I have always dreamed of a house decorated with hand crafts from around the world. I swoon every time I see tribal designs – even the mass-produced versions at Anthropologie and World Market. Needless to say, I was in heaven when I arrived in Chiang Mai Thailand where the streets are a sea of beautiful, colorful handmade products.
Thailand, like many Asian countries, relies hugely on its artisan crafts as a source of income. It is one of the main vehicles that helps alleviate poverty in rural communities.
The main exports here include woven cotton with colorful embroidery, silver jewelry, and wood products (teak, mango and rubber wood). Here in North Eastern Thailand, the products are made by the “hill tribes” – tribal communities that live in the mountains across Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and China.
These tribes were predominantly agricultural communities until recent years when slash and burn agriculture became illegalized. These communities now rely more heavily on handicrafts, which is empowering women to be the primary economic earners. Studies of the developing world have shown that when women are economic earners they reinvest 90 percent of their income into their families, compared to 30 to 40 percent contributed by men. Higher incomes managed by women impact education opportunities for children, as well as the survival rates of children.
In most cases, these tribes make products entirely from scratch – weaving the cotton into cloth with a foot loom, dyeing the cloth with indigo grown in the gardens then embellishing the cloth with with silver ornaments, coins, beads, tassels and seeds. The results are absolutely beautiful:
Fortunately, (or perhaps unfortunately), you don’t have to travel across the world to get them. There are several online franchises that sell and ship these handmade items to the US.
Here you can be certain that your purchase is making an impact. The Rise Up Shop was founded by Daughters Rising – a non-profit that works to prevent sex trafficking in vulnerable southeast asian communities. All proceeds from the shop go directly to supporting Daughter’s Rising’s educational anti-trafficking programs.
Thai Tribal Crafts is the local hub for hill tribe crafts. Here you can view and purchase crafts from several different tribes and everything is certified fair trade. They ship to Europe, North America, and Australia.
A US based company that sources all of its products from impoverished communities around the world. Things are a bit pricey, but you’ll find the shipping and infrastructure is a well-oiled machine, and the designs and products have been made specifically with a western audience in mind.
A note about fair trade
What does fair trade mean? WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization) certifies that the organization trades with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalised small producers and does not maximize profit at their expense. They guarantee that the production and transaction meets 10 ethical principles including fair payment, no child labor or forced labor, good working conditions and respect for the environment.
Similar to Organic certifications for food, Fair Trade can sometimes be difficult for small vendors to obtain and at times ambiguous — but it’s generally a good prerequisite to look for, especially when shopping online and from overseas.
Melissa Hostetter is a contributing writer for Conscious Homes blog. She is Mary’s oldest daughter, whose passions include singing, writing, design, wellness and travel. She is a certified health coach from the Institute from Integrative Nutrition and has worked for the New York Times and NBC News. After spending the last 4 years in New York she is currently traveling South East Asia.
Your Conscious Homes Team
Written by Melissa Hostetter on behalf of Conscious Homes
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