This is the sixth 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.
Mata Traders works with women in Nepal and India to create wearable fashion and fashion accessories. We have been working with them for several years and have cherished our partnership as they are one of very few fair trade clothing companies available in the U.S. Their clothing boasts fun patterns, stylish cuts and their artisans’ craftsmanship is fantastic. Jonit (left) goes to visit the artisans often and answered some questions for us below.
How often do you/your team have the opportunity to visit the artisans?
We go on 2 trips each year to visit our groups. Kristin, our designer, goes for a month in March. Then she returns in October and November with Taylor, our production manager, for about 6-8 weeks. On each trip we visit each group we partner with to work on the collections for the following year. I also visit the groups from time to time, just to continue the relationships I’ve made with the women at the co-ops. This year I’ll probably make a trip in December.
What were the goals of your most recent visit? (If you were working on new products, how do you decide what new products/designs to work on?)
Oops, I kinda answered this one above. The design process begins more than a year and a half in advance: trend research, developing prints, sketching cuts, etc. By the time Kristen is there, we’ve gone through several rounds of sampling. While she’s there, she’s making final corrections and working on grading the sizes.
Do you have a story to share about an artisan or artisan family?
One of my favorite stories is an artisan named Rosy. Like many families, hers had money problems. She and her husband dreamed of giving their children an education. When she joined the co-op, she had never sewn before, but when the co-op saw what a hard worker she was, she was promoted to a supervisor role, and kept moving up. Now she’s an assistant production manager. Rosy has earned not only a living wage but also the respect of her family and community. Rosy’s oldest son attended school and is now happily married, while her youngest son is finishing his education. In her own words, ‘I started working for my family, but now I work for me, for my heart.’
What kind of positive changes have you seen occur in the communities/families that you work with since you founded Mata Traders?
So many! The women really gain confidence and independence. They can send their kids to school and buy them things. They address all kinds of issues in their lives, from opening a bank account, to learning new parenting skills, to organizing against sexual violence in their communities.
What is one difficulty that you or the artisans have faced?
Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is the recent earthquake that our artisans in Nepal endured. They are back to work now, but damage to their facility is slowing them down. Here is a facebook status they posted on June 11th:
It is so difficult to predict the damage and impact caused by EQ.. initially we thought wow.. we didn’t have much damage of our office and works….. as we are trying to get back to work, then started feeling the impact here are some of them… Put fuel after EQ.. full tank… didn’t realize the impact of EQ on fuel pump.. got all dead stock into the car.. then disaster…car stopped in the middle of the road.. another chaotic day taking it to garrage… about 500 USD lost for repair…2..didn’t noticed when when EQ hit… after a week saw front screen damaged.. needed to chage cost USD 350… didn’t noticed major cracked in building.. but later we got some repaired… now over a month later.. an after shock dried the water source… water vanished from our wells … damaged the storage tanks, pipe fittings.. costs has to estimated… halted whole dyeing work..every day discovering new challenges which we haven’t noticed earlier right after EQ… But WE WILL RAISE AGAIN! With all your understanding, prayers and support. WE WILL!!! Thank you very much for being with us in this difficult time of our lives.
Thanks so much to Jonit for taking the time to answer our questions! We look forward to many more years of fair trade partnership with Mata Traders and the talented artisans they work with.