We are excited to debut a series of videos about Fair Earth, featuring video footage by Holly Elzinga, photos by Denise Riesen at Riesen Photography, and produced by Katie Chen. The first video tells our company story and will introduce you to our mission and our unique product lines. The final three will introduce you to three of our artisans in Kenya - Jemima, a Maasai beader, and Alex and Antony, two of our metal workers. The stories of all three are so inspiring! We hope you enjoy!
Archive for the ‘Fair Earth Artisans’ Category
Paper Craft is a group of incredible entrepreneur women who make delightful hand-made paper from natural and recycled materials. They work with banana fiber, elephant grass, pineapple tops, and recycled paper. Fair Earth has been working with them for the past couple years, and we are excited to bring you some of their new products again this year!
Since last year, their workshop has expanded. In addition to making paper products, they are also making glass beads from recycled glass bottles and window panes. The glass is crushed to a fine powder, poured into a hand-made ceramic mold, and then fired in a wood-fueled kiln. The resulting beads are delightful!
Clay molds used for making recycled glass beads
Every time I speak with Harriet, the workshop manager, I am impressed with her vision, drive, and high attention to detail and quality. Not only are Paper Crafts’ products beautiful and meticulously created, they are also made by women who 100% OWN AND RUN their entire production center. The entire enterprise is owned by the women whose talented hands bring the paper to life, and then work to market it. I find this model to be inspiring and empowering. Many business models that I have seen and worked with have a stark distinction between the producers and the managers, ultimately limiting the skills development of the artisan members. Paper Craft’s model empowers all of their women to develop their skills not only in producing hand-made paper, but also in business management, client relations, marketing, etc. I am inspired by their work, and LOVE their products!
Thanks for your support!
Four women from the Paper Craft team!
Vats of paper pulp and dyes, and paper drying on screens in the sun
©2010 Fair Earth | Andersonville Galleria - 5247 N. Clark St. Chicago IL 60640
One of my favorite parts of the time I spend in Uganda working on product development is visiting the homes of our artisans.
Each time I visit I am flooded with a wealth of love, generosity, SPIRIT, and ALIVENESS that makes my heart glow.
A few days ago I visited Joyce and her three sons – Paul, Mark, and Solomon. Joyce is one of Fair Earth’s paper beaders. Incidentally, we are neighbors in Uganda, as their home is just a short walk from where I stay in Luzira.
I was greeted warmly and served a delicious lunch of matoke, pumpkin, rice, and soup upon arriving. I immediately noticed the incredibly creative Christmas decorations in their home – Paul, Joyce’s eldest son, had cut his old school papers into triangular shapes and strung them along the ceiling to create a festive holiday atmosphere. The breeze coming through the door made the papers flutter and cast sparkling shadows throughout the room – it was absolutely delightful.
We spent the afternoon looking through photos, exchanging stories, and then working on new products.
“My mom is a good mom,” Paul told me proudly as we looked through their family photo album. “She takes very good care of us.”
All three boys adore their mom. I gave Joyce some glass beads for her to use in supplementing her paper bead designs, and immediately the boys were looking for colors that would compliment their mother’s dress.
As the stories kept coming, I learned more about their love and respect for her—it is based upon a very real knowledge of how hard their mom works to put them through school. Joyce did not get an education, which means her opportunities for employment are limited. Yet she has worked tirelessly so that her children will have more opportunities than she does.
Her pathway to her current work – making beads from recycled newspapers and magazines – has not been easy. She worked for a year and a half with NO PAY for the current mayor of Uganda cleaning up the streets of developing neighborhoods. I was heart-broken by the story. With no money for transport, she would leave home before the sun rose to walk hours to their work destination, pushing forward upon the promise of pending money, which never came. After becoming weak and sickly from long days of work with no food, Joyce’s mom told her she would die if she continued and taught her how to make paper beads as an alternative. That was eight years ago. I asked her if she took any action to try to get the money she was promised, and she replied, “there is nothing we can do. We are poor and uneducated. We have no power over the government. We would maybe have a voice if we had a lawyer, but we have no money for lawyers. So we just move on.”
These stories of injustice fill me with frustration and ANGER. However, I am also inspired and hopeful to be a part of a fair trade movement which puts people FIRST – a movement where respect, fairness, and integrity take precedence, and where success NEVER comes at the expense of another’s exploitation.
I am also happy to be working with Joyce, and delighted to see the joy and hope not only in her face, but also in the faces of her children!
Thanks for your support,
©2010 Fair Earth | Andersonville Galleria - 5247 N. Clark St. Chicago IL 60640
Dear Friends and Supporters of Fair Earth,
I hope all is well!
I am writing to introduce you to one of our newest artisans - Cornelius - and his beautiful hand-made photo frames.
This is Cornelius.
Cornelius makes beautifully crafted hand-painted picture frames.
This is the front door of Cornelius’ one room home, which also serves as his workshop.
Cornelius inspires me.
Cornelius has a wife and four children. They live in the village near Kisii. He visits them once a month, and brings money for school fees, clothes, and other necessities. He cannot yet afford a place large enough to house all of them, as he cannot yet afford school fees in Nairobi.
Cornelius takes immense pride in his work, and he believes in himself. He told me that “the best is yet to come” – and that he knows if he keeps working hard to produce beautiful and unique picture frames, he will save enough money to bring his family home.
I met Cornelius “randomly” – otherwise known as a “divinely,” or “accidentally on purpose”. Sometimes the universe conspires to bring us what we are looking for, while also bringing someone else good fortune.
One of my missions on this trip was to work with our artists to produce picture frames. While speaking with one of our beaders, I happened to hear of a man named Cornelius who makes frames.
Cornelius’ striking work caught my eye immediately. I introduced myself, and we were engrossed in conversation about his craft, how and when he learned, his family, etc.
A couple days later, we walked from town through Muthurwa Hawkers Market and boarded a minibus to Kayole. Our particular minibus had loudspeakers and a TV screen at the front, and was blaring obscenely loud music videos from local DJs as we jolted over the sprawling landscape. Over an hour later, disheveled and with ringing ears, we disembarked near Kayole Primary school and he led us to his home.
“This is the origin of everything,” he said with a broad and proud smile on his face, stretching his hands out over the small one-room studio that serves as his home and workshop.
With great care and pride, he walked us through every step of the frame-building process. I wish all of you could see the look of satisfaction on his face as dutifully he explained, step by detailed step, the complicated process that goes into one frame’s construction.
Every single part of the frame is made by hand. He buys raw wood and brings it to the masons who cut it into boards. The board is notched and measured and cut at 45 degree angles with a hand-saw to make the frame structure.
It then must be nailed together, sanded, and perfected. At this time it is ready for painting or decoration. Cornelius has a wonderful design sense and puts exquisite detail into his picture frames. He tells me that “no one else in Nairobi can create my designs.”
The back stand for the picture frame is also made from hand-cut wood. After measuring and cutting, he uses a hand-drill to install the hinge. The stand is then covered with glue and black fabric.
I survey Corenelius’ one room workshop and am filled with intense admiration and respect. His bed is in the back, separated by thin curtain. Another curtain forms the doorway. Behind me is one window with no glass. And from this place hundreds of beautiful picture frames are produced with meticulous skill and care.
Cornelius learned to make frames (in the very rudimentary stage) in his secondary school program in Kisii. They had instituted a skills training program in handcrafts to preserve traditional crafts and encourage students to make use of their resources and creativity.
After getting married and having children, he decided to go to Nairobi and perfect his craftsmanship of picture frames so that he could support his family.
“How has business been for you? Have you been able to sell enough frames to make a good living?” I asked.
“Well, I have to say, after the past five years, business has not been fair.”
As a fair trade business owner, these words did not fall on welcome ears. “What do you mean?”
“What I mean is that there have been several people who have taken my frames on consignment, but have refused to pay after they have been sold . There was also one very large order which I have yet to recover from.”
He went on to tell us of an order for more than 5000 frames. Cornelius hired 18 people to help, and soon they were producing 100 frames a day – a number which again filled me with intense respect given the size and limitations of his workshop. After this order was delivered, he received only a small portion of the payment. The issue eventually went to court, where he learned that the person who had contracted him was bankrupt, and did not have the money to pay him.
After all of this, Cornelius still looks at me with hope-filled eyes and says, “But I am not worried, I am SURE the best is yet to come”
My heart was full as we were headed back to Nairobi. I sent Cornelius a text message saying, “Thank-you for showing us your workshop. You do very good work and I wish you much happiness and success.”
His response made my heart swell even more - “I was also proud of you. The way you accepted to visit that small workshop of mine. May God make our business prosper. ”
I am so excited that we are starting a business relationship with Cornelius that is FAIR, and can hardly wait to bring his products to you!
Fair Earth will be carrying a large selection of his frames – they will be available online and for purchase at the Andersonville Galleria come March. Remember—the best is yet to come!
Thanks for your continued support!
©2010 Fair Earth | Andersonville Galleria - 5247 N. Clark St. Chicago IL 60640
“You see, I have everything I need” my friend Robinah told me as she held out her hand to survey the small room accommodating a bed, bunk bed, couch, and coffee table where she lives with her children and grandchildren. Her home is accessible through a winding dirt road that goes through the market, over a small plank, and into a courtyard where her room is one of many. She pointed to the bed where her grandson Michael was sleeping. “You see, here is the bedroom. And the dressing room is here,” she said with a laugh as she showed me the 1′ x 4′ crevice between the bed and the wall, above which all of their clothes hung from three hooks.
“And here,” pointing to a shelf right next to the bed housing cups, plates, tea, and rice “is the kitchen. And here,” pointing to the couch and a small end table, “is the sitting room, dining room, office, workshop, and lounge. It can even be a library,” she laughed as she scanned the book lying on the couch.
“The bathroom is outside, but that is good because then we can always be sure to be able to say hi to our neighbors. So you see, I am very blessed.”
Robinah is one of Fair Earth’s paper beaders, and yesterday I spent the day with her and her family at their home in Kampala.
Their residence is small – but overflowing with ABUNDANT creativity. The volume and quality of beautiful products that are produced in this home challenges and amazes me!
Robinah with grandchildren Michael, and Millie
As we were walking up to the entrance of their home, Robinah’s granddaughter Millie came running towards us with exuberant energy. She called “Mama! Mama! Mama!” and threw her arms around me. Millie was our stand-up comedian the rest of the day. She is three years old and absolutely delightful.
This past year Fair Earth expanded our work with Robinah, and through a portion of the profits from the sales of her beads her two eldest daughters are back in boarding school. We spent a lot of time discussing future plans for working together – including our mutual hope to acquire land and set up a training workshop.
Robinah recently wrote a letter that she wanted me to share with her customers in the US – it is posted on our blog here. I am also copying a portion below.
Holly and Millie
Check out some of Robinah’s Products on our website!
From Robinah: click here to read the full text
“Please tell the people who buy our products that they are a blessing in our lives. When they buy those products, they are indirectly looking after our families. They are feeding us with our children, we are able to pay the school fees thus they help them to acquire education which we had failed to give them. They give hope to the hopeless. Before I could make different products, but getting someone to buy was not very easy. Sometimes you wakeup very early to go and sell but come back with very little and at times with nothing yet it is the only source of income. The distance from my home to the market place is 6 miles but when you fail to sell it means you have to walk by foot back. That is how it is. So do really thank those people for us. Truly they are a blessing to us.
About my work, Am a widow with four children and two extended family members who I take care of. My work is mainly in crafts. God blessed me with that talent. When I see something I always try to do it. I make different designs of beads from papers, and from these I create different designs of finished necklaces, ear rings, belts, and bags …”
Read more here!
Hand-rolled paper beads
Paper beads, newly varnished, hanging to dry
Robinah’s sister helps with beadwork
Robinah’s daughter Joyce, with children Millie and Michael
Walking back to town from Robinah’s home
©2010 Fair Earth | Andersonville Galleria - 5247 N. Clark St. Chicago IL 60640
Meet Margaret – one of our beaders
The first time I met Margaret, her captivating smile and confident personality captured me. I was later drawn in even more by the quality and creativity of her work, as she intricately bent wires and wove beads to create the lively forms of butterflies, elephants, frogs, lizards, scorpions, giraffes, birds, and many other animals and critters. We started working together last year, when she had only been beading for a year’s time. She learned to make beaded critters from a friend, and with a brave entrepreneurial spirit invested in supplies. Her determination to succeed has rewarded her. She currently employs four other people and has established a dignified business that supports herself and pays the school fees for her two children, Evelyn and Mary.
We visited Margaret’s workshop today, which is located in the front room of her home in Dagoretti where she lives with her two girls. A small table was set up with stools around it, where she and three of her workers sat beading. Two women were stringing beads onto wire with amazing precision and skill, while another wove the beaded wire around a previously constructed wire frame to create the finished masterpiece.
When I asked Margaret what I should tell her customers in America, she said, “Please tell them thank-you for buying my work so that I can send my children to school.”
So, on Margaret’s behalf, THANK-YOU!
Margaret’s work is currently available at our retail location at the Andersonville Galleria – all of the beaded critters and beaded animals you see there are made in her workshop!
I received the following email yesterday from Robinah, one of our artisans who makes beads from recycled paper. She asked me to share her words with her customers in the U.S. - so here they are!
Thanks very much for all the effort you put in to make our work a success. You are really a blessing to us. My children do thank you very much for what you do. I told them of how much you have helped us in buying our products.
Please tell the people who buy our products that they are a blessing in our lives. When they buy those products, they are indirectly looking after our families. They are feeding us with our children, we are able to pay the school fees thus they help them to acquire education which we had failed to give them. They give hope to the hopeless. Before I could make different products, but getting someone to buy was not very easy. Sometimes you wakeup very early to go and sell but come back with very little and at times with nothing yet it is the only source of income. The distance from my home to the market place is 6 miles but when you fail to sell it means you have to walk by foot back. That is how it is. So do really thank those people for us. Truly they are a blessing to us. God bless them.
About Uganda, it mainly known as the Pearl of Africa. Why? Uganda is a green country and God has blessed us with a good climate. The weather is fairly good. It is only that they have destroyed many forests hence tempering with the climate but still it has not yet got to worst. Uganda is a country with many tribes; I think there might be around 56 tribes in our country. That I can boast of.
Economically, it is still not developed thus making life not easy. It is not easy to earn a better living. Many children become school drop outs. They don’t get a chance to complete their education because of lack of fees and scholastic materials. We are also faced with the problem of unemployment.
About my work, Am a widow with four children and two extended family members who I take care of. My work is mainly in crafts. God blessed me with that talent. When I see something I always try to do it. I make different designs of beads from papers, and from these I create different designs of finished necklaces, ear rings, belts, and bags. I also make tablemats from sisal, old video tapes, bark cloth, and banana fibers. From banana fibers, I also make baskets of different types. From seeds we also make ear rings, necklaces, and belts.
We usually get together with other girls mainly who are school drop out to produce. Before they all had lost hope but after Elzinga getting us customers with Fair Trade prices, two of them have managed to go back for their education. My daughter and son have also gone back to school as a result.
Wayforward: We want to acquire a piece of land where we can put up a skills school for uneducated women. Mainly to equip them with the knowledge we have so that they can also help themselves. We also want other women to join. We believe that if God avails us with more customers then we shall be able to produce in plenty to satisfy the demand. Once again we are blessed when they buy our products.
God bless you
The Yata South Weavers group was started back in 1988 as a small workshop providing an income to women in the area through the production of local crafts. It has grown to be one of the largest communities of sisal weavers in Kenya, employing over 1000 women and exporting to both national and international markets. The organization is run by the weavers themselves, providing a model for a self-sustaining business with embedded leadership.
The facilities, located over an hour outside of Nairobi, are a production point for numerous designs of bags and baskets which are hand-woven by the women from sisal, a strong and durable natural plant material.
The Yata South women were delighted to host visitors. They gave us a thorough tour of their workshop, explaining the methods and skills behind their beautiful handbags and baskets.
The pictures of them working speak volumes more about their process than I can do with words, so photos are included below for your enjoyment.
A variety of their products can currently be found on www.ourfairearth.com in the handbags section – look for Kiondo bags.
Sisal growing naturally
Green plant material is removed from sisal leaves
After this, a strong and durable natural fiber remains.
Sisal fiber is divided into thin strands
Strands of fiber are twisted into a rope in preparation for weaving
Charcoal is ground for dyeing the sisal
Gathering soil for dyeing
Charcoal dust is boiled in water
Boiling vats of dyes, which include charcoal, soil, soot, berries, roots, grass, and plants.
Stirring the dyes
Raw sisal is added to the boiling dyes
After boiling for some time in the dyes, the sisal has its new color!
Dyed sisal ropes are meticulously woven into a basket
This woman was amazing! Her skilled fingers were flying
After the basket is woven, excess sisal ropes are trimmed off
The basket is trimmed for neatness, and the top fibers are sealed with a needle and thread
At this stage, functional and decorative items such as handles, lids, and beads are added
The result? Beautiful and stylish hand-woven kiondo bags!
I first encountered Kazuri beads in a shop in Kampala, Uganda. Immediately I was enamored. My eyes relished the voluptuous curves of shiny hand-made beads artfully strung into captivating necklace, earring, and bracelet designs. I wanted to try each piece on, and finally settled upon a necklace named “African Sunset” which was generously given to me as a gift. The necklace was strung with circular rusty red beads reminiscent of African soil and the colors of the night sky, offset by artfully shaped smaller beads colored and polished a rich tan color.
I set my mind upon finding the artists who made these creations. I learned they were in Nairobi, which was my next destination. We got horribly lost the first night there when our taxi driver drove around for hours in search of our hotel, and ended up at a random guesthouse, exhausted, in the early hours of the morning. Confused and disoriented when the sun rose, I was shocked and exhilarated to find that I was within walking distance of the Kazuri beads workshop.
Upon entering the compound I saw a sign that said “Kazuri - a bead to match every mood.” Walking into the shop, I saw that this certainly was the case. I was soaking in a visual feast of beads in every shape and color I could imagine. I was even more impressed by the social mission behind Kazuri. They employ over 340 women, mostly single mothers, and also provide for them health care.
Kazuri means “small and beautiful” in Swahili, a name which reflects the uniqueness and beauty of each hand-crafted and hand-painted piece. Kazuri designs are rich in color and alive with collaborative creativity. The organization was started in 1975 by Susan Wood, working initially with two African women experimenting in making hand-made beads. They have expanded drastically since then, growing both in their knowledge and skill of ceramics as well as the impact they are making in the lives of many women. Kazuri provides employment opportunities to several women in the Nairobi area, most of whom are single mother who are in great need of regular employment.
We are excited to bring you a comprehensive collection of Kazuri beads creations for 2009. The designs are reflective of the rich diversity and colors of Africa. With product names such as Papyrus, Lavender Girl, Night Sky, Bush Fire, Lichen, Lapis, Rain Forest, Acacia, Marina, Satellite, Monsoon, Golden Fox, Sand Storm, Bedouin, Ox Blood, Dawn Music, Savanna, and many others, you are sure to find a design that exactly suits your particular mood and style!
I hope all of you are well, and I look forward to seeing you in March!
Fair Earth has developed a relationship with Paper Craft to bring you a beautiful product line of hand-made paper products.
Following is information, used with permission, from their website.
Paper Craft produces beautiful hand made paper in Uganda using only natural raw materials such as banana fibers, pineapple tops, elephant grass and recycled paper. No chemicals are used! This paper is then transformed into beautiful as well as useful products and unusual crafty creations.
Paper Craft was set up in 2006 to provide a sustainable income for a group of socially disadvantaged Ugandans, (mainly women) through the production and sale of hand made paper and paper products. The majority of our employees would otherwise find it almost impossible to find a job or to support their families.
We provide additional income to local farmers by purchasing elephant grass and banana fiber. We also buy pineapple tops which are considered to be waste and would otherwise be burnt, as well as collecting scrap paper from offices in Kampala.
By choosing Paper Craft you are supporting a self-sufficient sustainable business, promoting environmental awareness and encouraging recycling.
We found a little house on the side of a hill.
A garden with mango trees, avocado and jackfruit.
The floors were made of earth and there was no electricity.
The walls were un-plastered and the doors not there.
So we set to work transforming this house;
we cemented the floors and plastered the walls,
added a verandah and brought in the electricity.
We started from scratch buying everything we would need;
a blender, a press, scissors, paper and glue,
tables and chairs, a computer, a printer
and a paper cutter or two;
drying screens, a generator; drums for water
and of course new designs from geckos to warthogs.
You should see our workshop now
A real hive of activity!
The Natural Way to Make Paper
1. Banana fibers, pineapple tops and elephant grass are cut into small pieces and boiled for 8 hours.
2. When the fibers are soft they are blended and recycled paper is sometimes added to create different textures and colors of paper.
3. The pulp is mixed in large water containers and is removed using screens made of mosquito mesh.
4. These racks, covered in the pulp, are then put in the sun to dry.
5. The dry sheets of paper are removed from the screens and put into a press to squash them flat.
Banana Fibre Paper
Uganda is Banana Country. Not only does Uganda grow delicious sweet bananas but also green bananas or ‘Matoke’ which are the staple food for most of central and southern Uganda. Some of our paper is made using banana fiber which comes from the stem of the Banana plant (which is rather like an onion as it is made up of many layers). When the outer layer dries it can be peeled off the stem without killing the plant itself.
Pineapple Top Paper
Uganda also has THE most delicious pineapples in the world! We use the discarded tops of the pineapples which we collect from local markets and which are usually considered to be rubbish.
Elephant Grass Paper
As the name suggests this is a giant, course yet luscious grass that is used to feed cows and pigs and to stop erosion.
This is a very special material indigenous to Uganda that comes from the bark of a fig tree called ‘omutuba’. Bark is stripped from the tree, (without killing the tree) soaked in water and then beaten with a mallet and dried. Traditionally it was used as clothing. Paper Craft uses it to cover albums, photo frames and note books and to decorate cards. It is the same color as a ginger nut biscuit.