The Good Gifts Guide: Our Favourite Ethical Brands to Buy from this Christmas

The Good Gifts Guide: Our Favourite Ethical Brands to Buy from this Christmas

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This article first appeared in Volume
35: Celebration.



It
can be hard to maintain ethical values during the festive
months. Christmas – that season of generosity and cheer – is also
notorious for its culture of consumerism and overconsumption. Yet,
as we come to the end of a year that has witnessed one of the most
severe global public health crises in living history, as well as
the escalation of conflict in countries including Afghanistan,
Yemen, South Sudan and Myanmar, the need to support and uphold
cultures around the world through conscious consumption has never
been greater.

Our guide is a celebration of craft, human endeavour and the
gift of giving, flying the flag for the social collectives and
impact brands that work in collaboration with skilled makers in
some of the most challenged contexts around the world. Trading in
goods ranging from Burmese baskets to handblown Afghan glassware,
these ethical brands support traditional artistry while empowering
communities to build thriving businesses of their own.

Paying it forward: these are the brands doing good across the
world this Christmas

three women and a milaya
afghan craftsman makes carpet

When photographer Nora Lorek and writer Nina Strochlic met in
the sprawling South Sudanese refugee camp of Bidibidi in Uganda
while on assignment for National Geographic, they had no idea that
they would leave the settlement as co-founders of a new non-profit
project supporting a women’s traditional sewing collective.

Having asked several women what they’d brought from home when
they’d been forced to flee South Sudan, Lorek had been surprised to
hear the same answer from many: “Nothing, except for some clothes
wrapped in my bedsheet.” Curious to learn more about the
significance of these sheets, she asked around and was soon shown
her first “milaya” – an ornate bedsheet intricately decorated with
hand-embroidered birds, flowers and other delicately rendered
designs. The tradition of sewing milayas had been passed down from
the women’s mothers and grandmothers, with the sheets hung on
walls, included in marriage dowries and used in funeral ceremonies.
They were also the only thing that many of the refugees now had
left with them from home.

As the second-largest refugee camp in the world, Bidibidi is
home to almost 300,000 displaced people, more than 80 per cent of
whom are women who have lost their husbands, brothers or sons to
the ongoing civil war in South Sudan. Work is scarce and most
mothers now support their children alone, as well as, in many
cases, the orphans of their friends and relatives.

Rose Jaun is one of these mothers. Arriving in Bidibidi with six
children and two bedsheets, she set up a collective for women to
sew and sell their milayas as a way to supplement their
ever-dwindling food rations. “It gives us time to talk and share
thoughts, and an income,” she told Lorek. But without a decent
market for the bedsheets in Uganda, where milayas are often
machine-made and sold at a much cheaper price, many women were
putting themselves in danger by returning to South Sudan just to
sell their work.

Captivated by the women’s incredible craftsmanship and
determined to share their designs with the rest of the world, Lorek
and Strochlic created The
Milaya Project
, a non-profit organisation that supports
Bidibidi collectives, including Rose Jaun’s, by giving their work a
platform and connecting the makers to customers around the world.
Founded to preserve the culture of milaya-making, the project now
sells throw pillows, wall hangings and milayas through its online
shop, with each item featuring traditional designs embroidered by a
woman in Bidibidi.



London-based collective Ishkar is another brand working with
artisans to preserve the traditional craftsmanship of war-torn
countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and Mali. Set up by
Edmund Le Brun and Flore de Taisne, after they had been living in
Afghanistan for three years, the platform works to uphold artisanal
skills and heritage techniques that are otherwise in danger of
being lost altogether.

“Our work is primarily about providing a framework for economic
opportunity,” says creative director Electra Simon. Although
numerous good charity workshops and training programmes exist for
artisans in countries at war, there are many barriers – both real
and imagined – that make it incredibly hard for makers to get their
products out to the rest of the world. “Our artisans are empowered
by being able to sell traditional craftsmanship from their country
to the rest of the world,” Simon continues, explaining that
Ishkar’s work is also about moving past the one-sided narratives so
often associated with countries in conflict.

In Africa, meanwhile, Yewo
is a socially minded enterprise based in the village of Manchewe, a
small, close-knit community in the mountains of Malawi’s Northern
Region. Founded by couple Maddy McAllister and Kyle Snell, the
jewellery brand creates ethical employment for one of the most
remote and impoverished communities in the country; providing
in-house job training and reliable salaries for unemployed
villagers, most of whom had never had a formal job or stable income
before starting work at Yewo.

“Manchewe is a very rural village. We’re at least three hours
away from any kind of town,” McAllister explains. “We only hire
local people, so it’s incredibly rewarding to see how the jobs
we’ve created have transformed the area. Grass roofs have now been
upgraded to tin, and the economy has really grown,” she says.

Being a people-first company is one of Yewo’s key principles:
all of its makers receive access to individual healthcare funds,
savings accounts and interest-free loans, as well as 26 days of
annual paid leave and two daily meals in the initiative’s solar-
powered warehouse. “We want to make sure we create stable,
sustainable incomes,” McAllister explains, “so we pay our artisans
a fixed salary each month, rather than simply buying individual
pieces.”



In Myanmar, however, buying individual crafts from artisans
around the country is how Kalinko believes it can make a real
impact. Founded by Sophie Garnier in 2016, with a mission to
connect talented Burmese artisans to the rest of the world, Kalinko
trades in handmade homewares made by Burmese craftspeople.

“In a country where so many people live on hand-to-mouth
incomes, buying as much stock as we can from our artisans allows
them to keep making the traditional crafts they are so proud of,”
says Garnier.

It has long been understood that the act of giving feels better
than receiving. The Milaya Project, Ishkar, Yewo and Kalinko prove
this adage in spades, while taking it one step further: they pay it
forward.

The Good Gifts Directory


The Colombia Collective

The Colombia Collective works in collaboration with artisan
entrepreneurs in Colombia to create homewares and accessories that
fuse traditional techniques with modern design. With a vision to
develop sustainable economic growth for indigenous communities, the
collective aims to preserve diverse ancestral craft cultures for
generations to come.

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Now

four afghan men sit around a table
Prints for Afghanistan by Mark Parrish

Prints for Afghanistan

Set up by photojournalist Thomas James Parrish and his
photographer father Mark Parrish, Prints for Afghanistan raises
money for Kabul-based charity AfghanAid while preserving, through
photography, a memory of Afghanistan free from war.

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Now


Ishkar

Conceived to challenge perceptions and move understanding beyond
the headlines, Ishkar trades in craftsmanship from countries at
war, preserving traditional artisanship and providing a platform
for economic opportunity, even in the most challenging of
environments.

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The Milaya Project

The Milaya Project is a non-profit working with female artists
living in Uganda’s Bidibidi refugee settlement to sell their
embroidered throw pillows, wall hangings and bedsheets, known as
milayas. Supporting Bidibidi refugees, the project is also helping
to preserve the tradition of milaya-making.

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Yewo

Based in the mountains of northern Malawi, Yewo supports ethical
employment for local makers through the design and creation of
thoughtfully made jewellery. With a strong focus on environmental
sustainability, Yewo produces its jewellery through responsible,
low-impact production methods.

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Kalinko

Showcasing handicrafts created by Burmese makers, Kalinko
connects artisans with customers around the globe. Providing
skilled work for talented craftsmen, the collective’s vision is to
fill homes across the world with handmade homewares with a
difference that will make a difference.

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