A Conversation with Renee Bowers of the Fair Trade Federation

Fair Trade Federation Logo.jpgOctober is Fair Trade Month. We asked Renee Bowers, Executive Director of the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) and a WARP member to answer a few questions about fair trade, textiles, and the best way to make a difference. 

WARP: How would you describe the FTF in five words? 

Renee Bowers: Strengthen fully fair trade businesses.

What is the biggest challenge in bringing fair trade goods to market?

RB: Fully fair trade businesses like our members are working against unsustainable practices that have become the norm in conventional business. Unfortunately, most shoppers have come to expect certain things from bigger brands, such as lightning-fast production, near constant trend turnover, and impossibly low prices. Fair trade partnerships aren’t always easily understood because we’ve stopped thinking about where the things we eat, wear, and use come from or how they’re made. At the FTF, we believe that if good businesses practices were more celebrated, demand for fair trade goods would really increase.

The fair trade movements has its roots in marketing textiles. What role do textiles play in the movement today?

RB: Textiles still play a huge role in fair trade! Many shoppers want things like rugs, bags, clothes, and other fabrics and artisans around the globe have exceptional skills and talents in making these very items. Although fair trade has expanded over the years to include, coffee, chocolate, food, and personal care items, handmade craft products are still a core area of fair trade—especially in the US and Canada.

Most importantly, fair relationships continue to be an essential means of supporting weavers and garment makers in developing countries.

The majority of WARP members are individuals that make textiles themselves and have a strong affinity for the people that make textiles.  Our members often ponder how to use their skills to help fair trade cooperatives thrive.  Any advise?

RB: One of the best ways to have an impact is to buy products—including textiles—from fully fair trade businesses. While this may not always feel as direct, you can rest assured that the income from your purchase makes a huge difference to the lives of textile artisans.

In terms of sharing expertise, I’d recommend first taking advantage of a fair trade travel/volunteer opportunity. A few opportunities with FTF members include:

Women In Progress, an international volunteer organization

Global Exchange, responsible travel opportunities

Looking for something to do during the holiday season? Mayan Hands, a member of the Fair Trade Federation and WARP is offering a tour, December 4 − 14 of this year.
Looking for something to do during the holiday season? Mayan Hands, a member of the Fair Trade Federation and WARP is offering a tour, December 4 − 14 of this year.

What is the difference between an organization being a member of the Fair Trade Federation and a product being fair trade certified?

RB: Certification is a system that audits worksites—primarily farms—for health, safety, and labor compliance. Certification does not speak to the business practices of the company that sells or markets the product in North America.

The Fair Trade Federation is a membership organization that celebrates the whole business. We believe that fair trade requires a deep commitment to poverty alleviation, including direct trading relationships with small scale artisans and farmers. Businesses in the US and Canada go through a rigorous screening process in order to become members. This screening is a holistic evaluation o the businesess’ fair trade practices.

To find a full list of members, visit the Fair Trade Federation’s website

Spinning and Weaving Week

Recycled Baskets
Judith Saunders, of Virginia and North Carolina, organizes a weaving challenge among her basketry students. They recycle junk mail and magazines by weaving baskets and sculptural forms from the paper strips. Each project is woven independently during Spinning and Weaving Week. Shown here are baskets from 2012. Credit Handweavers Guild of America

This week is National Spinning and Weaving Week.  In the United States, the first full week in October is set aside for textile enthusiasts to share their love of weaving and spinning with their communities.  Many find unique ways to inspire others to think about textile traditions in new ways.  Judith Saunders gives her basketry student students an annual challenge to create woven baskets from junk mail.

A Gyotaku flounder print helps teach students about the fish’s anatomy. Credit: Smithsonian Institute

If you are interested in exploring the breadth of textile traditions, browse the Textile Techniques column in WARP’s quarterly newsletter written by Deborah Brandon. Back issues are are available online.  In the Winter 2004 issues, you will  learn about Gyotaku or Japanese fish printing that was first used over 100 years ago by fisherman to record their catch.  Fish prints were emblazoned on rice paper or silk cloth.  Today it is a popular art form. The Smithsonian uses this method to teach kids about fish anatomy and introduce them to block printing, an often used textile technique.

In the Summer 2012 issue, we learn that some textiles have highly ritualized and ceremonial purposes.  Sikkes are the tall felted hats worn by Whirling Dervishes to accentuate the tilting of the head as they twirl.  According to Brandon, “The hat, similar to a tall version of a fez, is approximately two feet high and has a slightly flattened top. Traditional sikkes were made from the hair of a yearling camel, but now sheep’s wool or mohair are more commonly used.”  Wouldn’t it be fun to all make our own version of the sikkes and give them a whirl?

Celebrating textiles reaches far beyond this one week. In November, weavers of the Americas and beyond will gather in Cusco, Peru for Tinkuy to learn from one another.  The gathering includes seminars in product design, sustainability, and marketing for weavers indigenous to the Americas and their guests, plus hands-on workshops for the textile enthusiast.  The grand parade of weavers up the Avenida del Sol will be a site to see! Many WARP members are attending. If you go send us a postcard—real or virtual—we will be reporting back after the event.

Happy Spinning and Weaving Week!

The Power of Conversation

ImageFor over twenty years WARP has fostered a conversation between people who have a deep and abiding love for textiles and those that create them. Established as a networking organization, WARP works to educate, connect, and inspire us all to take a second look at the cloth that surrounds them and think about the people and processes that made it, particularly in communities in need.

For years, the good old fashioned way of communicating with our network has served us well; publishing a robust newsletter, hosting an annual gathering of members, creating a detailed directory of  member projects and textile interest, and providing a traveling slideshow for guilds, conferences, classrooms, and where ever textile enthusiast gather.

Early on in the digital age we added a website and a member’s only Yahoo discussion group. It is surprising at times the amount of human contact social media provides. It connects us to cloth and cloth makers in new and exciting ways. With the launch of our new blog we are stepping up our conversations on our social media sites. Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook to learn about the current project of our members, textiles around the world, the latest WARP news, and connect with other textile enthusiast. If you are a textile artist yourself, you can find us on Ravelry and Weavolution. Bookmark or subscribe to this blog to dig a little deeper into the discussion. Share the links you like with your friends and help us grown the conversation.

Then, consider becoming a member of WARP. For a nominal annual membership fee, you can help support this conversation. You need not be a textile worker or project host yourself. You need only have the desire to stay connected to the cloth and cloth makers that surround us.

—Weave A Real Peace (WARP)