- Our production – such as our designs that focus on adaptability to create longevity. Or choices we are making to move to water based silkscreen inks. Selecting natural alternatives such as our coconut shell buttons used on our pin on’s, only natural tanning and mustard oil treatment of the leather we use, and work to reduce and eliminate use of any cotton in our products that is not organic (Nepal has difficulty accessing organic cotton and fair trade groups are working with EU partners to develop an organic supply in the country)
- Transport – We are working towards more sustainable forms of transport for our goods to North America, and within.
- Human Resource Policies – We create values based jobs and commit significantly to training, learning opportunities and mentorship in fair trade, community development and development of sustainable business practices. We work hard to provide respectable wages to our staff.
- Support of Community Initiatives – Based on our mandate, while we aim to direct most of our donations overseas, we occasionally donate to and support local community projects.
- Building capacity – We are discussing with the fair trade associations and Bachpan Bachao Andolan (the coalition fighting child labour in India that we support) how we can contribute to capacity building.
Building a Responsible Business
Making Better Products for You
Once you try fair trade goods and experience their exceptional qualities, and peel back the layers of the conventional textile and garment industry, it makes it pretty tough to go back!
SAFER, HEALTHIER GOODS
Fair trade products allow you to know directly about how the products you buy are made, and because artisans have a democratic stake in their fair trade associations, since they don’t want to hand make products with toxins, you receive the same direct benefit. The dyes used in our products are azo free, and miss the plethora of additives in the creation and finishing process.
Because fair trade products are made by organizations that provide skills training and mentorship for artisans, appropriate compensation and time to work more carefully, and the ongoing design and production support to get it right, the quality of the resulting products is entirely different than most mass and conventionally produced goods.
HANDMADE BEAUTY AND COMPLEXITY
Fair Trade invests heavily in retaining and developing handiwork skills. Hand felting and knitting, hand dyeing, stitching, and weaving – all result in a very rich and real looking product – and no two of our products are alike. See the handmade icons on each product page to learn what handmade processes were used in each design.
We want our designs to be as progressive as the values we strive for. We burn the midnight oil coming up with new like-no-other designs that harness the best of the traditions and skills of the artisans we work with, and our own creative abilities. Thanks to this and the small scale production of fair trade, you’ll find you’ll get a lot of eye catch when you wear a Fibres of Life product and conversations about how different it is.
Supporting Social Development Through Fair Trade Production
Creating and buying fair trade is just about applying good common sense when we create, or buy products. It’s really about a fair deal for the people who make our goods – respectable pay, safe working conditions, and a decent benefits package – as we would strive for in a desirable job in the West. Buying fair trade is really not about ‘doing good’ or a charitable purchase – It’s about taking responsibility for our actions as a consumer, and putting our money where we know we can account for what we have supported, and we like, and even LOVE, what we know about how the products were made.
Genuine fair trade products are traceable – so that you can see not only that the products were made ethically, and overtly consider the well being of the people that make them, but also the environment, and the health and safety of the product for you. But more than this, fair trade is not just neutral – preventing abuse of labour or forced child labour – but a positive force for change. Its traceability not only allows you to screen your purchases, but also allows you to see the positive socio-economic benefits and community building that result. It allows you a very personal and human connection with what you wear, what you use, on a daily basis, and completely changes your relationship with the ‘things’ you buy. I have an organic and fair trade pair of jeans, and I have to admit I smile silently every single time I put these jeans on, even after 3 years of owning them, painting in them and wearing a hole in the knee. It makes me content knowing that those jeans were a mechanism for development in a community and was a part of the stability and happiness a family or individual has created through their work. It means something that harm for the things I love around me was considered in their creation. And who doesn’t feel a little happier when they know they have tried to make a conscious choice about how we live. Yup, I love my fair trade jeans…..
Fibres of Life works with fair trade groups that apply the following principles of fair trade:
- Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers
- Payment of a locally socially acceptable rate of pay
- No forced labour of any kind, including that of children
- Safe working conditions
- Care for the environment
We are always working to refine the sustainability of the products that we make. We use azo-free dyes in all of our products, and utilize rain water harvesting for felt working wherever possible. The azo-free dyes are removed from the water used for dyeing our felted textiles, before the water is returned to the Kathmandu water/river system.
Our products are oriented around natural materials – primarily wool, and we are a supportive of access to organic cotton materials in Nepal, which are currently not readily available. We are looking into new and interesting natural fibres for future products, including yarn made from the banana tree, hemp, recycled materials and more. All of the buttons on our bags are made from coconut shells. Our leather is naturally tanned using indigenous herbs, salt baths, and mustard oil.
We are very interested in water-based printing inks and have taken on research the past couple of years to implement this into our work.
We have also recently managed to gain the capacity to begin to ship our products by sea and in larger volumes to create less impact. And for our web shipping to our customers, we have worked hard to identify packaging materials wherever available that are made of unbleached and/or recycled paper content, rather than plastic. We are now working on developing our own web shipping materials with an outstanding fair trade group in Nepal who create handmade paper products (and support an impressive array of social programs).
We are constantly learning about how we can be a more environmentally responsible business and would love any feedback or input from our customers to help us along.
Preventing & Fighting Child Labour
It’s really wonderful to make fair trade products and to ensure that we are accountable for the goods we create and sell. The impact of this is very important, but as Fibres of Life matures, grows, and stabilizes, it is our goal, every year, to integrate our social or environmental values into our business through new steps every year.
3 years ago, we took our first steps to allocate portions of our profits to initiatives that support areas we would like to see change. Fighting child labour, and supporting some of the ill of the many street dogs we encounter in Nepal is where we have committed our efforts – and it has been the greatest privilege of all the work we do.
1% of our gross sales are allocated to fighting child labour.
One of the world’s most significant global industry practices, in India alone, it is estimated that there are over 1 million child labourers – including work in roadside food stalls, hard labour, as domestics (most at risk of sexual exploitation as well), and importantly to us, bonded child labour is rampant in the textile industry.
Our desire to support a child labour project in the region of the world we partner in to create our products led us to Bachpan Bachpan Andolan – or ‘Save the Childhood’ – an Indian organization and movement doing powerful direct action to resist child labour. BBA has a network of volunteers throughout India, and in South Asia. It starts with prevention through grassroots education in low income communities to educate families about the misleading practice of child trafficking. This is done through education on their human rights, a traveling caravan of youth and former child labourers who use puppet theatre to educate on child labour across languages, and more. BBA also focuses on direct action and raids on child labour establishments to liberate children from labour and to subsequently offer them rehabilitation, repatriation to their families when appropriate (many families are misled into the trafficking of their children and do not make a conscious choice to bond their child in labour), or to offer the children ongoing accommodation and education at their children’s facility in Rajasthan when needed. They also work hard to empower children and support the development of democratic childrens’ bodies at the local village level to hold local political officials and adults accountable for the rights of kids in the community. BBA is a tireless advocate for change – working from the grassroots on the ground to speaking at the International Labour Organization to push for better global labour standards. Visiting BBA in India is always a tremendous growth opportunity for us and we are under going discussions for deepening our partnership.
For the Love of Dogs
5% of the sales of our dog bones are allocated to THE KATHMANDU ANIMAL TREATMENT CENTRE (KAT)
It is estimated that there are over 20 000 street dogs in Kathmandu, and while there are people in the community who do try to support their neighbourhood dogs, there are many illnesses, injuries and weakened dogs. It can be tough to see, especially as a dog lover, so our dog bones were created as a fund generation product to help KAT. Why not connect our dog loving customers here with dogs needing support elsewhere. KAT is run by a volunteer board and operates a blissfully peaceful treatment centre on the outskirts of Kathmandu, as well as South Asia’s first animal ambulance to treat dogs in their communities, or to transport for treatment. In addition to helping dogs that are not well, KAT runs a reproduction prevention program to reduce stray dogs, and also an education program to prevent abuse of the dogs on the streets.