The Road King trundles across the Rapti Bridge, greasy axles turning, tassled wing mirrors catching the light. We’ve been behind him for twenty minutes now, trying to squeeze past as we make our way down the East West Highway towards our workshop, just outside Bardibas. It was just before 7am when we left Kathmandu, weaving up and out, over the lip of the valley, following the Trisuli river on its way down to the flatlands. With any luck we’ll make it to our destination before nightfall.
Since our last trip to Nepal things have moved on for Danusha. We’ve got a business plan in place (almost) and we’re just about ready to reveal our logo. We’ve also built relationships with shops and organisations like The Fair Traders Co-operative and we’re really grateful for such fantastic support. We like The FTC so much that we’re going to buy a share for Danusha as we believe in reciprocity.
The Danusha workshop is based at Lalgadh Hospital on Nepal’s south eastern plains which run along the Indian border. This beautiful area is largely undeveloped and a high proportion of the population live on or below the poverty line.
The project began in June 2008, in response to a need to provide training for women whose lives had been affected by leprosy. Though easily treatable, there’s still a lot of stigma associated with leprosy, so sufferers and their families may be ostracised and find it difficult to gain employment. We set up Danusha to address this issue and help make a positive difference.
Initially ten women received training in simple jewellery making. Since then they’ve received further training and now make jewellery for us to sell in the UK. They receive a fair wage and training in health and hygiene, basic literacy and personal development and receive good food and accommodation while they’re on site.
We love the fact that each piece of jewellery comes with a story which we’re able to share with our customers. Lots of people have commented that knowing something about the person who made their jewellery helps make it special, unlike something generic and mass produced from a chain store.
Recently we got one of our staff, Rekha, to tell us a little bit about her life. A beautiful young woman, Rekha is probably in her early twenties, though she doesn’t know her exact age. She lives with her husband, Sanjay, in a small village called Hariharpur in the area near Lalgadh. As well as working for Danusha, she and her husband run a snack stall at their local bazaar.
When Rekha was eight she burnt her left hand and foot, but worryingly didn’t feel any pain. She developed ulcers and went to a faith healer who couldn’t cure her. He referred her to Lalgadh Hospital where leprosy was diagnosed, though Rekah wasn’t told of this. Instead her father told her that she had a ‘big disease’ and needed to take medicine. After treatment it was Rekha’s stepmother who told her she had leprosy and that no one would want to marry her. Her stepmother refused to give Rekha food and was very unkind to her.
Counsellors at Lalgadh Hospital gave lots of support and encouragement and slowly the family situation improved. Rekha attended regular sessions at the hospital, and in 2009 she met and fell in love with Sanjay there. He was also receiving treatment for leprosy.
Rekha joined Danusha in 2010 and has really grown in confidence since then. She’s very creative, shows a lot of initiative and we’re delighted that she’s part of our project. Sanjay also works for Danusha and it’s lovely to see this couple so happy and content.
Rekha enjoys her work at Danusha. Her economic condition has improved, she’s saving money and can also make her own necklaces to sell on her snack stall.
With the support of organisations like The Fair Traders Co-operative we’re gradually developing a regular customer base here in the UK, enabling more people to own and enjoy Danusha jewellery and to help people like Rekha in the process.
Danusha jewellery is available online from The Fair Traders Co-operative
Holmfirth’s reputation as a cultural centre has been growing over the years, and with good reason. The town is home to a thriving artistic community and puts on a full calendar of festivals showcasing local artistic and musical talent.
The Fair Traders Co-operative is proud to support these events and to sell the work of local artists in its Huddersfield Road shop. A fringe venue for Holmfirth Art Week 2011, the shop will house three exhibitions by artists with links to the Holme Valley. The artwork on display will also fit with the shop’s ethos of sustainability, by being made from recycled materials.
Promoting environmental protection and sustainable development is a core element of the way that The Fair Traders Co-operative does business. Products sold through the shop and its online store undergo a unique sustainability assessment process, which involves finding out as much as possible about the impact of each product on the environment, on people and on the economy. This information is then made available for customers alongside a simple sustainability star rating that is presented on labels displayed with the products.
“We want our customers to be able to make informed choices when choosing between different products, and to know that a purchase here improves livelihoods and helps the environment,” said Helen Robinson of The Fair Traders Co-operative. “Another way we promote sustainability is by selling goods that have been produced locally and by supporting local events such as Art Week.”
Holmfirth Art Week’s main exhibition in the Civic Hall this year runs from 3rd to 9th July. Proceeds from the event will go, as in previous years, to MacMillan Cancer Support. For the duration of Art Week, The Fair Traders Co-operative will house eco-friendly collections by Tanya Palmer, Sophie Bebb and Maike Browning to include textile art, collage and recycled silver jewellery.
Tanya Palmer, a Holmfirth-based artisan and textile artist, last year won Holmfirth Art Week’s Florence Parker Memorial prize for Best Newcomer for her exhibit ‘South Lane, Holmfirth’. Some of Tanya’s craft products, such as beautiful tea- and coffee-cosies, brooches and bags are already on sale in The Fair Traders Co-operative shop and in its online store. Like these products, Tanya’s artwork utilises vintage and recycled textiles. “My textile art work is created using a mixture of appliqué and free-motion embroidery – which is me ‘drawing’ with my sewing machine,” said Tanya. “I also like to use splashes of colour, often with vintage fabric.”
Meltham artist Sophie Bebb’s collection of collage utilises recycled images from newspapers and magazines alongside
snippets of text on recycled newsprint that challenge the viewer’s concepts and assumptions. The result is art works that are sharp and pithy, whilst being accessible to a wide audience. “I believe strongly that we all need to take responsibility for our impact on people and on the environment, which is why I use recycled materials in my work,” said Sophie. “Exhibiting at The Fair Traders Co-operative is wonderful for me, because its aims and ethos fit closely with my own.”
Also exhibiting will be Maike Browning, who grew up in the Holme Valley and designs and makes contemporary silver jewellery. Drawing inspiration from her travels in India, her tactile, delicate jewellery is both beautiful to look at and a pleasure to wear. “I work intuitively with precious and non-precious materials, adding flickers of colour using precious stones and coloured threads,” said Maike. “I am happy to say that this collection is made almost entirely with recycled silver and all the jewellery is packaged in recycled boxes.” Using recycled silver improves both the environmental and ethical impact of the jewellery as the mining of silver, along with other metals, is considered to be very damaging to the environment and often lacking in human rights and labour regulations.
Sophie and Maike should both feel at home exhibiting at The Fair Traders Co-operative. Following completion of a degree in Jewellery and Silversmithing at the Edinburgh College of Art, Maike worked in The Fair Traders Co-operative shop until her move back to Edinburgh earlier this year to pursue a career as a jeweller. She also runs occasional silver jewellery workshops for beginners in the Community Room. A graduate in Fine Art Skills and Practice from Central St Martin’s in London, Sophie works part time at The Fair Traders Co-operative, leaving her time to develop her art portfolio… as well as offering many volunteer hours to The Fair Traders Cooperative to help with our events programme.
There will be a preview evening at The Fair Traders Co-operative on Friday 1st July at 7.30pm. Please come along, share some wine and be among the first to view the exhibition.
It is a very special thing when a woman in a remote village in Northern Thailand has put all her skill, pride and history into a pair of handcrafted silver earrings and I, over 3000 miles away in Yorkshire, have the chance to wear them. In fact, I am humbled by it. The history and the ethnic integrity of the Karen Hill tribe, who handcraft the Luna Tree Silver Jewellery range, are moving in themselves.
The Hill Tribe minorities of the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand are semi nomadic in origin coming from Tibet, Burma, China and Laos during the last 200 years or so. They are “fourth world” people neither being recognised as developing nations nor reflecting the existing political boundaries of countries. The self-identity of all the Hill Tribes, rather than being defined by borders, is one bound by links of kinship, customs, language, dress and spiritual beliefs. Due to the isolation of the Hill Tribes, customs and traditions remain unchanged and go back centuries. The Hill tribes, with the exception of the Yeo, do not write and therefore all their folklore, knowledge, wisdom, customs and the minute details of their lives are all passed by spoken word and committed to memory.
Five Hill Tribes are involved in silver production; these are the Karen, Akha, Lahu, Hmong and Lisu. It is the Karen however, who produce silver on a commercial scale and supply Luna Tree Jewellery. Their villages are situated north of Chiang Mai in the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand.
Traditionally, silver jewellery has been used as a store of wealth and as a means of adornment and beautification for the Hill Tribes. Silver jewellery proudly worn enhances financial security, signifies wealth, status and spirituality within the tribe. The Hill Tribe’s still occasionally use some silver in place of paper money, preferring something they consider retains its true value. On special occasions such as a birth or marriage silver is used for gifts and dowries.
The silver has a malleable quality and can be worked with surprising speed due to its purity and the skills of craftsmanship. Sterling silver in comparison is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper, which gives it a harder finish, which can only be worked by machine rather than hand tools. The purity of the Hill Tribe silver means it will tarnish less quickly than sterling and will need less regular polishing to retain its appeal.
The hand worked Hill Tribe 99.9% silver has a look, weight and feel all its own and offers the wearer an intimate connection directly back to the silversmith who produced it. Every piece is unique and stunningly beautiful due its handmade characteristics.
The inspiration for all the designs of the jewellery comes from nature. The Karen people live close to the natural world working as subsistence farmers and have a very spiritual connection with their land.
The village is constantly producing new designs and prototypes for future products. The silversmiths are extremely creative and enjoy the challenge of working in partnership with Luna Tree Jewellery on new pieces. Appreciating the true cultural value of their crafts enables their traditional livelihoods to be sustained; work and training is then available for the next generation and their tribal heritage can be preserved.
So, it is with a sense of responsibility that I will pick out my choice of jewellery from the Luna Tree range feeling as I do an overwhelming empathy with the craftsman or woman who made it.