven from snack bags

Thank you for accompanying me throughout the world of fair trade upcycling! All over the world, people are realizing the dire situation of our planet and are taking a stand against wastefulness and destruction through the creation of beautiful crafts.

As author E. Knight said, “Waste not the smallest thing created, for grains of sand make mountains, and atomies infinity.”