On International Women’s Day in March, we launched a blog series highlighting women around the world and the changes they are driving to advance women economically, politically, and socially.

Women like María Estela Barco Huerta of DESMI (translated as Social and Economic Development for Indigenous Mexicans) who is being honored at our Human Rights Awards for her work promoting food sovereignty in Chiapas, Mexico.

To Kamala Devi, a Fair Trade artisan in India, and Lizzie Zuniga who has built up a successful Fair Trade business in Colombia around tagua seeds.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, we also reflect on the strength of these women who often serve as the primary caretakers of the household.

From the mothers in the Gumutindo Coffee Co-op in Uganda to the mothers living along the US/Mexican border saying “No Mas Muertes” and are building a community where people feel safe and secure.

We thank these women for sharing their stories with all of us and for inspiring change everyday.

Read the Women Around the World Inspiring Change’ blog series on our People-to-People and Fair Trade blogs.

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!

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!

Celebrate mom this Mother’s Day with Fair Trade gifts that give back to the many mothers around the world! Join us at the Global Exchange Fair Trade Store in San Francisco the weekend of May 7-8 to learn the difference Fair Trade makes for mothers worldwide and in your community!

This Mother’s Day weekend – May 7th and  8th – buy 1 scarf, get the 2nd 50% off!

Halo and Swan’s colorful cotton scarves are the perfect accessory for spring. These luxurious and delicate scarves are produced as naturally as possible, by using low-impact dyes and sun-bleaching, so that very little water is used in the process. The scarves are handmade in India, using a traditional hand-blocking technique. Contrary to screen printing, which is often done using a machine, hand block-printing begins with a wooden block that is intricately hand-carved into various designs, and then carefully printed onto a fabric.

These one-of-a-kind sari scarves are hand-sewn from recycled sari material, and each scarf is uniquely its own. By partnering with an organization that employs people out of the slums of Calcutta, India, Asha Imports provides a voice for people who have no voice. The Hindi word “asha” means “hope,” and Asha is giving women the chance to rise above their circumstances and create a better livelihood for these women and their families.

For mothers who love silk, try these hand-spun silk scarves from India! Fair Trade Federation member Sevya works with non-profits, cooperatives, and artisan families throughout India to enhance their production capacity through better working conditions and equipment.  Sevya supports training programs for low-caste women through teaching foot pedal-operated spinning machines, organizing self-help groups, and developing micro-credit operations for the cultivators, spinners, and weavers.


JOIN US for an In-Store Event to Celebrate a Fair Trade Mothers Day!

When: Saturday, May 7, 2011. 11am-6pm

Where: Global Exchange Fair Trade Store. 4018 24th St San Francisco, CA. (map)

What: Celebrate Fair Trade and Mother’s Day with FREE Fair Trade chocolate and coffee at our San Francisco store

Come taste and learn the difference Fair Trade makes for mothers worldwide and in your community!

Wide selection of unique jewelry, hand woven cotton and silk scarves, colorful comforts of home, and more.

Fair Trade Treats! Live Music! And a Wide Selection of Gifts Made by Mothers for Mothers!