What happened to April showers? This year weather patterns in the Bay Area are certainly in flux. Just as I am getting used to this unusually dry, hot month of May, I am also transitioning from working at the San Francisco Fair Trade store, which closed its doors May 4th, to working full time at the Berkeley Fair Trade store.

This is my first season working at Global Exchange Fair Trade store in Berkeley  and I am experiencing the excitement and anticipation of students nearing the end of their school year or the end of their college life. Graduation is a major part of summer and graduation gifts are customary. What is better than to honor academic success than with a Fair Trade graduation gift?

Global Exchange Fair Trade shops have many graduation gifts to choose from. Let me help inspire the perfect gift for your graduate or teacher.Here are my top 5 graduation gifts under $25!

Fair Trade BirdsFlying Birds: $12.50 (Haiti) are made from recycled oil drums. These sweet birds symbolize freedom and make for a great end of the school year offering. Beautiful Haitian birds can live inside or outside adding hope to the wall on which they hang. They are light, pack flat, hang easy and come with either a stationary or 3D wing option.



Fair Trade Box

Treasure Boxes: $14.50 (India) are made from paper. These gems are new to our shop. They come in a variety of shapes and colors and are the perfect size to hold a special graduation treasure. Perhaps a inspirational quote or tickets to the Giants or A’s game or maybe some Fair Trade earrings for under $20! What would you put in this box? What is your favorite inspirational quote?



Prosperity Hens: $22 (India) are 45″ in length, made with cotton, beads, and a finishing bell. What better to give a graduate than the gift of prosperity? Prosperity hens are perfect to hang in any dorm, home or classroom. We also carry the ornament size, 8″ in length.



journal realRecycled Journals: $18.50 (India) are made from 100% recycled cotton. The pages in this journal are blank, eggshell white, and are so smooth to write on. This gift serves as a travel journal or to note daily inspirations. Let us, at Global Exchange, wrap it up in one of our recycled newspaper bags and feel the goodness of humane economics and conscious consumption take over!


dop kitTravel/Cosmetic Bag: $16.50 (Bali) made from cotton. I am serious when I say this is the perfect travel bag. They come in a variety of colors and sizing and have a zipper pouch on the inside which is fully lined so they are easy to clean. This bag is wonderful to give to someone who will be traveling this summer.



Fair Trade Gift CardBONUS GIFT IDEA: Gift Cards! Yes, Global Exchange offers gift cards and a beautiful assortment of note cards to go with them. Global Exchange gift cards can be made in any amount and do not expire! They are easy to give and loved by all graduates and teachers.



Take a break from the sun, come in for a graduation gift and take home a free Fair Trade gift! Just mention Graduation!

May your transitions go smooth and wherever you go, go with your heart.

P.S. Hope to see you at the Berkeley store (2840 College Ave (at Russell), Berkeley, CA 94705) soon – we changed the shop and it looks fantastic!

WomensDayQuote-300x255The following piece is part of our ‘Women Around the World Inspiring Change’ blog series that will run until Mother’s Day 2014.

So far, we have featured a women’s group in Nogales, Mexico Hogar de Esperanza y Paz/Home of Hope and Peace (HEPAC),  María Estela Barco Huerta, an incredible leader of DESMI (Desarrollo Económico Social de los Mexicanos Indígenas), and a partnership between the Fair Trade company, Equal Exchange, and women in the 10 primary societies of Gumutindo Coffee Co-op in Uganda.

Now, meet a mother behind the beautiful Fair Trade tote bags in Rajasthan, India.


Sitting on the soft ground in a pile of kantha stitch quilts with a group of mother artisans, I met a strong and contented Kamala.

Kamala is part of a strong community of artisans in a small village near Barmer, Rajasthan that hand-makes our Global Exchange Eco-shopper membership bags.

As I mentioned in my first travel post, it is a tradition for men to block print, and women to quilt. The women’s workspace is a rectangular tent made by hand from woven leaves and branches that protect us from sun and captures any breeze that comes by.

I see women clad in fuchsia and neon orange saris, gold and gemstone earrings and nose rings, and stacks of plastic bangles.  The colors of their clothing are so vibrant and creates a beautiful contrast to the desert all around.

I am invited to sit with the artisans. One woman starts talking to me, so I grab my guides Riya and Anjuli to translate. I understand the woman is asking how many children I have. “I have one boy, he’s 9.”

She follows-up by asking how many years I’ve been married. I tell Riya, my current translator, that I am not married. She looks at me and softly says, just tell her something. So she tells the woman I’ve been married for 5 years. The woman I’m speaking with seems satisfied and re-focuses on her stitching.

Next, I sit down next to a young woman with a beautiful smile covered by transparent neon orange fabric.

#mothersacrossbordersSome of the women are wearing white plastic bangles that start small at their elbow and increase in size up to their shoulder. I ask the woman in orange why isn’t she wearing them: “ Women are given these bangles when they are married. New laws say we are only required to wear them for 3 years after marriage, and I have been married for 12 years.”

The woman I’ve been speaking to is Kamala Devi. She is 30 years old. She has been married for 12 years, and has 3 children, 1 boy and 2 girls. Kamala was born and raised in Chohtan, a small village just outside of Barmer. All of her children are in school, and she says she will teach her daughter the art of stitching- like her mother taught her – in addition to schooling.

I ask Kamala a few questions:

#mothersacrossbordersWhat do you love about being a mother? Being a mother is wonderful. I love my children and want them to  finish school and go on to become good humans.

How did you meet your husband? She laughs, It was arranged by my mother.

Will you arrange your daughters’ wedding? “Yes.”

Who are your best friends? “The women I work with.”

What do you talk about? “We talk about family and our work.”

What do you do in your free time? Kamala laughs,  “After I finish my house chores I come to work. I have no free time.”

What is your art form? “I work in appliqué stitching and metal. I have been working for 10 years.”

What is your favorite color? “Yellow.”

#mothersacrossbordersI look to my left and see that one artisan has pulled a bottle of bright blue nail polish from her blouse and is painting my friend Kelly’s nails. I look to my right and see that my friend Erin is trading her sunglasses for earrings and a sari. Before I leave, I give Kamala a hug. All the other women found this very funny, and want hugs too. When I said “Bye”, it was just too funny.  As I walked back to the bus, I heard the women mimicking me…”Bye, Bye, Bye…”.

I was in Rajasthan for two weeks. I had three Indian women guides, who patiently answered my daily questions about the roles of women in India. What really was beautiful is that in a country that has a caste system, where marriages are arranged and village women have seemingly no choice, there is still a celebration of womanhood.

I saw happiness in the color of their dress, and in their smiles. There is immense strength in their community. I observed the respect that younger women showed for elder women. They bowed and touched the feet of their elders. The artisans I met had a strong eye contact, pride in their work, and joy as they speak. They all had voices, and are empowered by Fair Trade to determine the value of their work by creating the prices of their art.

I asked Kamala “Are you happy” she answered, “Yes”.

tote_buttonTAKE ACTION

WomensDayQuote-300x255The following piece is part of our ‘Women Around the World Inspiring Change’ blog series that will run until Mother’s Day 2014.

So far, we have featured a women’s group in Nogales, Mexico Hogar de Esperanza y Paz/Home of Hope and Peace (HEPAC),  María Estela Barco Huerta, an incredible leader of DESMI (Desarrollo Económico Social de los Mexicanos Indígenas), and a partnership between the Fair Trade company, Equal Exchange, and women in the 10 primary societies of Gumutindo Coffee Co-op in Uganda.

Now, meet the women behind a Fair Trade tagua jewelry business in Bogota, Colombia.

Tagua Artisan and Business Woman Lizzie Zuniga

Tagua Seed Jewelry Artisan and Business Woman Lizzie Zuniga

Arriving from the airport into the Colombian capital city of Bogota, the main avenue is lined with the brilliant color of public art.

Every wall along Avenida Gaitan (named after the populist leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan) tells a bold story of armed conflict and the resilience of the peoples’ movement for peace and justice.  I was in Bogota to spend time with the artisans who produce the Global Exchange Fair Trade Store’s line of Fair Trade tagua seed jewelry.  In one mural an indigenous woman, wrapped in the cloth of her cultural heritage, outstretches her hands to the cars rushing past.  The word Esperanza”, or “Hope, is painted in neon behind her. The women artisans we have partnered with in Bogota are working for just that.

Tagua Seed Pod

Tagua Seed Pod

Lizzie Zuniga moved to Bogota from Chiquinquira, a small town in the Western Boyaca Province located three hours north from the capital city.  She and her partner Nicolas survived their first years in the city making and selling tagua seed jewelry in the street.  Tagua seeds grow wild in Boyaca and when Lizzie and Nicolas moved to the city they depended on this natural resource of their homeland to sustain their new urban livelihood.

Whole Tagua seeds that have been died  green

Whole Tagua seeds that have been died green

Tagua seeds grow in large pods on the trunk of Ivory Palms.  The seeds remain gelatinous until the pod falls to the ground, where it can be peeled open to harvest the hard, smooth white seeds.  Lizzie explains to me that the harvest cannot be rushed, as the resilience of the seeds depends on their full maturation.  And so her business in Bogota grew, slowly and organically, with the tagua seed at its heart.

In her own words:

“Tagua is where I am from.  It is part of my family and who I have become.  On two different occasions when Nicolas and I had nothing, no shelter or food, we were able to rise and stand with tagua.”

Tagua seeds thinly sliced, dyed and ready to be made into jewelry

Tagua seeds thinly sliced, dyed and ready to be made into jewelry

Today Lizzie runs a sustainable ten-year old business that employs seven artisans in the full-time production of tagua jewelry.  She has partnered with a friend from Chiquinquira, who transports the tagua harvested by local farmers during their off-season, to the city where is it sorted, peeled, tumbled smooth and sliced into slabs in her workshop.

Mother of three, expert dyer, and business woman Sandra Navarette

Mother of three, expert dyer, and business woman Sandra Navarette

Sandra Navarrete has worked with Lizzie for four years in all stages of tagua jewelry production.  She has developed a full knowledge of the trade and considers herself a master artisan and business woman.

In her own words she describes her position:

I find purpose and possibility in my work.  I am a mother to three daughters and I am very proud that I have developed the capacity and confidence to run a business.  I know all the processes involved.”

She has chosen to work in the dying of the tagua slabs, a highly technical process in which eco-friendly dies are used to set brilliant reds, greens, and indigos. Sandra’s favorite color is purple, though the perfect red is the color she finds the most challenging to achieve.

The Lizzie Penant cut from Tagua Seed and available now is stores or as part of our Mothers Day Gift of Membership program

The Lizzie Pendant cut from tagua seed and available now in the Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores or as part of our Mother’s Day Gift of Membership program

The final product is a sustainably sourced, elegant piece of Fair Trade jewelry that can be sold to sustain a growing community of artisans that have relocated to Bogota from outside provinces.  A large population of people, displaced from rural areas by decades of political violence in Colombia, lives in deep poverty on the outskirts of Bogota.  The women of these communities are rising to create a future for their families through their work as artisans.  In Lizzie’s case, she stays connected to the earth and her origins through the seeds that she works with.  For her, tagua is a seed of hope or esperanza

Stop in the Global Exchange Fair Trade Store in Berkeley this Mother’s Day to pick out your favorite from a wide selection of tagua jewelry pieces handmade with love by Lizzie and Sandra.  My favorite is the Lizzie pendant, cut in the shape of a tree from a tagua seed, which comes in all colors.


You can make your Mama proud this Mother’s Day by gifting her a Fair Trade ‘Proud Mama’ gift box that includes the Lizzie pendant, along with a Putumayo “Women of the World” music CD, Fair Trade Equal Exchange chocolate bar, and a tin of Proud Mama coffee from Equal Exchange.

Get your Proud Mama Gift Box today!

SF_StoreUPDATE (May 5, 2014): Thank you to everyone for your 25 years of support. Our San Francisco Noe Valley Store is now closed. Please be sure to visit us in Berkeley, CA where we will continue to offer a wide selection of beautiful, functional Fair Trade product.

This spring, we will be closing the doors of our 24th Street store due to the skyrocketing costs of running a small business in San Francisco. We stand in solidarity with the growing number of families and local businesses who have also been affected by this surge in rental rates. This closure is not a reflection on the state of Fair Trade business, but rather a reflection on the shifting face of a city that is no longer able to foster the growth of small, local businesses.

As a founding member of the Fair Trade Federation, we stand for full transparency in the global marketplace. We want you to know your purchasing power: who, where, and how your purchases affect real change. We want you to be sure that your purchases go towards supporting economic justice through Fair Trade, NOT towards covering the violently inflated cost of rent in San Francisco.

Jocelyn and weaving partners in Guatemala Photo Credit: Global Exchange, September 2012

Jocelyn and weaving partners in Guatemala Photo Credit: Global Exchange, September 2012

When I sit down with Brenda Chacach, Mayan businesswoman and Director of Maya Works, our responsibility at the Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores to our artisan partners remains clear. While she works hard to empower over 125 indigenous women in rural Guatemala in the production of the highest quality hand loomed cotton, we must work hard to run strong, sustainable Fair Trade stores that house their beautiful wares that provide you, the conscious consumer, the opportunity to invest in them.

For over 25 years, the Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores have taken this clear commitment to the artisan seriously and have worked hard to create thriving stores as community spaces where we can come together to celebrate and support the work of artisans around the world. Our stores are alive with the stories of prosperous cultivation, craftsmanship, and community support.

We have been in business at our San Francisco Noe Valley location (4018 24th Street) since 1989, constantly adjusting our footing in a changing marketplace. We are not immune to the forces changing the face of our San Francisco community, and the most recent wave of rent increases have also affected us, and we are taking action so that it does not affect our artisan partners around the world.

SF Fair Trade storeSo where do we go from here? For years we have been building local partnerships and securing promising opportunities through a united creation of marketplaces that support people-over-profit.

  • Our Berkeley store, open since 1991 (2840 College Ave @ Russell) will continue to offer a wide selection of beautiful, functional Fair Trade product.
  • We plan to reopen the Global Exchange Fair Trade Online Store this Fall 2014
  • We are exploring options to open a new brick-and-mortar store as part of a progressive, community-based project. More details to come soon!

Thank you to the San Francisco Noe Valley community for 25-years of support. We look forward to seeing everyone at our Berkeley store and other Global Exchange events around the Bay Area. Please keep our community vibrant by continuing to support your local businesses and organizations.


I had the good fortune of being welcomed to Global Exchange as a sales associate at the San Francisco Fair Trade Store a few weeks before Global Exchange’s 25th Anniversary celebration. I met many new people and felt an inkling my new job would suit me in ways I didn’t know yet.

Since then, I’ve learned more about how Fair Trade works than I imagined I could. While buying Fair Trade products has always been a way for me to support sustainable economic and environmental practices for workers whose livelihood depends on it, it’s now a way to connect with people in a way I didn’t before. I’m beginning to feel the love.blue andes gifts

I like things: fashion, texture, beautifully crafted, soulful goods I can wrap around my shoulders, press my cheek to, or bounce thoughtfully in the cup of my palm. But things are things. I thought, Fair Trade products are still things.

That’s the nature of it, but there’s also that feeling you get knowing the story behind each handmade item…the love. For example, when you hold an Andes Gifts alpaca wool hat in all its squish-soft, insulating gorgeousness, and you know it’s making a positive impact on people’s lives and the environment, it becomes more than a thing, it becomes a gift.

challenge-header-2Andes Gifts, based in Davis, California, provides free knitting instruction, as well as successful micro-loans to increase earning capacity, to women in rural indigenous communities in Bolivia and Peru. Within some of the most economically impoverished areas in the western hemisphere, Andean communities often unravel due to disjointed childcare, work, and family structure.

The opportunity to knit colorful, intricate designs and make a living through Andes Gifts helps these red andes giftscommunities stay together.

Knitters work in their homes or in co-ops where they have access to the resources they need, and work as much as they need to at their own pace. Women can stay close to their children and participate in local traditions. Knitters provide for themselves and their families, and make statements like, “I plan on knitting until I’m a grandmother”. That’s a loving thing for all it’s implications.


We invite you to visit our Fair Trade stores in Berkeley and San Francisco, CA to see for yourself the beauty of Andes Gifts.

green sign sfThe harmful effects of modern day consumerism is not a secret, we see and feel the negative effects in communities around the world. At the Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores our commitment to environmental standards that protect our local habitats and those of our artisan partners from India to Guatemala are central to our work everyday.

So we are proud to announce that the Global Exchange Fair Trade store in San Francisco has met the highest standards of the San Francisco Green Business Program, and we are now an officially Certified San Francisco Green Business!

We are a Green place to shop, and our Berkeley store is next!

 What Makes Us a Certified San Francisco Green Business:

  • We use all LED light bulbs

    LED lighting

    LED lighting

  • We use NO chemical cleaning agents: To clean we mix ¼ white vinegar with water
  • We recycle and compost everything we can
  • We re-use supplies: rubber bands, envelopes, paper etc.. (and so do a majority of our vendors)
  •  We buy 100% recycled paper, from printer to toilet paper
  • We are a host site for 3 organic Community Supported Agriculture farms
  • We are a non-profit, Human Rights Organization that fights for ecological justice
  • We sell recycled, up-cycled, re-purposed, handmade, and Fair Trade products

Our precious planet can only take so much abuse. So I’m happy to see consumers paying attention to the ecological impact of corporate industry and caring about the effect their purchasing decisions have on the world.  

 At Global Exchange we take environmental concerns seriously because we share them. We are here to promote ecological awareness, provide a positive consumer alternative and participate in building a healthy and clean future. The Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores are part of a growing number of retailers providing products that are both good for us and good for the environment. This is a good thing!

Check out these innovative Green products:recyceld mag multi

Looking to become a greener shopper? Here some some keys to green buying:

  • Research where products come from and what they are made of

    Tagua Earrings in Stunning Spring Time Turquoise

    Tagua Earrings in Stunning Spring Time Turquoise

  • Know who your money is supporting
  • Support the use of recycled or renewable raw materials
  • Buy clothing and products that are free of harmful chemicals and dyes
  • Buy quality products with lasting power
  • Use your purchase power to positively affect the system 
  • Buy local and Fair Trade
  • and of course, Shop at the Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores:)

The process to certify our store was straight forward, free and educational. I worked with a supportive Green Business Specialist from the SF Dept. of the Environment. I even applied what I learned from greening my work to greening my home.

Come in for a taste of Organic Fair Trade chocolate!

Come in for a taste of Organic Fair Trade chocolate!

If you want to know more about how this process unfolded, come visit me at the San Francisco Global Exchange Store. (And while you’re there, enjoy a free piece of delicious Fair Trade chocolate!)

I wish you health, happiness and prosperity.

P.S Pick up a copy and check us out in the Nov. issue of SF magazine (there’s a great shot of the recycled sari throws we carry!)


At the Global Exchange Stores in San Francisco and Berkeley we have boxes and boxes of new products arriving daily for the new fall season.

Jocelyn Boreta, buyer for the Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores, with artisan partners in Guatemala

Jocelyn Boreta, buyer for the Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores, with artisan partners in Guatemala

Wondering how we choose our Fair Trade products for fall?

Fall is the special time of year when our partners in Fair Trade introduce their new collections, and every year, as the buyer for the Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores, I attend the New York International Gift Show where I can see, touch, and sometimes try on what’s new in Fair Trade. A growing number of Fair Trade businesses have booths at this show, which is great to see.

Here are a few of my favorite finds from this year’s show:

Coming Soon!
photo credit: Mercado Global

Weekender Bag Hand-Loomed in Guatemala by the Mayan Women of Mercado Global

I love the rich color and texture of this bag.  A beautiful example of the combination of Mayan craftsmanship with modern design.

Mercado Global is a social enterprise which builds change from the ground up in rural Guatemala: providing education, tools, and access to international markets so that women can build their own businesses and invest in their own communities.

“Through my work, I see that women do have the power to transform their communities, even the world” said Santa Aju, a Mercado Global Artisan Partner.

From one of the most marginalized populations in the world, their artisan partners are rising to become leaders in their communities and a source of change in global sourcing practices.


Coming Soon!
photo credit: Handmade Expressions

Vintage Journal Handmade from Recycled Cotton Rags in India by the artisans of Handmade Expressions

I love these journals for their smart design, cute line drawings and soft cotton paper.

They are made by a man named Wasim and his family in Sanganer village, in west Rajasthan, India. His family has been in the paper making industry for over 80 years, an artistic tradition passed down from one generation to the next. The raw paper is made from recycled cotton rags and the exquisitely crafted journals are bound by hand.

Wasim’s workmanship is excellent and he earns a lot of respect in the community for his art. He mentions that it is hard work, but he enjoys the satisfaction of creating something so beautiful and the opportunity to express himself creatively. He hopes that this art stays

alive in times to come.

Handmade Expressions works with over 5,000 artisans like Wasim in the production of Fair Trade products.

100% Alpaca Poncho hand knit in Peru by the artisans of Indigenous Designsponcho_4

This piece is simply incredible.  The 100% alpaca knit is soft and light, for beautiful movement during wear.  It’s design is bold, functional and from the heart.  I ordered an extra one for myself, and another for the manager of our stores.

For 20 years, Indigenous Designs has been committed to:

  • Supporting and preserving fair trade wages and artisan cooperatives
  • Investing in natural and organic fibers and environmentally-friendly dyes
  • Spreading the beauty of handmade, eco fashion.

They work with over 300 knitting and hand-looming artisan groups in rural South America, mostly in the areas surrounding the Pampa Canahuas Reserve in the South of Peru.

Mario and Maria Huisa, two of Indigenous Designs’ many artisan partners, started with only one knitting machine and the passion to make a difference in their community.  Today, Mario and Maria have built a new home, own ten knitting machines, four linking machines and provide work for up to 40 artisan knitters within their community.

 Take-ActionTAKE ACTION!

Come see for yourself all the new Fair Trade products we have rolling in. The Global Exchange Stores are located in San Francisco and Berkeley, so stop by and check out our new fall selection!

And while supplies last……enjoy a FREE 12 oz bag of Fair Trade Peace Coffee with your purchase of $20 or more! 

Indika bells at SF store

Bells at Global Exchange Store in San Francisco store.

 Global Exchange brings surprise treasures into my life. Most recently I had the privilege of being introduced to installation artist Tiffany Singh (Auckland, New Zealand).

About a year ago Tiffany contacted Global Exchange’s SF Store looking for 1000 Fair Trade Bells. We sell beautiful bells from India, in all sizes but she needed more bells than we have in stock; so I connected Tiffany with our bell source, Indika.

In June of this year Tiffany and her camera crew showed up at our SF store. I was fortunate to spend time with this wonderful artist, as she explained how she was going to incorporate the bells into her installation at the Montalvo Arts Centre in Saratoga CA.

Indika Bells

Bells of Mindfulness

The Bells of Mindfulness, proposes to deeply examine the idea of sacred spaces. Drawing on the Buddhist tradition of using temple bells as an aid for mindfulness, Tiffany suspended 1000 Indika bells and 1000 handmade paper cranes attached to brightly colored ribbons, color blocked, from a persimmon tree in Montalvo’s Italianate Garden, creating a tranquil space for rest and reflection. Sourcing the bells from rural artisans in western India, Singh hopes The Bells of Mindfulness will inspire conversations about the importance of better equity in international trade.


 The Bells of Mindfulness is a participatory sculpture. To participate:

  • Go to the persimmon tree in the Italianate garden in Montalvo Arts Center
  • Listen to the bells on the tree.
  • With intention choose your bell.
  • Take the bell to your sacred place.
  • Attach your bell.
  • Send us an audio recording, film clip, or image along with the location of the bell to bellsofmindfulness@gmail.com
  • Follow the journey of the bells at http://www.flickr.com/photos/bells_of_mindfulness/map/
  • Keep your eye out for bells. If you find one, marking someone’s sacred place, you may remove the bell and go back to step 3.

I had never been to the Montalvo Arts Center. It is a large walking meditation of beautiful paths incorporated in nature with witty, simple and beautiful installations scattered throughout.

I had to look for Tiffany’s persimmon tree, and I was so excited when I finally found the tree with colored string, colored paper cranes and bells hanging from it’s branches.

 I spent a couple hours under the tree, watching, ringing and listening to the bells. I took two fallen bells from the ground and gave one to my friend and the other is hanging in my kitchen, for now.

Seeing my bell reminds me that I value and strive to incorporate art and mindfulness in my daily life.

me and bells

Me looking at the bells.

Bells of Mindfulness   will be up thru October, I encourage you to spend a day at the Montalvo Arts Centre and

enjoy the sights and sounds of nature and art!

Mindfulness is the root of all methods that tame the mind. First it focuses the mind. Then it eases the mind. Finally it is the luminous nature, beyond thoughts.

 – Paul Rinpoche

bell in my home

My mindful bell at home.

When I walk into my dad’s house it’s filled with paper. He fumbles with his new smart phone by day, but when the evening rolls around he finds no greater pleasure then thumbing through print magazines. He flips through the glossy pages to find recipes for the grill, good hiking trails, used car parts in the classifieds, and to learn about the newest innovations in his industry.

I also share his love for information in print. Like him, I end most days away from the neon computer screen, curled up flipping pages. But with my work in Fair Trade and studies in Anthropology, our interests don’t always line up, nor do our reading topics.

I usually don’t find my dad deep in his reading about cultural heritage and weaving in the highlands of Peru. And he probably won’t read this blog.  But where we do come together is in the celebration of craftsmanship, resourcefulness, and ingenuity in design.

recyceld mag multiSo when I told him about a group of artisans in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam who are making beautiful, functional housewares out of recycled magazines similar to those he has stacked around his apartment, he wanted to know more.

We print lovers know paper can really pile up. And the thought of newspapers and magazines being printed on fresh paper everyday is disturbing to many.

recyceld mag coasterThis is why my Dad and I are so excited about the scrap paper industry, which taps into the ongoing potential of collecting paper scraps and upcycling them into viable end products.

A growing number of paper upcycling efforts are popping up in the U.S, including undeliverable mail  being made into new envelopes and scrap paper getting recycled into biodegradable mulch mats for reforestation projects.

In Ho Chi Minh City, 60 artisans are employed in the creation of housewares handmade from recycled magazines and newspapers, coiled and wound in the same style as their traditional bamboo tableware.  The beautiful frames, bowls, plates & coasters wound from yesterday’s news, hold the dual function of brightening up your home while reducing the amount of scrap paper in the waste stream. My dad thinks that makes sense.

The business was started by Hien and Binh who were trained by their uncle Duc in traditional paper craft.  With the support of Mai Handicrafts, a Vietnam based World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) member that provides sustainable employment and business development opportunities for Vietnamese artisans, the business grew by incorporating their traditional techniques in the creation of innovative, functional products.

Today, 20 artisans work together in a workshop that undergoes regular inspection according to WFTO standards and 40 more work from the comfort of their homes.

Visit Global Exchange for recycled paper Father’s Day gifts!

Fair-Trade-Recycled-Paper-FThe Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores have partnered with Mai Handicrafts to make this innovative product line available to you. My Father’s Day gift this year will be a photo of Dad and me in a recycled magazine frame.  What better gift for Father’s Day then a gift that just plain makes sense!






Tagua Earrings in Stunning Spring Time Turquoise

Tagua Earrings in Stunning Springtime Turquoise

It’s almost Mothers Day, and mom who knows right from wrong better then anybody, doesn’t want a gift sourced from others’ suffering.  As a daughter, adoring aunt, and buyer at the Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores, I know that Fair Trade jewelry is always the right gift for mom. Jewelry sales soar in our stores this time of year and luckily we have a large selection of jewelry that is sourced right.

A majority of the jewelry in the mainstream market is sourced from silver and gold mines in the Global South. The extraction of these metals is highly toxic and destructive to mining communities and environments.  Countless examples exist of high fatality rates in miners, poisoned water sources, sickened families, and destroyed ecosystems.  Check out the powerful example of Canadian Goldcorp mine in Guatemala from the perspective of the indigenous Mayan community in the award winning documentary Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth.

Here’s where it gets complicated: silver and gold smiths from the hill-tribes of northern Thailand to the pueblos around Mexico City continue long traditions of metal work that supports their communities and families.  We believe that the work of these small-scale gold and silver smiths should be supported, and for this reason we carry a limited amount of their jewelry in our stores.

While the primary focus of the Fair Trade craft movement up until now has been the labor that goes into the final product (gotta start somewhere), many of us are asking what about the raw materials?

Amazing alternatives to gold and silver are available today.  Much of the jewelry we carry in the Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores is handmade from recycled metals or natural materials.  My favorite line is the jewelry made from tagua nut, also known as eco-ivory for its color, beauty and resilience.  The smooth white palm seed, about the size of an avocado pit, is collected from the rainforest floor after having fallen as fruit and usually stripped of its edible layers by animals.Tagua Earrings in Brilliant Ruby Reds

Before the invention of plastics, and when ivory had become scarce, tagua seeds had been used for hundreds of years as a raw material for luxury goods, but with the invention and increased use of plastics, tagua was not put to use. In the last decade, with an increase in environmental awareness, tagua is valued again for its beauty and characteristics as a natural, biodegradable, and renewable resource. The tagua used in the production of our jewelry, is sourced from strictly government-controlled environments, making sure that sufficient seeds are left to perpetuate the palms and the tagua native habitat.

Unlike many lines of seed jewelry, which may be playful but not a substitute for gemstones set in silver and gold, this line of tagua is simple and stunning.  The smooth ivory-like seeds are carved into slabs, died in vibrant color, and sometimes etched into elegant, one-of-a-kind pieces.  And like gemstones or precious metals, I was thrilled to learn that tagua comes in different qualities depending on where it is sourced.  The tagua jewelry that we carry is handmade in Colombia, where the level of moisture in the air determines the quality of a seed that can be carved into a solid smooth slab.

63 artisans in Bogota, Colombia find full-time work in the production of the tagua jewelry that we carry.  The company assures that all business decisions are made democratically, with pricing being set collectively by the workers.  A majority of the artisans make the jewelry in their homes and come to a center, which conducts regular 3rd party inspections and evaluations for work-site safety, to drop off their product and attend meetings.

This Mothers Day, explore your options, and use your buying power to promote socially responsible industry that has a positive impact on people and native habitats.  I know mom would approve!

Check out our full selection of Fair Trade jewelry at the Global Exchange Stores today!