In Kyrgyzstan, wool is a way of life. Each summer, high school teacher Mairam Omurzakova and her family tap their nomadic roots, migrating to the mountains where traditional felt carpets called shyrdaks keep them warm. Most women of the region know how to make shyrdaks and, according to Mairam, a master of the craft, the act of making is therapeutic. In 1995, in response to dire economic straits spurred by the collapse of the Soviet Union, she helped found the Altyn Kol Women’s Cooperative.
The cooperative is based on a life-changing idea brought to Mairam by visiting development workers--that the wool-craft of her community had monetary value. Today, the cooperative employs over 1,000 craftswomen and serves as one of a few sources of cash income available to the region’s remote farming and shepherding villages. As if soft laundry didn’t already feel good!
What could be cleaner than eco-friendly laundry soap? Your soap nuts come straight from the ritha tree, as it is known in Nepal, a member of the lychee family. When the fruits ripen and fall from the tree, locals harvest them, remove the seeds, and dry the fruits in the sun. When the shell absorbs water it releases a natural sudsing detergent known as saponin, which behaves the same way as commercial laundry detergent, just without the chemicals.
As you may have already guessed, soap nuts can be a great alternative for people with skin allergies and other chemical sensitivities. Don’t worry if you notice a funky smell coming off them before use--that’s the saponin, but your clothes won’t smell anything but fresh after the wash.
Using your soap nuts means more than just clean laundry and low environmental impact. Our suppliers in Nepal are putting some of the revenue toward relief for victims of the recent earthquake. So, suds up.
After decades of poverty following the Khmer Rouge, a revival of traditional Cambodian arts and handicrafts is paving a colorful road out of the country’s dark past. Peace Handicrafts trains and employs disabled and underprivileged persons in the making of high quality products from recycled materials. For instance, your laundry bag was made from recycled cement bags.
Born in 1989 on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Vin Sophea went to work washing dishes at the age of 8. Sophea’s parents died when she was 16, leaving her with two siblings to care for and a mountain of debt.
Nine years ago, Sophea was accepted into a sewing course at Peace Handicrafts. From there, she joined the artisan team as a machinist, working her way up to assistant production manager and finally, quality control supervisor.
Cotton products from faraway places don’t have the best reputation. Too often, nice soft cotton is the result of much hardship for small rural farmers, and a cause of environmental degradation. HAE Now, the mill in Kolkata that produced your bag, in partnership with Chetna Organic, an organization dedicated to improving farmer livelihoods in India, works to alleviate rural poverty by engaging in fair trade partnerships with cotton farmers and paying premiums for cotton produced organically. The shift to organic farming simultaneously addresses economic, environmental, and health problems.
HAE Now pays its workers 20-50% above local minimum wage, provides meal coupons, school fees, medical insurance, retirement funds, and even transportation. That’s quite a supply chain--each step as mindful as the stitches of your bag.
Three hours from the city of Oaxaca, in the remote town of San Luis Amatlán, Doña Selerina García Lucas and her group of artisan basket weavers gather palm leaves from the hills. The women dry the palms in the sun and paint them. With a dexterity passed down through generations, tireless fingers bring ancestry to life. The women weave the palms into vibrant, multi-colored baskets.
Each basket takes two to three hours to weave, with each artisan completing an average of three baskets per day. Once a month, Doña Selerina transports her group’s baskets to the market in Oaxaca.
For each artisan involved, basket-weaving means a stable monthly income used for building a house, starting a small business, or purchasing food and medicine. For the people of the Mixteca region, as this part of Mexico is known, basket-weaving is a way of life that also sustains life.