Fair Accessories for the Holidays

Is anyone else out there suspicious of all those sparkly, glittery accessories available at the mall? I certainly am. I want to know who made them and how much they were paid. You’ll have an extra glow at the office Christmas party this year with these Fairtrade and Fairmined accessories.

Need to add a little something to jazz up your holiday finest?


‘Double Helix’ Earings by Hovey Lee $48.00

Hovey Lee’s first jewellery collection garnered positive attention from both the arts and fashion world. Hovey Lee upholds the standards of the Fair Trade Federation and the No Dirty Gold Campaign to ensure that all her pieces are made in a way that brings dignity to miners and ensures sustainable mining practices. Add these reclaimed brass accessories to your holiday finery and you’ll feel merry and bright (clever you for seeking out Fairtrade accessories!) the whole night through.

Canada’s ethical diamonds sparkle on the hands of people the world over. Did you know Canada is also home to Fairtrade and Fairmined jewellers?


Custom jewellery from Hume Atelier.

Vancouver based Hume Atelier specializes in bespoke jewellery using Fairtrade and Fairmined gold. They believe in connecting clients to producers and helping people become aware of the people behind their unique products.

T’is the season to pop the question!


Engagement rings from the Fairtrade Jewellery Company in Toronto.

Toronto’s Fairtrade Jewellery Company was the first Fairtrade certified jeweller in North America and is proud to use Fairtrade and Fairmined gold for their jewellery. If you’re planning on popping the question this holiday season make sure the future of the gold miner will be as bright as your future together.


2 Gifts To Warm You Up On A Cold Winter’s Day

The temperature in Calgary has dropped into the -30s (celsius) over the past few days and staying warm is a challenge! Below are two ethical gift options to help you warm up as the temperature plummets.

Calgary boasts several ethical options for the coffee lover in your life.


Three month seasonal direct trade coffee subscription from Phil & Sebastian $105.00

Keep your coffee lover stocked with seasonal coffee that will keep them buzzing well into the new year. The three month subscription from Phil & Sebastian delivers two 12oz bags of seasonal coffee to their doorstep each month. Phil & Sebastian’s dedication to top quality coffee is evident in the relationships they’ve built with small farms in places like Kenya, Guatemala, and Panama. These direct trade relationships mean top quality coffee in your cup and top dollar for farmers and producers.

Warm winter accessories are essential when braving the elements.

embroidered-fairisle-mittens-5302c2e3959fEmbroidered FairIsle Mittens from People Tree $32

embroidered-fairisle-beret-391e5a474f92Embroidered FairIsle Baret from People Tree $32

Your head, hands, and heart will stay warm in hand knitted woollen accessories from People Tree. These woollies are knit by women trained at the Kumbeshwar Technical School (KTS) in Nepal. The partnership between KTS and People Tree ensures that these Nepalese women earn a decent living wage and also puts money back into the community ensuring that children can go to school.

24 Gifts That Can Change The World

It’s that time again when we head out to the shops in droves, debit and credit cards in hand, searching for the perfect gift. In the frenzy of holiday shopping it’s easy to forget the person who made the product you are purchasing. Many of our holiday favourites are grown, created, or made by people in the developing world – and they’re not always guaranteed a fair price or ethical treatment for their labour. This Advent, share the hope of the season with gifts that brighten the face of the receiver and ensure a brighter future for producers in the developing world.

You may be wondering why this Advent gift guide is kicking off on December 9th. Leave it to me to decide to do a series of Advent posts on December 5th and then go away for the weekend with absolutely no time to follow through. But I have found so many amazing ethical and fair trade gifts recently that I had to share! To make up for my tardiness I’ll post 2 gifts per day until I’m caught up with myself (which I estimate should be on December 18th) and then we can savour one gift at a time from then until Christmas.

Without further adieu let’s open the door to today’s two gifts.

Long, cold winter’s evenings are the perfect time to stay wrapped up in a colourful throw while you relax on the couch.

kantha_throw_kantha_quilt_2597_1024x1024Pomegranate Kantha Throw from Dignify $98.00

Dignify was born when Calgary resident Shelley Jones met Vancouver based Robin Seyfert. Robin is the director of Basha, an organization that hires Bangladeshi women who have escaped the sex trade to create their signature Kantha throws. Shelley longed to see their beautiful creations, made from vintage saris, more widely available in Canada so the duo launched Dignify in 2012. These unique throws will keep you warm and ensure fair employment for a woman in Bangladesh.

Dry winters are the nemesis of soft, supple skin.


Lavender Shea Butter Balm from Ten Thousand Villages $14.95

Thankfully, Ten Thousand Villages stocks Fairtrade Shea Butter in gift packs and individual pots. Ten Thousand Villages has provided North Americans with Fairtrade products since 1946 by building relationships with people from around the developing world to bring unique, sustainable gifts to North Americans. Their regular, lavender scented, and muscle soothing shea butter balms are perfect for soothing dry skin and tired muscles after a day out braving the elements.

Will Your Holidays Have Value?

I was at Walmart last weekend. Normally, I stay away from Walmart, but my parents were visiting the big city and needed to pick up a few things. So I was at Walmart, wheeling the big blue cart through the cluttered aisles of cheaply priced and cheaply made products on a Sunday afternoon with my parents, my husband, and a lot of other people. Everyone was pulling those cheaply priced and cheaply made products off the shelves. Some people heaped those products in their carts. Most people seemed frantic to check off their Christmas list before the end of November.

I don’t remember exactly when the overwhelming feeling of sadness washed over me. But I felt sad as we snaked our way through the clothing section with rows and rows of monotonous clothes. I saw a rack of purple and pink dresses all cut in the same style. Having done my fair share of bargain shopping I guessed that the cut of those dresses was likely not very flattering and the stitching was likely not very sturdy. I wondered how long those dresses would last before they ended up in the bin or in a bag headed for Value Village.

I also thought about the people who made those clothes. In my mind I watched as a woman of Asian ethnicity hunched over a sewing machine with her hands moving dextrously. This woman was either starting or finishing a 10-12 hour day and, despite that amount of time, wouldn’t earn enough to comfortably feed her family. The clothing she and countless others stitch everyday is valued more than the labour and lives of those who stitch them and that’s not saying very much.

I felt sad when we wheeled through the holiday section. Garish gift bags hung in long rows, huge bags big enough to fit two small children inside. Boxes of cheaply made decorations in bright colours lined the aisles. I knew that in just over a month most of these bright colours would be shoved into a black garbage bag. I longed to see something of quality, something worth holding onto. A hand painted wooden ornament. Or reusable cloth wrapping ‘paper’ in place of those gift bags.

I felt sad as we waited in the long line at the checkout. So many people out shopping on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Everyone looked miserable. One woman kept bringing out one of those oversized gift bags at a time and holding it up to show her aging mother. Her mother looked so weary, sitting on her walker, and responding to her daughter quietly, in a language I didn’t understand. I wondered if she really cared which elf design would greet the receiver of her holiday shopping.

I felt heavy with sadness. When, I wondered, did we all became so content with so much less? Over the past number of months I’ve started to ask myself when we became so disengaged from the objects and items that we surround ourselves with everyday. When did we stop caring about where our clothes come from and how well they are made? When did we stop caring or even knowing where our food comes from and how it is grown and processed? When did we stop paying attention to the things that make up the world around us? When did we start accepting the fact that the things we buy are hurting people around the world, the planet, and ourselves? When did we become okay with this? Seriously, when?

I almost started pleading with people. ‘Please don’t buy that throw. That throw is one of the same hundreds of other throws on the shelf, made by someone who likely didn’t get paid fairly for their work, and will likely wear out or rip far too soon after you’ve bought it. That throw has no value.’ Or ‘please don’t buy that box of chocolates. The cocoa for those chocolates was likely picked by slaves, some of whom might even be children. Is that the message you want to share this Christmas? I care about you so have some chocolate that was processed by children who missed out on weeks of school? Please pick the chocolates with the Fairtrade label instead. They will likely taste better, which increases the value for you, but also adds value to the wider world by helping those who grow and harvest cocoa in the developing world.’

I feel a deep longing to see more products on our shelves and more businesses that add value to the world. I’m so tired of this race to the bottom where companies look for the cheapest way to make their products and we look for the cheapest price point at which to buy them. I long to surround myself with things that are valuable. Food that is nutrient dense and free of pesticides. Products that will last a long time so that I do not need to keep buying more. Items that were made by people who earn a fair wage for their labour. I’ve reached my limit and my ability to understand why we are so content to fill our baskets, our homes, our planet, our lives, and eventually our landfills with things that have no value.

Calgary, Where’s Your Fairtrade?

ImageTwo years ago I started swapping out conventionally traded products for Fairtrade products as much as possible in an effort to help farmers working in developing countries to lift themselves out of poverty. In the UK, the easiest products to start with were bananas, chocolate, tea, and coffee. For two years I could walk into any of the major UK grocers and pick up Fairtrade bananas off the shelf without much thought. The same was true of tea and coffee. In fact, it was difficult not to buy Fairtrade tea as most packages carried the Fairtrade logo and were often less expensive than non-Fairtrade options. Opting for Fairtrade chocolate required slightly more sacrifice as it often meant repeatedly purchasing Cadbury’s Dairymilk for lack of other options.

Last week my husband and I returned to Canada permanently and settled in our temporary home in Calgary just a couple days ago. On our first trip to the grocery store I was shocked to discover that I could not find a Fairtrade banana anywhere. There are organic bananas, but organic does not guarantee that farmers are paid a fair wage for their work nor does it guarantee that they work in favourable conditions. The Fairtrade Vancouver website notes that Fairtrade certified products not only guarantee fair wages for farmers and workers, but they must also be environmentally sustainable.

Fairtrade Standards include requirements for environmentally sound agricultural practices. The focus areas are: minimized and safe use of agrochemicals, proper and safe management of waste, maintenance of soil fertility and water resources and no use of genetically modified organisms. Fairtrade Standards do not require organic certification as part of its standards. However, organic production is promoted and is rewarded by higher Fairtrade Minimum Prices for organically grown products. (Fairtrade Vancouver)

Of course I am concerned for the environment as well as the quality of the foods I eat, but I also want to know that the person who grew or harvested my food was paid fairly. After two years of buying Fairtrade bananas with ease I will now have to hunt for the same product in my new North American home.

I was equally shocked when I stood in front of the shelves of teas and was unable to find even one Fairtrade logo. Thankfully, there were a few Rainforest Alliance logos on some of the more common teas. Sadly, a Fairtrade option of my favourite tea, English breakfast, was no where to be found.

If I’m perfectly honest, this freaks me out a little. When I wrote about switching to Fairtrade two years ago, I had no idea that making the swap was significantly more difficult for my friends in Canada. I feel as though I’m going back to the beginning of my Fairtrade journey. However, in doing so, I hope that I can work with Fairtrade Canada and similar organisations to see more Fairtrade products making their way into our shops.

The People Behind The Product

Since I’ve started making the swap to fair trade and ethically sourced goods, I’ve become increasingly aware of the people behind the products I purchase. Perhaps due in part to my urban upbringing and existence, for much of my life I’ve been completely unaware about the processes involved to get a product from the field or its original state to the store shelf. But recently, I’ve started to think about the farmers who grow the food and the people who help gather the harvest. I also find myself wondering who got the product from point A to point B or who designed the lovely packaging wrapped around some of my favourite products.

As my awareness grows I’ve also started to notice where my products come from. For example, I do not simply buy chocolate from some unknown location, I now buy “Fairtrade Ghanaian Milk Chocolate” or “Fairtrade Peruvian Dark Chocolate”. This awareness means that I can vicariously travel through my purchases. For example, as I slowly savour that sweet single square of milk chocolate, I put my feet up and imagine the view along the Ghanaian coast.

Aaaah. Isn’t it beautiful? Who am I kidding, I’ve usually stuffed half the chocolate bar in my mouth before I even realize what I’m eating. But in all seriousness, these Fairtrade chocolate bars from Sainsbury’s have led me to think about the places my food originates and a desire to know more about those places. What the climate is like? How does the government operate? How do the majority of the people live? I can no longer blindly pick up items off the shelf without knowing where they came from nor can I believe that I am the only person effected by my purchase. The items I purchase impact a long chain of people. This is also true of the clothing we purchase, a topic I will explore in greater depth in the next week.

A Simple Swap – Choosing Fair Trade

Cocoa, Product of Ghana

One of the easiest ways to help end extreme poverty is to simply start swapping products that you purchase regularly for those that are fairly traded and ethically sourced.

Many of the products we normally purchase such as tea, coffee, chocolate, and fruit are imported from developing countries. Fair trade aims to ensure that producers receive a fair price for their products and increase opportunities for equitable trade between developing and developed countries (via). By providing producers with a fair price for their products they can begin to make improvements to their wellbeing such as investing in education for their children or paying for health services for their families.

The simplest way to start swapping conventionally traded goods for fairly traded goods is to look for the Fairtrade Mark, which is displayed on products that meet international Fairtrade standards as set by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO).

In the UK and Canada you can also purchase products that display The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal, which ensures the product meets the standards of the Sustainable Agriculture Network or the Forest Stewardship Council.

The Rainforest Alliance places emphasis on protecting biodiversity through sustainable farming practices and ensures fair prices for producers as a means of encouraging sustainable farming and putting an end to extreme poverty. They have an interesting breakdown showing the difference between a farm that pays fair wages and a farm that does not here.

In our home, we’ve swapped tea, coffee, chocolate, cocoa, and bananas with their Fairtrade equivalent and continue to seek out other products that we can swap. The Fairtrade Foundation provides a list of Fairtrade products. For the a list of products in the UK click here and for a list of products in Canada click here. The Rainforest Alliance provides the same info, just click on your country in this list. I’d love to hear about the swaps you’re making!

BONUS: For those of you who haven’t purchased your halloween treats yet, see if you can find Fairtrade alternatives! In the UK, Cadbury appears to sell a bag of treat size Fairtrade Dairymilk bars (at least at Sainsbury’s). Here is some information about Fairtrade halloween treats in Canada.