The Beauty and Rightness of Fair Trade

The Beauty and Rightness of Fair Trade

What a wonderful opportunity to witness the strength and talent of our artisan partners and experience their rich cultures.

I just returned from such an excursion recently. Leaving from Raleigh, NC, we visited Phnom Penh, Baray and Sam Riep in Cambodia moving onto Halong Bay and Hanoi, Vietnam (and afterward I got to see my kid in Japan!).

I’d never visited that part of the world, and although Joy provided me with itinerary, background and words of wisdom, I stumbled into our environment with naivete and a fresh outlook.

En route to Cambodia, we were consistently greeted with smiles. “Is this your first time here?”  “You’ll love our country.”  “Welcome!” Have any of us shared that sentiment with international visitors to the US in our customs lines? And it didn’t stop there…

Phnom Penh is the base for one of our artisan partners, focusing on textiles.  The woman who leads this group, Anak, is warm, welcoming and driven to provide a sustainable working environment for her employees, most of whom are physically disabled.  Their sheer ability and attention to detail & quality requires no pity, even though our country’s treatment during the Vietnam War was most likely the root cause of their physical limitations. The ways in which they have adapted their tools of the trade to accommodate a missing hand or limb is awe-inspiring.  And they were ALL gracious with us!

We drove from there to property in Baray where Anak and her team are diligently working on creating a circular ecosystem.  If you join us the next time we tour Cambodia (mark your calendars for September ‘25), be sure to bring your bamboo straw and reusable water bottles; you don’t want to face Anak with single-use plastics!  There some of our past groups planted gardens and trees which have now matured.  Banana trees in particular make a significant contribution.  Dung from the animals give nutrients, the banana leaves provide fiber for making compostable bowls, excess can be used for feed, and so on.  And we learned about all of this sharing meals, future dreams and plentiful hammock time – as well as a few opportunities for yours truly to interact with some of the animals on the property (I had to get in my fix!).

From there we traveled to Siem Reap and the many temples at Angkor Wat.  The temperature at this time of year was stifling in Cambodia, but that didn’t take away from our adventures.  In fact, I had a little encounter with some monkeys that pretty much made my trip.  But all in all we got to witness much of what makes Cambodia such a wonder, while managing to design new products for three seasons to come.

Entering Vietnam, we were struck by the beauty of the country.  Hanoi of course was bustling.  Just walking through the streets was a treasure.  Not to be missed though is Halong Bay.  Known for its limestone mountains, views, water activities and general peaceful passing of time, it was a wonderful change from the heat we’d just escaped. But back in Hanoi we got to visit with another of our partners, and after many hours of planning another three seasons of new products were hustled out to one of the villages producing our products.  What characters! The meal we all shared might have been a little bit of a stretch for this vegetarian (who can be pescatarian under duress), but I’d do it again in a heartbeat to experience this 70+ year old husband and wife team who are relentlessly energetic while running a tight ship getting fair trade goodies in our hands.

Words can’t really capture how special the time was that we shared with our partners in their homes.  Only by embracing other cultures and their people can we open our eyes to the beauty and rightness of working in this industry.  There is a purity that we can choose to embrace, enhanced by laughter, a few tears, renewal and exhaustion, beauty and love that can only be captured by travel at this level. Go beyond the normal tourist activities (but don’t leave them out) and acquire a little grime along the way. You’ll be better for it – I certainly am.

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