Just over a year ago I visited Nepal with local fashion designer and friend Laura Queening. Laura set up the fair trade fashion label Aura Que in 2008. L-AuraQue-ening. Get it?
I’ve known Laura since school but I knew very little of her business trips to Asia other than that they involved her being abroad for three months and returning with a good tan. When I showed an interest in travelling out to see her, with free accommodation and Laura’s local knowledge thrown into the deal, I decided that a trip to Kathmandu to find out more was in order! Whilst there, I biked round the suburbs of Kathmandu visiting different suppliers and learnt more about how the Aura Que business operates. It became clear how the sketches Laura had been working on during bus and plane journeys transformed themselves, like pieces of a jigsaw, into the finished product.
Following her experience teaching English in a Nepali village, Laura chose to set up business in Nepal to support fair employment for local people, and it was clear on my visit that Aura Que’s ethical priority is the people involved. The bags are manufactured at the Nepali Leprosy Trust (NLT) where I met many of the workers. Leprosy is a stigmatised disease associated with poverty, meaning those impaired or disabled by leprosy tend to be among the poorest of the poor. The NLT provides employment and opportunities for those affected.
Doing business in Nepal isn’t always straightforward. On my visit we were initially unable to enter the country for three days due to a national strike which shut all businesses and blocked all roads. For me, three days at a border hotel in northern India was a bit frustrating, but if you’re running an international fashion business with meetings, deadlines and stock orders, such a set back has far greater consequences. While we were stuck in a hotel waiting for the border to open, I asked Laura if this kind of thing annoyed her. “It’s just a part of working in Nepal” she said, and she’s right. Strikes are just one additional obstacle that Laura has overcome in setting up a successful fair trade fashion label outside the UK. Shipping stock, ensuring quality levels are maintained and sourcing materials ethically in a culturally different environment has, as Laura put it to me, ‘kept her on her toes’.
The NLT’s manufacture is the final part of the production process. The materials themselves are sourced from small suppliers and individuals. Take the bag below for example
This is where it comes from… Leather – The leather is from buffalo like those we passed on the bus as we travelled through the lowlands of southern Nepal. We carried some with us on our journey overland from Delhi – from the tannery to the NLT…it was heavy. Banana fibre – What looks like wool on the front of the bag is actually banana fibre pruned from the root of the banana tree. I visited the place where they dye this fibre – a small dye plant at the back of a building. The issue Laura was having at the time was making sure they got the dye colours exactly right. It took Laura’s best Nepali, but she got there! Brass fittings – Brass fittings are made by hand by a local man, Mr Rizal, whom I met. He was sitting outside his family’s house in a little self-constructed workshop area moulding the metal with his hammer when we arrived.
Laura puts together high quality fashion products while maintaining a direct and personal link with the people involved in every aspect of each bag’s production. I was fortunate enough to get to meet the people that are being supported by Aura Que, but to find out about more without making the trip to Asia, take a look at the website http://www.auraque.com / or pop into The Fair Traders Co-operativethe Fairtrade shop where Aura Que bags are on display. You can also buy Aura Que bags online via The Fair Traders Co-operative at www.thefairtraderscooperative.co.uk.
Thank you to member Nick Batty for this post.
The Holmfirth Food and Drink Festival is back, and for the second year running The Fair Traders Cooperative took part, with Fairtrade themed activities happening across the whole weekend. This ranged from food tasting to craft sessions and drumming, a talk by Just Trading Scotland’s John Riches to cooking demonstrations, and of course, The Fair Traders Cooperative’s rice challenge!
This year The Fair Traders Cooperative chose to theme their part in Holmfirth Food and Drink Festival around rice, launching the rice challenge at the beginning of September. The aim of this campaign is to ‘eat people out of poverty’ by selling at least 90kg of fair trade rice from Malawi during September, and another 90kg over the festival weekend. In doing this, for every 90kg sold at The Fair Traders Cooperative for a fair price, a farmer in Malawi earns sufficient income to send one child to high school.
As Holmfirth Food and Drink Festival kicked off, a pile of rice 90 bags high could be seen stacked up on the Holme Valley Fairtrade Support Group stall. Having sold the 90th kilogramme bag of rice well before Holmfirth Food and Drink Festival had even begun, staff and volunteers of The Fair Traders Cooperative and Holme Valley Fairtrade Support Group were eager to get stuck into selling the next 90kg, and by lunch time the heap had halved! Accompanying the rice pile on the fair trade stall was delicious coffee tasting from ethical coffee companies Oromo and Bolling Coffee, which supplies the well known Grumpy Mule fair trade coffee range.
Leaving the Holme Valley Fairtrade Support Group stall, giant orange and silver footprints led from Holmfirth’s market hall, along Huddersfield Road to The Fair Traders Cooperative shop. Here we were treated to a very interesting talk by John Riches from Just Trading Scotland. Just Trading Scotland is a non-profit company which imports the Kilombero rice on which the rice challenge is focused. John told listeners all about the rice farmers and the different fair trade makes to their lives, and explained the many difficulties involved in getting fairly traded rice milled, cleaned and exported from a land-locked country such as Malawi. This talk reinforced the importance of buying fairly traded instead of your every day rice, and made clear the difficulties rice farmers face in getting a fair price for their produce in Malawi. A key way of escaping the problem of rural poverty, we were told, is through education, which underlines the importance for these farmers of selling enough of their rice to pay for an education for their children. After listening to the presentation, Anna Watson of The Fair Traders Cooperative said, “How great it would be if we could achieve this amount over just one weekend!”
The next event on The Fair Traders Cooperative list was a cooking demonstration in the main market hall. Every seat in the hall was filled, and the walls of the room lined with spectators, as viewers were taken through the steps of how to cook ‘Feel Good Malawi Chicken’, presented by The Fair Traders Cooperative’s Mark and Maggie. Not only did we learn how to make a fantastic peanut chicken stew using Fairtrade ingredients, but we found out lots about the products used during the demonstration. This included Zaytoun Palestinian olive oil, Steenbergs spices, Liberation peanut butter, & you guessed it….. Kilombero Fairtrade rice from Malawi! The audience was also able to taste this fantastic stew and rice combo as the demonstration came to an end, sampling the rice involved in the rice challenge. Audience member Nick Batty told us that “This rice is very tasty! I will definitely be after my bag of rice now – not only is it delicious, but I get to do my good deed for the day. I might even cook this stew with it!” This recipe can be found on The Fair Traders Cooperative website (click here) for all to try out with their own bag of Malawi rice.
At the end of the first day, The Fair Traders Cooperative was well on target to achieve their goal for the weekend, having sold 84kg of the Fairtrade Kilombero rice from Malawi by 5pm on Saturday. This meant that only 6 of the 1kg bags had to be sold on Sunday to reach the target.
On the second day of Holmfirth Food and Drink Festival, guests of The Fair Traders Cooperative were entertained by The Holmfirth Drummers, with exciting beats and rhythms to dance and shake to in the Upper Bridge Quarter Gardens, opposite the shop. Accompanying this, onlookers were encouraged to recycle by making their own musical instruments from plastic containers and bottle tops at the junk modelling craft table nearby. Meanwhile, inside at The Fair Traders Cooperative celebrations were taking place, as by 1pm the target was not only reached, but exceeded by 2 whole bags! The Fair Traders Cooperative had achieved their target, helped by all the supporters who had purchased just one bag of rice across the festival weekend.
But it doesn’t stop there, The Fair Traders Cooperative is aiming to send a THIRD child school in Malawi, and they are already nearly there! So get down to The Fair Traders Cooperative, or buy your bag online at http://www.thefairtraderscoopertive.co.uk to be part of this fantastic campaign!
Posted by: Sophie Bebb