Here’s an article I wrote for the Ooffoo Competition (prize £500 and becoming ‘Ooffoo Laureate 2008’). It’s something about which I feel pretty strongly, so I thought, why not?!
Ethical products are fast becoming an everyday sight in shops and on websites. Great! As an owner of a website selling ethically produced gifts, I am all for this sudden explosion of conscience over the past few years.
Mostly, these products come from all around the world, in particular Africa, India and Asia. Purchasing a handwoven basket which was produced by a family business in Vietnam, or a pair of earrings handcrafted in a women’s cooperative in India enables us to help those who live a life so different from ours and so devoid of the daily luxuries we enjoy, that it is hard to imagine unless you go and see for yourself. Buying ethical products means we can ‘do our bit’, however small. There can surely be no argument against trying to redress the balance whenever we get the chance.
It’s probably going to sound like a ‘but’ is coming now! Well yes and no. I would always advocate buying fair trade and eco friendly products when you can – contrary to popular opinion there is not always a huge price difference, but there can be a huge difference in effect. However, I want to stand up for a moment for all the small businesses in the UK, in particular those that produce handmade goods in an ethical way.
In recent years the British craft scene has been growing from something slightly geeky and subterranean, to the coolest thing you can do. Knitting classes and groups like Stitch’n’Bitch have sprung up all over the country, and websites such as Etsy are growing more popular daily, with the recent emergence of the British version, Folksy, and countless others springing up all the time. I think these crafters have always been there, but now it’s much easier to benefit from and enjoy their hard work! It is no longer hard to find beautifully handcrafted wooden pieces, jewellery, ceramics, textiles and countless other practices that abound in our own homeland and with a stamp of Britishness on them.
The best thing about all this is the increasing combination of craft and environmental awareness. Many crafters are using vintage materials, recycling and ‘upcycling’ old into new in imaginative and exciting ways. These small businesses need our support too. Yes, fair trade is a valuable and worthwhile enterprise, and we should continue to buy the products with the little black, green and blue label on whenever possible, but let’s not forget those a bit closer to home who are also running small businesses using their skills and working with small budgets. Now that we are heading into recession, this argument stands up more than ever. It would be a tragedy to see small UK based businesses go under, and we can perhaps help to keep our economy going by spending a bit more a bit closer to home.
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