On March 23rd, The Fair Traders Co-operative hosted a fascinating evening of presentations and discussion focussing on fair trade projects in Nepal. The event was led by suppliers to the shop who work with Nepalese communities and was well attended by customers, staff and members of The Fair Traders Co-operative, who also enjoyed a bar stocked with Fairtrade wine, beer and juice.
During the course of the evening, listeners were shown pictures of the stunning landscapes, cities and people of Nepal, and were told of the reality of life for Nepalese people, many of whom experience poverty, disadvantage and in some cases disease, in the form of leprosy, which is prevalent in the country. Listening to the speakers it was clear that they have been deeply affected and touched by their experiences in Nepal, by the country itself and by its people, who were described as beautiful, warm and welcoming.
Soft Buffalo leather used in the Aura Que bag range
The first speaker was local fashion accessories designer, Laura Queening, who travels frequently to Nepal to oversee the ethical and sustainable manufacture of her Aura Que range of bags, purses, scarves and stationary. Laura explained how she first visited Nepal in a gap year between college and university, during which she taught English in a Nepalese school. While she was there, she fell in love with the country, its culture and its people, and she wanted to find a way to help improve the lives of Nepalese people through her work. Consequently, when she was required to develop a product range for the third year of her degree at the London College of Fashion, Laura decided to use only materials that could be sourced from Nepal and to follow fair trade principles in the manufacture of the products.
Since then Laura has launched Aura Que, an ethical fashion accessories company which aims to create high quality, handcrafted products following IFAT fair trade guidelines and using sustainable materials and processes where possible. Laura explained how she works through the Nepal Fair Trade Organisation with a combination of certified fair trade factories and small family businesses, who she visits frequently to ensure standards and working conditions are good. Aura Que products are made from a range of materials, including buffalo leather, which Laura explained can be sustainably sourced in Nepal; banana yarn, which is soft and non-scratchy and which is produced from banana pulp that would otherwise be discarded as waste; and lokta bark, which is sustainably harvested high up in the Himalayas.
Antique metal fittings, handcrafted for the Aura Que bag range
Laura described how the use of local materials and processes helps to maintain Nepalese traditional skills and crafts, and how working with family-run businesses, such as the one that makes the brass fittings for her bags, helps to ensure their long-term survival.
After Laura’s talk, Sue Lavendar and Allison Davies of Dhanusha Designs gave a heartfelt presentation about the work of the Nepal Leprosy Trust, with which their organisation works. Sue described the stigma that is attached to leprosy in Nepalese society, and explained how people affected by leprosy are very often cast out of their families and communities, and left with no way of earning a living. The Nepal Leprosy Trust runs a hospital providing free treatment, rehabilitation and support to people suffering from leprosy, and it was through contacts at the hospital that the idea for Dhanusha Designs was born. A group of women leprosy sufferers attending the hospital were trained in bead-work and jewellery making, using traditional Nepalese techniques, but with ideas fed in by Sue and Allison so that the finished necklaces and bracelets are suitable for the UK market. Once trained, the participants were given certificates and then employed making jewellery at the hospital for a fair wage and a decent meal each working day.
Dhanusha Designs Jewellery
The jewellery is then brought back to the UK and sold, largely through parties but also here at The Fair Traders Co-operative, earning income to pay the workers’ wages, buy materials and continue the project. Extra income is being used to improve the workers’ standard of living, for example by building toilets within their communities, and small loans are available to the women involved in the project, enabling them to invest in livestock which can provide an extra source of income.
The training programme has been so successful that more recently some of the women have been involved in making trips to Kathmandu with Sue and Allison to gain confidence in buying the beads themselves. Apparently just the fact that these women have been on a bus and gone to the capital city has been enough to significantly improve their social standing in their communities. And of course the fact that they can earn a living for themselves makes a huge difference to their lives, their children’s quality of life and their self-esteem. There are now plans to support women from the core group in training other women in their communities to make the jewellery in their homes, spreading the skills and the wealth to a wider group.
‘Moving Mountains’ was another inspirational evening hosted by The Fair Traders Co-operative, through which those participating were able to learn the stories behind the products and hear how buying through The Fair Traders Co-operative really does make a positive difference to people’s lives. You can buy Aura Que accessories and Dhanusha Designs jewellery at The Fair Traders Co-operative and via our online store. Find out more about the Nepal Leprosy Trust at www.nlt.org.uk.
The next supplier event will be a Divine Chocolate evening on 13th April, which will include a chocolate tasting and truffle-making session, as well as a presentation on the development of the Divine Chocolate Company – it’s likely to be popular, so book now!