Over the last several months of sheltering at home with my family and creating Beautyologie, I've learned a lot of about international fair trade and ethical business practices that put people and the planet first. (I've also done enough decluttering in my house that Netflix should create a show around me. But let's save that for another post.)
Through countless deep dives online, I've been introduced to many gorgeous independent brands around the world that produce and sell all kinds of wares - from beauty products to handicrafts and textiles - and I've met some extraordinarily inspiring people along the way. Whether they're based in Ghana, Toronto, North Carolina or India, they all have the same ethos in common, which is to empower their workers and bring them financial stability so they can create the lives they want for themselves, their families and their communities. Sounds familiar, right?
Except, it's so easy to forget that these brands and the people behind them even exist out there. Between Amazon and Sephora, one might not even realize they had a choice to shop anywhere else. I for one, am totally at fault. If my son or daughter ever needs/wants/has to have a new book/pair of shoes/video game, an Amazon order is made with three strokes on my phone. It's like I've been conditioned or zombified over the years to shop a certain way.
During the pandemic, although it's been gut wrenching experience, it's also been a time of self-reflection, exploration and education and for that, I'm incredibly grateful. Wherever 2021 takes me, I plan to continue educating myself on how to make the world a better place for all the global citizens I share it with and to share my knowledge along the way.
So when Rafael from Cusco, Peru messaged be on Instagram yesterday, I felt compelled to share his story. Until Covid, Raphael and his mother, Modesta, ran a small shop for more than 11 years called The Fair Trade Store Cusco selling handmade products by indigenous weavers who live in the villages in the Andes. Cusco is basically the gateway to Maccu Picchu, the popular tourist city. These weavers shear their sheep and alpaca, spin the yarn, dye it with natural plants, and weave the shawls and tablerunners, gloves and scarves with traditional, Incan designs using the same simple tools that they have been using for hundreds of years.
Rafael and his mother started the shop to give these weavers, who had no access to the tourist market in Cusco, an opportunity to earn a little money in addition to subsistence farming. Following Fair Trade principles, they return 80 percent of the price of a product to the weavers and 20 percent supports the shop. They run the organization as a cooperative--the weavers have a voice in the decisions of the group. The organization ran on a shoestring, but they managed to improve the lives of 40 weavers and their families in 4 villages. They are also the first organization to work with the fair trade concept in Cusco.
Then came Covid-19. Peru was on lockdown for weeks. The tourist trade vanished. The shop closed. The weavers ran out of money; then they ran out of food. Things are tough in the US, but even in the worst of times, we usually have resources, and we've had some government support. These people have nothing.
This is what Raphael wrote in his Instagram message to me:
Dear friend, good night. Happy New Year 2021!
I am writing to you because we are going through the worst things and we need a lot of help. I tell you our problem. The current pandemic left serious problems and many deaths (many dead weavers and children died). The store - I had to vacate because there is no longer tourism and the owners of the premises want to be paid on time. We sell absolutely nothing and we had to vacate and save the things that were there. (From this point everything was going wrong).
The children who were able to survive the pandemic are in poor health with anemia because they do not eat well, the orphaned children are in our care because their parents died. Me and my mother are doing everything we can, but everyone is exhausted and we don't know what to do. I beg a lot of people to share our donation campaign but nobody listens to me and they just let me see it (that feeling is very ugly).
The GOFUNDME campaign was created by a friend who saw our suffering and created to try to raise funds but now it is exhausted and no one donates anything. The idea came to me to write to the people who visited our store and ask for their help is the reason why I am writing to you now.
Please friend, could you help us in sharing our GoFundMe campaign? It is very important for us that many people know our history and so if Mother Earth wishes they can donate to us, our children depend on that.
Please can you Share in your different social networks, email, commenting in your words our problem and need. I hope you can help us!
Excuse me if I write awkwardly, the reason is that the concern and needs of our children and weavers force me to do so. Excuse me! Any question, comment, help is welcome. A big hug and thank you very much. Rafael.
Rafael told me that they do not have a website because it is too expensive for them to run.
"We survive with what we sell and it is not enough to pay. We are an organization that wants to grow but we do not know how to do it," says Rafael. "Many people who wrote only let me see it and because we do not have a virtual store they simply deny us any sale."
So for now, check out their items on their feed. You can also send an email to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Once orders are received, they ship to the U.S. within 15 days.
Sure that's a longer lead time than an Amazon Prime order, but just think of the impact you'll make, not only on your wardrobe, but on the people who made your purchase.