Blog posts of '2014' 'February'

Unique Batik and Fair Trade: The “Fair” in Fair Trade

Continuing our exploration of the ten principles of Fair Trade as outlined by one of the leading bodies in the fair trade world, the World Fair Trade Organization, let’s look at what it means to pay a fair price. The idea that producers receive a fair price for their goods is the most basic idea of the fair trade movement. It’s also the one most familiar to consumers. If you ask someone what “fair trade” means, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. Some people equate “fair trade” with “fair wage” (although there’s a lot more to it than that).

It doesn’t really seem necessary to explain why, if we call ourselves fair traders, we should be paying artisans a fair price. Even small children understand the concept of fairness. Maybe some of them understand it better than a lot of America’s large corporations. Instead of talking about why it’s important to pay a fair price -- which seems pretty obvious -- let’s talk about what makes a price fair. Who determines what’s fair? How do they decide how much is enough?

First of all, who determines a fair price? The answer is that the price is determined by both the producer and the buyer. We dialogue together to determine what price is appropriate for each product that is being made. If that seems unlikely to work because the goals of the two parties are mutually exclusive, consider this -- as fair traders, we want to provide a living wage to artisans. It’s one of the reasons we’re in business. But both the artisans and we at Unique Batik want that income to be sustainable, so the price that we pay them has to translate to a retail price that consumers are willing to pay us. In our mission to provide sustainable income to the artisans with whom we work, we must work together to find that fine line.

So, how do we determine what constitutes a living wage? There are a lot of factors that affect the answer to that, including where the artisans are working, the cost of materials, and how long they will work on the product. The cost of living in their local economy is relevant, as we are buying from artisans living in different countries, where the cost of living may vary. Producers know that we pay a fair price as we are familiar with the cost of living in the area and what local wages are.

The important thing is that wherever they are living, artisans earn enough to pay for the basic necessities of life. They should be able to provide shelter, food, and clean water to their families; they should be able to educate their children, and have access to medical care.

As any small child could tell you, we’re supposed to treat others the way we want to be treated. When you look at it that way, it’s fairly simple.

Mixing It Up for Spring

For Spring/Summer 2014, we’re excited to introduce a new collection of Unique Batik bags and scarves made in Guatemala. These au courant accessories reflect a couple of spring trends, including nautical inspired stripes and animal print. Mixed with another spring trend -- florals -- polka dots and leopard print look fresh, fun, and ready to go anywhere.

An important part of both our design process and our commitment as a fair trade organization is working with artisans to preserve cultural traditions while creating brand-new products that are on trend. Recycled huipils (embroidered blouses traditionally worn by Mayan women) have long been one of our favorite materials to use for bags of all sizes. Embroidery patterns from all over Guatemala make their way onto these beautiful, elaborate textiles and represent unique designs found in each region. As huipils become worn and unwearable, they are sold at the marketplace, which is how Unique Batik can bring you hand-embroidered work at affordable prices...another reason to love recycling!

With a little bit of ingenuity, these recycled huipils can become something completely new, both beautiful and practical for the way we live our lives here and now. Artisans appreciate design assistance, in regard to both functionality and form. Information, like what size to make a bag perfect for carrying your passport while traveling, and what colors are going to be hot this season, is exactly what they need to know to develop successful products. Often, it is an ongoing process. For example, when working on a new product, we talk about colors and they send us samples. Then, we communicate again and the samples are refined, until the artisans know exactly what colors to use to get consistent results.

Santos Perez is one of the many artisans who benefit from such design assistance. He and members of his extended family work together to create one of our favorite wardrobe staples, the striped scarf. Working in the village of San Antonio, the group makes foot loom and back strap loom scarves, with 21 women doing the iconic back strap weaving and three men working on the larger foot looms. The group is proud of the work that they do, both in keeping traditional weaving alive and in the quality of the products they make. They only use first quality thread that doesn’t fade or bleed when washed. The biggest challenge they have faced is finding a market for their handicrafts; through their sales to Unique Batik, they can provide for their families, including sending all of their kids to school.

Our new striped scarves crafted by Santos and his family feature color schemes influenced by two classic but always fresh trends. The red and white stripes reflect the nautical chic seen all over fashion runways for spring and summer. Earthy toned stripes are a take on the animal print craze that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Both of these manage to be trendy but never faddish. We think they look great paired with the mixed prints of our new bags, so don’t be afraid to mix it up and make it your own!

Polka Pot Passport and San Antonio Stripe ScarfPolka Dot Flap and San Antonio Stripe ScarfPolka Dot Eyeglass Case and San Antonio Stripe Scarf

Education: The Gift of a Lifetime

In Guatemala, over a million children are not in school -- one in 28, according to a UNESCO educational report. Many kids are working to support their families, while others would go to school if their parents could afford the fees. Although primary school in Guatemala is ostensibly free and compulsory, only thirty percent of students who begin school finish the six years of primary school. While school is theoretically free, in reality, there are high registration fees, costs for materials such as textbooks, and more, putting even basic education outside of the realm of possibility for many families. Those who drop out are disproportionately rural and from indigenous families, just like the ten students who are receiving scholarships through Unique Batik.

Thanks to your purchases from Unique Batik, ten children who could have been part of these dire statistics made it to school last year. Ten students at a rural school in the mountainous state of Solola , Guatemala, received scholarships through Unique Batik to continue their primary and middle school education. The group, composed mostly of girls, all come from families with limited economic resources who would otherwise be unable to provide an education for their children.

Because they know it isn’t always guaranteed, these children value education and see it as a bridge to a better future for themselves and their families. Recently, we received a packet of thank you cards from Pedro, the local scholarship coordinator, which contained three handmade notes from scholarship recipients. Pedro also sent pictures of the students and the school. In their pictures, the girls, dressed in the traditional Mayan costume of embroidered blouses and a woven wrap skirt bisected by a wide belt of woven fabric, stare seriously at the camera, but their solemnity at having their pictures taken is belied by the sparkly stickers and handdrawn flowers that decorate their letters. The handdrawn strawberries, glittery stickers, and rows of fanciful flowers and a carefully cut out scalloped edge, express the pride and creativity of the girls who made them.

In a country with the second lowest literacy rate in the Western Hemisphere, simply being able to write a thank you note is a great achievement. Indigenous women are the most marginalized population in the country, with a literacy rate of only thirty percent. This is the group from whom we buy most of our handicrafts, and the ones we aim to help with our scholarship program. The education they are receiving has allowed these girls to dream of a life different from the one their parents have led; they can conceive of a bigger world, filled with opportunity. Filomena writes that she hopes to achieve her dreams of being a successful professional, and Elena anticipates finishing middle school, an accomplishment made by only the top third of the population.

If the statistics seem overwhelming, remember that you can make a difference. You have made a difference. The support of Unique Batik customers has changed the narrative for at least ten kids. We couldn’t express our gratitude any better than they did:

I am grateful to you with all my heart for helping me with my studies and helping me achieve my dreams -- Belinda, 4th grade.

Picture of BelindaCard from BelindaCard from Belinda

I am very happy that I completed the sixth grade. With your help, I will get my diploma -- Filomena, 6th grade.

Picture of FilomenaCard from FilomenaCard from Filomena

I am very grateful to you for helping me in my studies so that I can achieve my goals -- Elena, 8th grade.

Picture of ElenaCard from ElenaCard from Elena