I spent a very inspiring Friday morning in ournationscapital at a roundtable discussion at the National Museum of Women in the Arts as part of their International Women’s Artisans Initiative. The group of almost all women –with one man–were all passionate about improving women’s lives in the developing world though working with artisans.
And, what an interesting group it was: There were women who worked with artisans in India, Bolivia, South Africa, and Madagascar, to name but a few. There were representatives from big organizations, like the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau and departments within the World Bank, the executive director of the Fair Trade Federation, and small importers like me.
I learned a new phrase that I’ll now use often, I’m sure: pity purchases or what I call the buy this bag or I’ll kill this puppy school of selling. I know that I could sell many more bags if I told you that many are made by polio and landmine victims, and artisans with HIV. But, a bag is about its function and its design. The fact that it helps a worker in a developing part of the world is value added. I’ve often joked that I would be rich, rich I tell you, if I told some story that buying one of our bags helped a teenage amputee mother with AIDS in a country that recently had a genocide escape from sexual slavery, but that’s not what I think it’s about. I respect the customer and the producers far too much to engage in selling based on emotional blackmail.
I also learned that 70 percent of workers in the fair trade sector are women. So, the thought that you either think of women’s issues or you think of general fair trade issues isn’t much of a point, since they are almost one in the same.
As the chief executive of everything here at the worldwide headquarters of Three Stone Steps, I don’t get a lot of chances to sit back, and actually assess just where a little fair trade import company like mine fits within the great big world of social justice. Yes, I do get to think about this on those long flights to S.E. Asia—but, in my day to day work, it’s actually a wonderfully compelling luxury.
My morning at the National Museum of Women in the Arts presented just this sort of intellectually stimulating mini-holiday, and that alone should keep me inspired for days and weeks to come.