Celebrating World Fair Trade Day With a Passage Through India

In celebration of World Fair Trade Day, we happily share this photo travelogue of our most recent trip to India to visit some of our artisan partners. In the fair trade spirit of global togetherness and unity, we were able to share this experience for the first time with some of our U.S. customers. Thank you, Baksheesh Fair TradeCome Together TradingCreative Women of the WorldGlobal Exchange and One World Fair Trade for joining us in India for 10 days!

Enjoy the photos here and don't miss One World Fair Trade's daily travel diary for details. Ray Ballestero recounts some fantastic stories about a King Cobra causing some "spousal scolding," monkeys in the men's room, and mischievous children pulling a fun little prank. Global Exchange's store manager Kara Roguly also chronicled her memories in this delightful blog

 Group pic with some of the artisans from a jewelry-making community in North Delhi. 

Recognize the cuff this man is making?

 Visiting the handloom weaving artisans who make our beautiful Boho Collection.
These wood blocks show the various stages of carving our beloved Nose Eyeglass Holder.
Like a pied piper, our group attracted quite a crowd in the small village of wood carvers -- 
all the villagers followed us around like a parade!
We also visited a community that provides vocational training and education for mentally and physically disabled people. This group of artisans weave products from recycled videocassette tapes, such as our clutches and wristlets.
 The young girl in the pink sari graduated from school and determined to give back, she now teaches at this community.
Handmade Expressions Operations Manager Katharine Harlow learns block-printing from the experts. 
Global Exchange wanted to bring the love of their customers back to the community of block-printers with their #bagsacrossborders campaign, which connected conscious consumers with the artisans who make our Eco-Shoppers.
Women working on appliqué in a small rural village. It is traditional for
married women in this village to wear white cuffs around their arms.
Touring Jaipur (photo courtesy of Ray Ballestero, One World Fair Trade)  
All the women dressed up in saris for a Bollywood party and dancing
in the garden on the last day of the trip. Don't they look great?
We wish everyone a wonderful World Fair Trade Day. On this special day, remember that we're all in this together and together we can make a difference for fair trade artisans all over the world! 

posted by Becca Ruiz at 05:35 PM on May 08, 2014

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"This Must Be India"

Over the last few weeks, our fair trade family embarked on a journey like never before ... While traveling to India is not unusual for us at Handmade Expressions, this year -- for the very first time -- retail representatives from 8 US fair trade stores joined us to tour artisan communities that make products they carry in their stores.


We were delighted to travel with Baksheesh Fair Trade (St. Helena, CA), Come Together Trading Company (Tyler, TX), Creative Women of the World (Fort Wayne, IN), Global Exchange, One World Fair Trade (Healdsburg, CA), and Uncommon Goods. Our mission was to answer a question that concerns many of us: "How do you tell if it's really fair?"

The journey focused on three approaches to answer that question: 
  1. Catering to the specific social needs of each community - What work needs to be done?
  2. Catering to the economic needs of each community - How is the fair wage determined?
  3. Establishing a sustainable partnership with each community - Who leads this community?

Social Needs

Manish Gupta founded Handmade Expressions almost 10 years ago. In that time, we have established partnerships with over 30 artisan groups throughout India which represent thousands of individuals. Manish approaches working with so many different communities by catering to each one with an "impact focus."

For instance, Handmade Expressions works with communities that focus on women's empowerment through income generation. Many of these women live in conservative rural communities, and leaving their homes for work can often be challenging. In this case, we provide training and work that women can accomplish at home. Last month our team in India hosted an International Women's Day workshop on upcycled sari craft production to provide an avenue towards self sustainability for the women. Our team also focuses on preserving ancient craft customs like batik works, environmental concerns such as water conservation in the block-printing process, and more. 


 Economic Needs

Like economic needs, "fair wage" is not the same across the board. Culture and language vary throughout our partner artisan communities, meaning that each community must be visited by a member of our team to ensure that the meaning of "fair trade" is understood. "Field visits help us understand artisans' challenges and motivation, and allows us to support them in the way needed," Manish says. "'Fair wage' determination also needs to take into account local factors like cost of land, food, access to schools and healthcare and the well being of artisans, which can only be determined once we make a visit. The face-to-face meetings also allow for deeper connection and understanding of their work, which is very important for both the artisans and us."


Sustainable Partnership

"We have learned that for a community to be on a path of development, the vision and the solutions have to come from within the community," said Manish. "An outsider’s vision will remain foreign. It is therefore important to make sure that in each community we work with, there is a leader or organization that can share a vision towards empowerment and build motivation around it. Every community that makes good progress being associated with Fair Trade is lead by that vision. Sometimes sharing that vision takes its leader a lifetime of work. Just income without that vision does not lead to long-term development."



We hope our retail partners gained a meaningful understanding of the promises and challenges of fair trade and the artisan communities we visited. Our trip is over, yet stay tuned for more pictures and stories as our travelers return to the US.

Deep thanks to all of our retail partners that joined us on this journey. As fair trade ambassadors, you share what it means to be "fair trade" with the public every day, and we sincerely hope that this experience helped enrich your fair trade stories and build momentum that thousands of artisans rely on. Thank you again! Feel free to share your comments and stories with us below...




posted by Becca Ruiz at 05:01 PM on Apr 02, 2014

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#BagsAcrossBorders Connects Global Exchange Members with Eco-Shopper Artisans

Over the past few years, Handmade Expressions founders Manish and Ruchi have taken members of our Austin, TX, staff to India to visit artisan partner communities and our team in India. Here you can find a beautifully written piece by Alison Hanson of her experiences traveling to India in 2011:

"Traveling with locals gave us a unique perspective on India. While we saw pieces of the exotic India that is so commonly portrayed in the media, we also gained insight into the realities of people’s daily life, both their achievements and their struggles. We saw how Fair Trade operates in relation to artisan groups, particularly in terms of developing products and economic sustainability." 

This year, for the very first time, we're especially excited that several customers will join us on our annual tour next month, including our friends at Global Exchange, the non-profit international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice. A grassroots organization, Global Exchange focuses heavily on connecting people around the world through education, events, reality tours and fair trade. In addition to selling Handmade Expressions products in their online and retail stores, Global Exchange gives our Eco Shopper bags to its 45,000 members, whose financial support helps the organization continue its mission. 

In India we will visit the Barmer region of Northern Rajasthan, where a community of hand block-print artisans transform their traditional craft into our popular, eco-friendly Eco-Shoppers. Not only is this bag a comfortable and colorful alternative to disposable shopping bags, it is 100% naturally dyed and the process of it now uses a water filtration program, meaning artisans can reuse water up to 15 times: saving at least 5 million liters of water per year!

In anticipation of meeting the artisans who make these Eco-Shoppers, Global Exchange is hosting an exciting campaign that strengthens personal connections with the artisans: Bags Across Borders celebrates the intimate relationship between Fair Trade producers and consumers by personally sharing and trading messages and photos!

Through Feb. 21st, Global Exchange is collecting photos of members with their Eco-Shoppers and messages to personally deliver to the artisans who made them. Those who participate will receive an email about the exchange with the artisans, and can see pictures and replies online.

If you would like the opportunity to connect with the Fair Trade artisan behind your Eco-Shopper, simply follow these steps:

  1. Acquire your own Eco Shopper! Visit the Global Exchange stores in California or become a member of Global Exchange here.
  2. Snap a quick photo of you and your bag.
  3. Take a moment to think about why you love your Eco Shopper; remember, this is ultimately your message to the artisans!!
  4. Submit your photo and message here.
  5. Global Exchange will deliver your message and show artisans your pictures. When they return, they will share the artisans' words and pictures with the world on its blog and Facebook. Those who participate will also receive a personal email! 

Here are examples of some of the messages Global Exchange has received so far:

Nancy L.S. from Castro Valley, CA: 
“My Eco-Shopper tote bag is well-sewn and made of lovely fabric. I especially like knowing that the artisans who made the bag are working in conditions that are supportive and not exploitative. I lived in South India from 1989-1991, and I hope to return someday. Thank you for making such beautiful bags!"
Kristine P of Spring Valley, IL:
“This is actually one of the first fair trade items I bought for myself, years ago. Now I sell fair trade products. I have had these bags in my inventory for the 2-1/2 years I have been in business. I love them because they are pretty, colorful, eco-friendly, useful and easily affordable for those who want to support fair trade."

Get your voice out there! Submissions are due February 21st, and don't forget to use the tag #bagsacrossborders while sharing your photos and stories on social media! 

Handmade Expressions is delighted with this lovely idea from Global Exchange and we are so excited to see your pictures and read your stories! Thank you for supporting our artisans in India.

And stay tuned to our blog for more stories about our India trip next month!


posted by Becca Ruiz at 04:15 PM on Feb 14, 2014

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How Are YOU Celebrating Fair Trade Month?

Fair Trade Month raises awareness of the importance of supporting artisan-made products that provide sustainable incomes and economic empowerment for people in developing countries, especially women (75% of Handmade Expressions’ artisan partners in India are women). Empowerment differentiates fair trade from charitable support because it’s not just about earning a living wage. Handmade Expressions partners closely with artisans to develop their entrepreneurial skills, provide skills and safety training, contribute to community development, and improve access to healthcare and education.

To celebrate Fair Trade Month, we’re launching our first Facebook Photo Contest, open to shoppers and retailers. Throughout October, we’ll also be educating consumers about companies embracing sustainability and empowering communities that need it the most by adhering to a responsible business model.

There are several easy ways you can participate in Fair Trade Month, including attending events listed on the Fair Trade Resource Network’s events page and joining the “Go Bananas” campaign, a contest where winners receive a $500 gift certificate to Whole Foods or a Fair Trade Gift Basket! Follow our blog, Facebook and Twitter for news and updates by other fair trade organizations and companies making a difference this month -- and please share your #FairTradeMonth tweets with us!

Enter Our Fair Trade Month Contest for Shoppers and Retailers!

What fair trade items are on your wish list? Where did you find them? Post your photos on our Facebook page and mention the store where you shop. If your photo gets the most “likes” by Oct. 31, both you and the retailer will win a gorgeous sari tote bag filled with Handmade Expressions’ gifts!

How to participate:
  1. Take a photo of your favorite fair trade product(s) and post on our Facebook page using the hashtag #FairTradeMonth. Tell us why it’s special to you and tag the store where you found the item.
  2. The winning photo will be chosen by the most “likes” it receives by Oct. 31.
  3. Handmade Expressions will announce the winner Monday, Nov. 4. Spread the word by tweeting and sharing our Facebook page -- ask friends and family to “like” our Facebook page and your photo!
Prize Package

The person with the winning photo and the retailer who sells the product(s) will each win this Handmade Expressions’ fair trade prize package including:

● Upcycled tote bag made from beautifully adorned saris
● Vintage journal with tree-free paper
● “The Co-Ed” unisex 100% cotton scarf
● Semi-precious stone ring

Enter today and good luck!


posted by Clarisa Ramirez at 03:55 PM on Oct 01, 2013

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The Labor Rights Revolution in Mexico

As a kid growing up so close to the border of Texas and Mexico, my parents would take me across every once in awhile to experience the culture and to shop. As a young kid, I thought of Mexico with childlike wonderment; a mystical place where you could get anything you wanted at a fraction of the price, where smiling kids would sell you trinkets and ask for spare change. Recently, as an educated adult, I returned to the border and these same exact memories brought feelings of sadness and an abhorrence of my prior ignorance. The grim reality of the economic situation along the border is not the fairy tale I had once imagined.

This past month I traveled with a group called Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, (which translates to Austin So Close to the Border), to the Mexican border city of Ciudad Acuña. Austin Tan Cerca is a community driven, non-profit based in Austin, Texas. They hold quarterly delegation trips to border cities in Mexico to meet with CFO, which is the Border Committee of Working Women and Men in Mexico. This non-profit is dedicated to teaching Mexican workers their labor rights as citizens. Austin Tan Cerca and the CFO have a solidarity partnership, meaning it is not a relationship based on charity, but a mutual commitment to shared values and equality.

As we crossed the border into the beautiful city of Acuña, the economic imbalance was immediately apparent. Many of these border citizens live in harsh conditions, often with no electricity, safe drinking water, or modern amenities. They work an average of 50-60 hours per week making an average of one dollar per hour, often being subject to the cruel nature of their superiors. While labor rights in Mexico are actually very progressive, labor regulation tends to turn a blind eye to labor injustices in order to increase profitability for sweatshop factories, called maquiladoras.


So why do the maquiladora workers of Ciudad Acuña stand for these injustices? Well, most of them are stuck in this system. They have families they must provide for and even though their salaries do not give them the freedom to buy anything but staple foods, they need their job so their families will not starve. But, for the sake of a better future for their children and grandchildren, a group of these workers have united with the CFO to join with a union called Los Mineros, or the Miners Union. This union works to gain the rights they are guaranteed by law.

The formation of this union did not come without its repercussions. Workers known to be working with the CFO have been fired, even blacklisted. The government and the factories have even created their own “yellow” union, the CTM, which is a corporately funded union who only has the factory’s interests at heart. This false sense of security has come with bribery, brainwashing, and plenty of other illegal activities. After creating the CTM, the government decided to allow the workers of the maquiladoras to decide their own fate: either they choose Los Mineros or the CTM to be their union representation. Workers were warned that if Los Mineros won, the factory would leave Ciudad Acuna and everyone would lose their jobs.  As projected, the CTM was victorious. Although the workers of the maquiladoras lost their fight for the union they wanted, the awareness brought about the issue is still considered a triumph for the CFO. This event drew international attention to Ciudad Acuna and the fight for labor rights in Mexico.


To see these workers standing up for what is right regardless of the consequences eye opening and inspiring. Their struggle gives hope to the thousands of people stuck in this same unfair labor system. But their voice can only travel so far. It is our duty as responsible people to do our part to end labor injustice. What can you do to help the workers of Ciudad Acuña and those fighting against labor oppression across the world? Raise awareness of this issue and others like it by forming discussions with peers, blogging and sharing articles like this on social media. Through word-of-mouth, social media, and a devotion to sustainably made products, we can show the world what is going on and help stop sweatshop labor for good.


If you or someone you know would like first-hand experience like mine, visit Austin Tan Cerca’s website and apply for the next delegation.

posted by Michelle Ovalle at 01:53 PM on Nov 27, 2012

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