Better Together: Fair Trade Builds Capacity

Better Together: Fair Trade Builds Capacity

Everything has a story and here is the story of Didi Bahini’s Sister Scarves, silky and colourful double-loop infinity scarves made from recycled Indian saris.

This story begins with Jane Gragtmans, the founder and previous owner of Didi Bahini. Always looking for ways to build the businesses of her partners, Jane noticed that scarves made from recycled saris were becoming popular. However, none had the luxurious feeling of silk and none were Fair Trade.

 

Jane brainstormed with one of her partners, Shanti Shrestha of Nuptse Handicrafts. Could Shanti find a reliable source of silky and colourful used saris? Would they be in good enough condition to be reused? Jane arranged video calls between Shanti and a Toronto-based textile designer who helped guide the selection of saris, as well as the design and sizing of the scarves.

Jane sought help from her contacts in Kathmandu who visited Shanti’s workshop and offered feedback on the quality and colours. Once the samples met the criteria for quality and design, the scarves went into full production and Jane received her first shipment in Canada.

But that isn’t the end of the story.

Consumers loved the sister scarves! They loved that they were made from saris that had been the “party dresses” of women in India and Nepal. They loved that sisters in Nepal had made the scarves for their sisters in North America.

Consumers also had feedback. Based on the comments of her customers, Jane adjusted the sizing and introduced some variations of Sister Scarves: headbands, single-loop infinity scarves and flat scarves without the infinity shaping.

Some of the saris were too stiff and made scarves that didn’t fall elegantly around the neck. Once again, Jane had her contacts in Nepal work with the seamstresses at Nuptse to ensure that only the softest saris were used for the sister scarves. Those stiffer scarves may take on a new life in another product in the future.

This is a story about Building Capacity, which is one of the Principles of Fair Trade. Jane took the time and the effort to work with Shanti for over a year to develop a product line that was new to Shanti’s workshop and to consumers as well. Sister Scarves continue to be popular and I expect that they will provide a revenue stream for Shanti and Nuptse Handicrafts for years to come.

“Each sari is made into three or four scarves, and the women who buy them are connected with the original wearer of the sari as well as the women who gave it a new life by sewing it into a scarf,” says Jane Gragtmans. “It’s about women working with women, sisters supporting each other.”

And sisters supporting each other is what Fair Trade is all about -- building business relationships with dialogue, transparency and respect. That’s why you can feel good about buying Fair Trade.

** Photo shows Didi Bahini owner Margaret Tiveron, wearing a Sister Scarf, with Shanti Shrestha at the Nuptse workshop in Kathmandu.

Margaret Tiveron

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