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Is The African Fabric Shop a fair trade business?
It's a question that crops up more and more in emails and at shows.
Because my fabrics and beads come from a variety of sources, some hand-made by artisans and some manufactured, it is difficult for me to make a blanket "fair trade" statement, in the sense that it is generally understood.
So, with the issue of "Fair Trade" in mind, I'll tell you a bit about how I source my fabrics and beads and my relationship with the people who produce them.
Hand-dyed Batiks from Ghana and The Gambia
I buy most of these fabrics directly from the dyers, who generally work at home in their "compounds". Sometimes I order specific patterns and colours, for example with the Kola nut and Indigo designs I buy from Musa in The Gambia. I always pay a fair price to these artisans for three reasons.
- A fair price means I get top quality for my customers.
- My business means a lot to them and helps them support their extended families.
- Over the years the dyers have become more than suppliers. They are my friends.
Kudinda, Langa Lapu and Amafu fabrics
Kudinda is located in Zimbabwe; Langa Lapu and Amafu are in South Africa. All three were started by locally born white women with an artistic flair and a desire to make a difference. These small, creative enterprises provide much-needed training and employment, most often for women. By buying from them, I am supporting these vulnerable communities.
Whole Cloths - Mud Cloths and Indigo
I either purchase these cloths directly form the makers in West Africa, or via a trusted third party. My policy is always to pay a fair price.
Hand-made Beads from Ghana
I buy most of my beads directly from the makers, usually by travelling to their homes and compounds. Sometimes, when I can't get to Ghana, I buy through a trusted fair trade supplier in Accra. In either case, I always pay a fair price to the makers.
Hand-made Buttons from South Africa
The Incomparable Button company is a small, community based operation which trains and employs local women who would otherwise struggle to support their families.
Hand-embroidered Tambani Panels from South Africa
This project provides training and employment for 65 women in a remote, rural community.
Wax Prints and Shwe Shwe Fabrics
Both of these fabrics are manufactured by large textile companies. Most of my wax prints come from Ghana, though occasionally I have some prints that were produced in the UK for the African market, just as they have been since the industrial revolution. I get my Shwe Shwe fabric directly from Da Gama Textiles in South Africa. This company is 40% owned by the workers.
A passion for Africa: Its cultures and its people
I first went to Africa in 1984 and I've been passionate about it ever since.
The African Fabric Shop was never planned. It just sort of evolved out of my interest in patchwork and quilting and my passion for African textile traditions. In 2005 I finally quit my day job to concentrate exclusively on African textiles.
I do it because I love it. It keeps me connected with Africa and the many artists and friends that I know there.
As I develop the business, I hope I can work with many more artists in many more countries and share my passion for their creativity and traditions with you.
The African Fabric Shop supports the Dream Children's Home in Kenya
Africa is very important to us and we travel there as often as we can to source new fabrics, beads and baskets. In addition to directly supporting small-scale craft producers, we try to give a bit more back to Africa by donating to small African charities.
On Magie's latest trip to Kenya she met an inspiring couple - Rachel and Stephen Gichia.
Since first opening their hearts and their home to an orphaned four year-old girl in 2004, Rachel and Stephen have sheltered and nurtured 49 needy orphans in their registered orphanage - Dream Children's Home in the Ngong Hills near Nairobi.
Rachel and Stephen restore hope for these vulnerable children by providing for their basic needs: a child friendly home and three meals per day. In addition, the children benefit from medical care, counselling, access to education, clothing and school uniforms.
Dream Children's Home operates on a shoe string, with it's meagre income supplemented by selling milk from its four Friesian cows. Of course, donations are always welcome, which is where we come in. We recently made our first donation to this very worthy cause and more will follow.
For the full story of the Dream Children's Home, go to: www.dreamchildrenshome-kenya-orphanage.org
You can donate securely via the Better Place organisation: www.betterplace.org
From the children of the Dream Children's Home,
Asante sana - Thank you.