By Amanda Jones
Special to the Los Angeles Times
November 28, 2010
If you spent Black Friday fighting hordes at the mall, or if you haven't started holiday shopping yet because you're dreading it, consider: When was the last time someone told you that all you had to do was shop to make the world a better place?
Buying goods made in developing countries can help the artisans there, stimulate local economies and be a creative way to fill out your holiday shopping list too.
It can be hard to gauge if buying goods made in developing countries is actually ethical or if you're just enabling companies to make products using shamefully cheap labor. So all of the companies listed here either have fair-trade certification or have otherwise established that they pay their artisans a living wage.
Their products meet Western standards of taste and quality too, which hasn't always been the case with artisanal goods from the Third World. These companies were all founded by women who locate artisans, help them understand what consumers in the industrialized world want to buy, and pay them fairly.
The hip-luxe U.K. jewelry designer Pippa Small had a master's degree in anthropology before she ventured into fashion. Having lived with San Bushmen, Rwandan pygmies and Panama's Kuna Indians, Small's goal was to revive indigenous craftsmanship and lift artisans out of poverty while catering to the exacting taste of high-end Westerners. Today, she has collaborated with Gucci, Chloe and Nicole Farhi and sells jewelry sourced and made in Afghanistan, India, Bolivia, Panama and Kenya. She gets her gold from the world's only fair-trade gold mine and hunkers down in places like Kabul and the slums of Nairobi to train artisans to create exquisite, collectible pieces. She ended up in Kabul after seeing a film on post-Taliban Afghanistan and vowing to lend a hand. Turquoise Mountain, a nonprofit that trains Afghan artisans (partly funded by Britain's Prince Charles), invited Small to Kabul to create a line now for sale in her new L.A. store.
http://www.pippasmall.com or e-mail shopLA@pippasmall.com
Pippa Small Shop Los Angeles, Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th St. Santa Monica. (310) 260-9222.
Afghan Love Poem Necklace, $1,205.
Glass necklace for the Made Collection, $330.
Global Goods Partners
Formerly fieldworkers for development agencies, Catherine Lieber Shimony and Joan Shifrin, friends from college, saw firsthand women struggling in poor countries. Observing women creating beautiful, organic handicrafts, they recognized the artisans had no market. The two quit their jobs and founded Global Goods Partners, working with women in Africa, Asia and the Americas to provide the fair-trade market that these women needed. They harnessed volunteer designers to refine the jewelry, accessories and home products, and they were off.
Hand embroidered Peruvian purse, $88
Embroidered Peruvian belt, $42
While at Yale, Ruth DeGolia spent a summer volunteering in the highlands of Guatemala and fell in love with the indigenous women's handiwork. She returned with suitcases full of traditional Mayan designs to sell on campus. Selling out instantly, she did it again. And again, until she graduated and decided to make it official, founding a nonprofit to bring the designs up to Western standards and sell them, employing 400 indigenous women in the process. By 2006, two years after she started the company, DeGolia was on the cover of Newsweek with Brad Pitt, both of them Giving Back award winners.
Lidia hammered vermeil earrings, $44.
Diversity wrap, $98
California jewelry designer Janelle Gibson once read an article about Jeena, a Nepalese girl who had been sold into prostitution when she was 7. The story haunted Gibson, who was horrified to discover that trafficking is one of the world's fastest-growing industries. She traveled to Southeast Asia to meet survivors and was so moved that she created a line of sterling silver necklaces, bracelets and earrings, had them made in Thailand, and now donates 100% of the profits to the fight against trafficking and to the rehabilitation of victims in Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand and Zimbabwe. Each piece is dedicated to a survivor or organization and has a stirring story attached.
Sterling silver Window-Freedom necklace — $30
Beads for Life
When Torkin Wakefield's son went off to college in 2004, she and her husband, an AIDS doctor, went to Africa to lend a hand. They landed in Uganda, where Wakefield discovered a woman in a slum rolling colorful beads out of trash. This gave her an idea. She employed women living on $2 a day, the poorest of Uganda's poor, trained them to make the beads and paid them wages that enabled them to raise their standard of living. The jewelry may be the ultimate in guilt-free purchasing: Not only does buying it positively affect a woman's life, but the pieces are made from recycled magazines, calendars, cereal boxes and posters — so you can check off both fair-trade and green on your shopping list.
Madaala necklace, $25 per 19- to 21-inch strand.
When Elizabeth Suda worked as a merchandiser for Coach, she started looking with a critical eye at the things women wear. There must be a way, she thought, to make quality products and have the proceeds go directly to those making them. She left her job, ending up in Laos designing hand-dyed scarves, bags and jewelry for her own company (named after Article 22 in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights). In one village, she discovered a man collecting metal from the millions of tons of bombs dropped by the U.S. during the Vietnam War and melting it down. Together they came up with the idea of allowing Americans to "buy back the bombs" in the form of elegant, hand-cast metal bangles they named PeaceBomb Bracelets. In addition to employing artisans, a donation is made to clear the land of the thousands of unexploded bombs still in Laos.
PeaceBomb Bracelet, $15 for one, $38 for set of three.
Bobo hand-woven, indigo-dyed bag, $220