This is the fifth installment of a series we’re calling “Conversations.” It’s more of an interview series, where we ask our vendor partners questions about their experiences working directly with artisans around the world. You may not know it, but every product we carry has a team of people who are dedicated to doing trade on the fairest terms possible. Fair Trade is about transparency and creating a dialogue – we hope this series shines a light on some of the struggles artisans are faced with and also some of the positive changes that have come out of their fair trade partnerships.
Acacia Creations’ founder, Maura, has been living and working in Kenya for 10 years and we’ve been working with her for more than 5 years. We emailed her some questions about her experiences running a fair trade company and her relationships with the artisans. Her responses are below.
How often do you/your team have the opportunity to visit the artisans in Kenya? And how long have you been working with them?
I’ve lived in Kenya for nearly 10 years and consider our artists like an extended family. We employ most of them directly and have worked with many for the 8 years since I started Acacia Creations. Living here gives us the unique ability to interact with our team daily and get a real sense of the challenges and hurdles they face daily.
When you are working on new products, how do you decide what new designs to work on?
When coming up with new designs, we’re always balancing what’s trending with the materials available in Kenya. In our newest collection, this meant taking familiar paper bead jewelry designs and changing the shape and color slightly. We’ve learned to get creative with the limited jewelry making supplies available here.
Can you tell us a little about the artisans who make the barefoot trade bracelets and the children who benefit from the money you donate towards education?
In 2013 and 2014 we raised $11,804. In that same period, we paid for tuition for 64 children for 2 years including uniforms, supplies and textbooks. We also donated 10,000 sanitary pads to schools throughout rural Kenya. This might seem strange but we learned that girls were not attending school during menstruation due to a lack of pads and this was causing them to fall behind. Now they don’t have to miss school.
We also arranged the transport of several huge rain collection tanks for St. Andrews Girls School in Kasarani. This will give them access to fresh, clean water throughout the year.
Do you have a story to share about an artisan or artisan family?
My favorite story is of Virginia and her daughter, Rachael. Virginia is a single mother and victim of domestic violence who has worked with us for 6 years. Before joining Acacia she made jewelry to sell at local tourist markets. After the election violence in 2007, tourism disappeared and Virginia, like so many others, could no longer sell her jewelry to support her family. When Virginia joined our team, we were able to enroll Rachael in an excellent kindergarten program and gave Virginia a loan so that she could move into her own home away from her abusive partner. Virginia is now our most senior female beader and in charge of training new members. Pictures of Rachael doing her homework are below. She is now at the top of her class!
We often talk about the fact that fair trade organizations protect children’s rights and support education, but it is a bit difficult to give a good idea of what that actually looks like for artisans. Virginia and Rachael’s story, however, provides a clear and personal example of the transformative power of fair trade and we are so grateful that Maura and the Acacia team are able to share their story with us! Stories like their’s are the reason we do what we do.
Fair trade is about so much more than just paying someone a fair wage for their work; it is about a true commitment to people. Acacia Creations shows this commitment in all they do. Maura and the team could have purchased text books or helped build a school and been on their way, but their dedication to sustainable fair trade means they are in it for the long haul. Maura has known Rachael since she before she started kindergarten and has watched her grow to be the top in her class – this is incredible!
Virginia and Rachael’s inspiring story is just one among many. Acacia Creations has direct relationships with all their artisans, working with them to address their needs as they continue to improve their lives. In other communities, Acacia Creations was able to donate sanitary pads and clean water tanks for schools through their Barefoot Collection fund. We look forward to working with Maura and the team for many more years, and to hearing more stories like Virginia and Rachael’s!
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