Give and give back

Fair trade gifts support small businesses around the globe

Elizabeth Miller | Boulder Weekly

Shopping fair trade is about more than just supporting local retailers — though this holiday season, there are plenty of local businesses selling fair trade goods. Shopping fair trade means supporting the small producers who run their businesses with a sense of accountability while employing practices that show concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of other small producers, according to the World Fair Trade Organization. It also means setting a fair price, using no child or forced labor and committing to gender equality.

And it is so much more than coffee.

This year, BeadforLife is bundling their bracelets, lip balm and shea butter soap with Equal Exchange fair trade coffee in an African gift set ($30). Panzi Hospital in Uganda, which focuses on improving maternal and reproductive health, will receive a $2 donation for each gift set sold.

BeadforLife, a nonprofit and member of the Fair Trade Federation, runs a program in which Ugandan women spend more than a year rolling bead jewelry out of recycled paper before getting three months of training in entrepreneurship and are taught math skills and required to open a savings account. They graduate the program having launched their own independently sustainable business, often making clothes or keeping chickens and selling chicken and eggs. Other women in the program make shea butter from shea nuts.

Equal Exchange, founded in 1986, works with small farm cooperatives that produce fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate.

BeadforLife started in 2004 when one of the three founders, all women, was in Uganda and saw women rolling magazines into beads in the slums of Kampala.

“What we mainly wanted to do and our whole reason for being a part of the Fair Trade Federation is that we wanted to make sure the women are paid a fair wage… so they’re able to work their way out of poverty,” says Amy Schumann, communications manager for BeadforLife. “We work with extremely poor women, we say that they live in extreme poverty so they live on $1 or less a day.”

Supporting a family on an income that low means making hard choices like skipping meals to buy needed medicines.

“After they join the program, they can make anywhere from $7 to $9 a day, which is the equivalent of the salary of a Ugandan teacher or police officer,” Schumann says.

Like other retailers, BeadforLife is busy during the holidays.

“Because it is a time of such thankfulness and giving back, people are so willing to help and offer products or give away products,” Schumann says. “We call it the gift that gives back because if you buy this gift for your girlfriend you’re also giving back to this woman in Uganda.”

Necklaces are priced $13 to $50, bracelets $5 to $15, and earrings $10 to $15. Purchased independently, the shea butter soap is $4 and the peppermint lip balm $4. BeadforLife operates its own retail store, sells through “bead parties” hosted in private homes, and is sold at other local retailers, such as Rabbit Brush Gallery.

The Rabbit Brush Gallery in Hygiene also carries beads made in Kenya from grass and dyed with vegetable dyes and Guatemalan necklaces, earrings and beaded ornaments made with glass beads from Czechoslovakia.

“All of these things are very affordable for us. They just are a nice gift idea and people respond to them very well,” says Sharon Young, who co-founded Rabbit Brush with Elizabeth Durfee.

Rabbit Brush also sells goods from Boulder-based Woven Promises, which works with weavers in Ethiopia who produce silk and cotton scarves ($28 to $86), and baskets from weavers in Ghana and Namibia which range from functional to decorative ($34 to $164).

Co-founded by Penny Webster and Johnnie Segars, Woven Promises both supports the weavers who make their products and funds education for at-risk girls through Forum of African Women Educationalists in Namibia (FAWENA).

The first sparks for the company started with people who were working with non-governmental organizations in Africa and realized they could help more people by starting a sustainable business.

“What sells our things more than anything is the stories behind them,” Webster says. “Each country and each item has a different story on who they’re supporting and how.”

The company supports students in schools and provides jobs for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to support their families, she says.

So why fair trade? In the end, Young says, “It’s affordable for people to buy and it helps people to see that they

can in a small way help someone who’s very far away and doesn’t have as many resources as we do.”

BeadforLife is located at 2336 Canyon Blvd. in Boulder, and the Rabbit Brush Gallery is at 7504 Hygiene Rd. in Hygiene. Visit for more information.