True Fair Trading and why it’s not Fair Trade...
At True Fair Trading we believe in the power of local communities and the value that trade has to drive economic growth and reduce poverty — both locally and globally. TFT was established to give artisanal producers access to global markets, we work with makers and buyers, person to person, family to family. We are not Fair Trade.
Fair Trade was set up with good intentions no doubt, but now the symbol certifies little more than a percentage of the raw materials used, not finished goods. Meaning the cotton that made a fair-trade t-shirt may be certified ‘fair trade’ but workers finishing the product could be working in any conditions for any wage (1). Or large corporations buying less than 3% of their cocoa from fair trade suppliers but still legally allowed to market their chocolate as fair trade (2).
There is also a cost to becoming certified fair trade, what about the small artisanal suppliers that can not afford the initial set up costs and on-going renewal fees (3)? It feels like Fair Trade is no longer about helping the smaller producers but a marketing tool used to increase the price of goods.
Who we are and what we stand for
At TFT we believe in the power of trade, that the solution to global inequality is not to give charity, crippling people and communities further with dependency but, rather, to give people the means to become sustainable and independent.
Trade is about long-term relationships, not just between producers and consumers but between entire countries and regions of the world. Achieving truly fair-trade means seeing the world in a different way, as a planet of partnership and mutual prosperity rather than plunder and exploitation. Fair trade is not about paying 50 cents more for your coffee; it's about caring for your "neighbours"— even when they're on the other side of the world (4). This is why we are called True Fair Trading, we work directly with the makers, we know them, and their family and we know although they work bloody hard, they are doing it for the benefit of themselves and the local community. The bureaucratic, swindling middle man has been removed entirely from the equation.
TFT was established in 2012 after a father-daughter trip to Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Some 40 years had passed since Ed (Dad) had been to Vietnam, for me it was the first time. Beautiful countryside, vibrant cities and a fiercely proud population but with a cheeky humour. We met up with Khai, an old work acquaintance of Dad’s, some 30 years previous. Khai was and still is the best host and tour guide, we visited small, virtually unknown places, ate at sometimes scary street cafes and met local people and amazingly talented artisans.
What really caught our eye was the amazing pottery and ceramic works, huge, high-end quality garden pots that made everything you could get from B&Q look plain, dull and boring. We knew that if we got them back to the UK there would be a market for them so we ordered a container from the makers, it would keep the local community in work for half a year.
From that point we didn’t know how much the communities would grow nor what impact each of them would have on each other. Our network of partnerships had begun…
Our Partnership / Communities & Friends…
Our Pot Making Community
From that first container we have steadily grown and evolved. We still buy and sell the original pots that we brought across from Vietnam, in fact they are still our best sellers – Summer Mist, but now we have a wide range of pot styles, materials and producers. We buy from Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Italy, Crete and the UK.
All of the makers are small family run businesses or co-operatives, individuals working hard with hopes and dreams for their futures and children’s futures. All are quick to laugh, absurdly strong and have their own individual secret techniques for carrying and moving their pots. The techniques that the producers use and the kiln technology have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. These artisans make more than pots, they make pieces of history crafted with skill and love.
Our Selling Community
At the beginning selling involved renting out local halls and community centres, flyering the local area and actually not a lot of selling. Luckily the UK are garden lovers and there are a plethora of garden shows up and down the country from Spring to Autumn. We soon had a show booked every weekend and became regulars, we were welcomed to the Garden Show community and helped a lot along the way with advice, hot cups of teas, cold G&T’s and constant support when the odds never seemed to be in our favour.
Our community of fellow traders helped us get our break in 2014 to exhibit at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, still my favourite flower show of the season. Being part of The Royal Horticultural Society shows and endeavours has meant we are now part of the world leading gardening community, the nurserymen that are the backbone of the UK plant community are the best in the world with an unrivalled breadth of knowledge.
With their help we have been able to inspire people with plant/pot combinations that has in turn led to more pot sales which means more pot buying from artisans but more than this, our selling community has kept us ‘sane’ when the days were long, cold and wet and got our vans out of more muddy holes than I care to remember. Without them I don’t know where we would be.
Our Pot Buying Community
We have always been of the mind that we want to create a community that loves the pots and ethos behind them as much as we do, and we have. We are the official pot supplier to a growing number of people, if they need any ideas or advice, they call us. They call us not only because they know our pots are unique and well-made but because they know us, trust us and know that the pots have been made by someone that benefits from the sale. When the shows start up again, we are looking forward to meeting them, catching up on the past year and hopefully selling some more pots!
Over the years our buying community has grown, all are welcome no matter what type of garden they have or want. It is from this community that our ideas grow, evolve and we continue to look for more colourful, lighter, bigger, taller, more decorative, less decorative, just different and unique pots. This community keeps us eager to find more artisan makers and keeps the whole cycle in perpetual motion.
We care about our communities and they care about us, it keeps the cycle moving and everyone benefitting. We see trade as a benefit to us all, it’s not always easy, we don’t always see eye to eye but when you’re part of a community you work things out for the sake of the community not just a single person or business. That is Truly Fair Trade.
The world of pots has amazed me so far and I know there is much more to discover but we are not 'True Fair Trading Garden Pots' so we want to expand from solely garden products into products for the home and gifts. We want to find more, do more and grow our communities more. I want to be inspired and humbled by more makers, more buyers and more people that work hard for living to improve their circumstances, be it in the UK, Vietnam or Timbuktu.
We can all Be Part Of The Change We All Want To See.
Post by: Gemma Bentham
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