Shopping the World
Fairfield's Fair Trade Fashion
It’s a small world inside Mama Jane’s Global Boutique. Intricately beaded bracelets from Kenya occupy shelf space with gleaming blue and white ceramics made in Brooklyn. The light and airy boutique is just one of several new socially minded shops in the Fairfield area selling Fair Trade clothes, jewelry and home goods from around the world. As people increasingly consider how their food and lifestyle choices impact the wider world, these stores offer a means to make a difference while shopping.
Barbara Johnson got the idea for Mama Jane’s during a service mission to Kenya with the Toronto-based Free the Children. It was while meeting with other women artisans that everything clicked. “I spent half my life volunteering and raising money. I must have been on 15 boards. But it just wasn’t fulfilling anymore,” Johnson said. “In Kenya there were women who have the same goals for their kids as we do - health and education.”
Johnson named her Southport store after the matriarch she’d met in Kenya who was in charge of organizing micro financing. Proceeds from Mama Jane’s sales are donated to selected nonprofits benefiting the health, education and empowerment of women and children around the world.
A story card accompanies each item so the receiver knows who does the work and how the community benefits.
Among Mama Jane’s offerings are Ali Lama Bags fashioned from old sails. They’re reworked into roomy weekend bags. The proceeds help fishermen living on a remote island off the coast of Kenya. Article 22 Peace bomb bracelets come from Laos and call attention to the unexploded ordnance still buried in the Southeast Asian country.
“Looking for artists makes travel really fun. I meet so many women doing extraordinary things,” she said. “Each object is selected carefully for beauty and handiwork.”
Tucked behind the Brick Walk is Christine Schwartz’ 5 Oceans Fair Trade. She sells goods from artisans and farmers around the world who belong to either the Fair Trade Federation or World Fair Trade Organization.
“I think there is a building awareness of where our products come from. For the last few years Fairfield County has been fostering wonderful relationships with farmers at farmers markets and learning about organic foods, small farms, etc.,” Schwartz said. “The next step is to be aware of supporting artisans. There are so many talented people in the world making unique hand crafted items.”
Schwartz sells work from artisans across the US and from third-world countries. Bouquets of pine crayons from Ecuador are tucked into baskets and colorful earrings and bracelets hang from a pegboard. Each artisan receives fair pay for each product sold. Certification with the Fair Trade Federation is underway for 5 Oceans.
5 Oceans also carries Lady Faith jewelry. The flagship store Faith Colectiva is in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Katie Coleman started the business nine years ago after attending a meditation intensive in Puerto Vallarta. She noticed how many people wore mala beads, or meditation beads. The sets are made of rose quartz, lapis, amethyst and other semi-precious stones.
“Our jewelry is hand made by indigenous women in Mexico,” Coleman said. “This has helped them enrich their lives, and their extended families. It is a beautiful blend of women coming together for the common good.”
To qualify as a Fair Trade store, items must be part of a direct cooperative with an in-depth relationship between buyers and sellers. The idea is to bring the socially and economically marginalized out in the open. Moreover, buying Fair Trade is intended to further support safe and empowering working conditions. That’s the idea behind Lib DeNure’s funky home boutique Hazel Daze named in part for her grandmother Hazel.
“I like stuff that means something,” DeNure said. “If you’re going to buy a tote it may as well be recyclable.”
Mexican paper lanterns hang from the ceiling alongside minimalist paper mobiles from Denmark. There are bags fashioned from old silk saris in brilliant hues such as hibiscus pink and sunflower yellow.
A portion of the Hazel Daze’s proceeds goes back to community-building projects in the artists region. For example, the Kiwoko Hospital in Uganda receives 100 percent of the profits from the sale of Beads4Dreams.
Now in its second year, Hazel Daze also gives back to the local community. Last year the store collected non-perishables for the Black Rock Food Pantry and Thomas Merton House.
While each store sells distinctly different goods, they share in one thing: connectedness. “Originally my favorite part of the store was learning all the artisan stories. But I realize that it doesn’t end with their story,” 5 Oceans’ Schwartz said. “They continue with whomever is purchasing the item—they have reasons for making a Fair Trade purchase. We should all be conscious consumers and we are connected by everything we use and do on a daily basis.”