Here at Shared Trade, we value our friendships as much as anyone. Today we want to share the story of a friendship that began years ago that will now strengthen with Shared Trade and the story of an organization birthed out of Thistle Farms. The first organization we want to share with you in this post is The Studios of Thistle Farms.
The Studios of Thistle Farms is an initiative of Thistle Farms based in Nashville, TN and is comprised of the Paper Studio and the Sewing Studio. The Studios of Thistle Farms is committed to empowering women who have experienced addiction, sex trafficking, and life on the streets. One of the Studios’ inspiring women is Penny.
Penny’s many responsibilities at Thistle Farms include shipping, packing, and working in the paper studios.
Penny is a graduate of Magdalene House, a two-year residential program that is partnered with Thistle Farms. Before she found Magdalene, Penny was trying to survive on the streets and ended up in jail. She spent five months at Magdalene before joining the Thistle Farms community, where she started out working in the packing and shipping departments before becoming manager of the Paper Studio.
“At Thistle Farms, I’ve learned that I’m always going to be a sister for life, and they love me no matter what,” she said.
Each of these cards is handmade in Thistle Farms Studios.
From card sets and journals to coasters and tote bags, each of the Studios of Thistle Farms’ products is made with love. In the Paper Studio, thistle paper is handmade from recycled paper, t-shirts, and thistles that are harvested by “Thistle Farmers” from all over the country (click here to learn more about harvesting thistles). The paper making process usually takes a full day. First, the shredded recycled paper and t-shirts, along with other materials, is made into a pulp. The pulp is then formed into sheets of paper which are dried in a press. Finally, the handmade paper is used for silk screen greeting cards, hand sewn journals, and other beautiful creations. Each of Studio’s products is unique and will be sure to make a perfect gift.
The Sewing Studio has five sewing machines and a large work table where fabric is cut to patterns and new designs are created. On any given day, the seamstresses are working on batik tote bags or hot pads, or are sewing custom labels on Thistle Farms t-shirts or other items. In addition, the Sewing Studio has made prototypes of packaging used in Thistle Farms’ kits (such as the recently announced Tea Kit) which have been passed on to other Shared Trade partners for higher volume production.
The second organization is Sibimbe, a sewing cooperative located in San Eduardo, Ecuador. The main employers in the Los Rios region of Ecuador are owners of banana plantations, and the jobs available involve back-breaking work for low pay. Three years ago, Reverend Becca Stevens and a few other people from St Augustine’s Episcopal Chapel, in Nashville, TN, wanted to provide an opportunity for a small group of women in San Eduardo to create a sustainable business. Becca started with a group of three women, who said they would like to sew. Over the next year, Becca was able to obtain three sewing machines and supplies, which were then taken to this group of women to create the sewing cooperative Sibimbe, named after the river where the founding seamstresses learned to swim.
Sibimbe launched its business by creating healing oil pouches for Thistle Farms. The beautiful, hand-sewn pouches made by women at Sibimbe hold five essential healing oils.
Ahimsa inspires universal love and nonviolence and is made from cinnamon, clove, sweet orange, and cedar in olive oil.
Mitzvah encourages acts of human kindness and is made from lavender, ginger root, mandarin, and vanilla in sweet almond oil.
Compassion opens the heart to prayer and mindfulness and is made from geranium, myrrh, chamomile, and lavender in jojoba oil.
Inspiration uplifts the spirit and invites new dreams and is made from bergamot, cardamom, and sweet orange in coconut oil.
Finally, Contemplation restores the mind and body for reflection and is made from jasmine, grapefruit, frankincense, and myrrh in olive oil.
Each of these bags are hand sewn by women who work at Sibimbe.
This friendship is important for both Sibimbe and Thistle Farms because they both ultimately have the same goal.
“The purpose of this cooperative is to provide decent work and to improve the quality of life for women,” said the Reverend Gina Angulo, priest at Escuela Anne Stevens. “It is our hope that in the future there will be many more women that can be a part of Sibimbe.”
Be sure to check out The Studios of Thistle Farms’ and Sibimbe’s products once they are available at the Shared Trade e-commerce site this October. Perhaps you might want to send a friend of your own some essential healing oils or a friendly, handmade note. Through our relationships with our partners, Shared Trade wants to promote love and friendship across the globe and close to home.
While living in a country that has been torn by over twenty years of civil war, the women of Uganda are often marginalized and struggle to find hope in their lives. After working with a Ugandan boarding school, one woman decided to start her own fight against poverty and violence. That woman is Brittany Merrill Underwood, who began The Akola Project.
Founded in 2007, Akola is one of five projects supported by the Ugandan American Partnership Organization (UAPO) as an effort to alleviate the impact of poverty. At Akola, women are taught to create beautiful jewelry and textiles, while also finding hope again in their lives. Here is the story of one of Akola’s artisans.
Before working for the Akola Project, Scovia could not provide food for her children or pay their school fees. Now, she supports her family by creating paper bead necklaces.
Babwetenda Scovia did not have much hope in her life before working at Akola. She lost her husband to HIV/AIDS, and has also contracted the virus. A young mother of three children, Sovia begged her relatives to help her give her children food and an education.
Now, Scovia is an artisan in training, and she makes paper bead necklaces for the Akola Project. Because of her income from working at Akola, she can receive medical treatment as well as provide food for her family and send her children to school.
Scovia is one of the many women employed by Akola to make paper bead necklaces. The beads on the necklaces are hand-rolled and finished with a non-toxic varnish. Finally, the beads are strung together to create the perfect statement piece.
The beads on Akola’s necklaces are hand-rolled and strung together to create the perfect statement piece.
Women at Akola also make necklaces with bold pendants. Each pendant is made of bullet casings from past civil wars and plated with a brass or nickel finish.
In addition to making jewelry, Akola women meticulously weave cotton, raffia grass and palm leaves into textiles that are then used to make fashionable clutches. The interior boning of each clutch is hand braided using palm leaves. The weavers can weave up to sixteen palm leaves at one time.
Although weaving textiles is not a native trade of Ugandan communities, Akola has adopted it with expertise. The weavers may spend up to one day weaving the 1.5 yards of fabric that is needed to make one clutch simply to ensure a highest quality product.
Akola’s artisans also create beads from ankole horn. Indigenous to Uganda, these horns would normally be thrown out, but Akola gives them a new purpose as delicate beads in black, tan, and cream colors.
Like the ankole horn, women who are welcomed at The Akola Project are also given a chance to renew their lives. One of these women is Mukulu Ketra.
Ketra is a prominent leader in her community because of her work with Akola.
Ketra is a strong leader in her community. She invests a portion of her monthly income from Akola into her community’s savings and loans group. Over the past six years, she has used those savings to launch small businesses and enlarge her commercial farm. She has invested in nine cows, a chicken coop, and goats. Not only has Akola improved her life, but she has used her earnings to improve her community.
Be sure to check out Akola’s jewelry on SharedTrade MarketPlace in October. By supporting Akola, you can bring hope into a woman’s life.
I am so grateful and humbled to be here in San Juan Costala, Mexico, meeting the poorest of women whose years of living in poverty, enduring loss and daily hardship is written all over their beautiful faces. Yesterday they understood that each of them is part of a big and growing circle, each of them loved for being the woman she is …it makes me want to do more , give more, to love more. At the end of our tea-time I asked them to tell me something about their lives that I could take with me back to Nashville and share with their sisters at Thistle Farms and beyond.
Maria: “ I just want a home somewhere, sometime.” She is old. Weezie and I talked about how she can raise some money/volunteer workers to build her a one room home. It can be done.
Gisele: “ I want to take care of my children – thats all. I want to always have food for them” Young and pregnant with her 5th child. No partner/husband. She lives with her children in a one-roomed ‘house’ with a dirt floor , 2 dogs , a small stove in one corner and a mid sized bed in the other where they all sleep together at night.
Weezie is a powerhouse. They are so fortunate to have such a strong, caring woman in their midst. I attend the board meeting of Operation Feed ( Moringa Madres sponsor) on Thursday and talk to them about TF/ST and MM and how important community support is to the success and sustainability of the initiative.
Time to sleep.
Shared Trade would not exist without collaboration. The relationships we share with our partners are vital in order to give our partners’ employees amazing opportunities, as well as to create the best products for our customers. This week, we are excited to highlight a few of our partners by introducing a Tea Survival Kit that is now available at Thistle Farms.
This kit features tea from Ajiri Tea in Kenya, Moringa Madres in Mexico, Hope Tea in Uganda, and Thistle Farms.
The Tea Survival Kit provides employment for women in five locations across the globe, so your purchase of one kit will benefit women in five organizations.
First and foremost, our tea kit needs tea. This kit features four delicious blends that will warm you up on a cool, autumn morning.
Ajiri Tea is grown and harvested in Western Kenya at the Nyansiongo Tea Factory. The factory is a cooperative owned by small-scale farmers. They grow the tea independently and handpick the leaves, ensuring the highest quality tea. Ajiri gets its name from the Swahili word, meaning “to employ,” and its goal is to provide employment for women in western Kenya and to educate orphans in their communities.
The moringa in our Moringa Black Health Blend was harvested by 35 women in San Juan Cosala, Mexico.
The second tea is a Moringa Black Health Blend, a delicious blend of black tea, moringa, and lemongrass. The moringa is made by Moringa Madres, based in San Juan Cosala, Mexico. The moringa trees were planted and harvested by 35 women who are striving to provide for their families.
The black tea in this blend is made by Hope Tea in Uganda. The Tea Survival Kit has created an opportunity for women in Uganda to find employment.
The third featured tea is Thistle Stop Café’s Herbal Blend. Made of Milk Thistle, dandelion root and cardamom, this tasty blend of flavors is a natural tonic for liver health.
The fourth featured tea is an organic Gunpowder Green Blend. This delicious blend is made of green tea, orange peel and ginger root, and aids digestion.
When you purchase the Tea Survival Kit, your teas will come wrapped in a beautiful satchel that is perfect to take with you camping or on a quiet, morning walk.
New Visions Sewing Group created the satchel that houses the tea. New Visions is an enterprise of Lwala Community Alliance, an organization that provides girls and women in Kenya with education, healthcare and employment.
Finally, the Tea Survival Kit is assembled by the women at Thistle Farms. Thistle Farms, based in Nashville, TN, is a social enterprise of women in recovery from prostitution, trafficking and addiction. The tea will be sold for resale through Thistle Farms and served at the Thistle Stop Café.
Be sure to welcome the month of September and the upcoming fall season with a warm cup of tea. Our Tea Survival Kit is now available on Thistle Farm’s website and will also be sold at Shared Trade MarketPlace in October.
We all know that recycling is important, but this week’s featured partner takes repurposing to a new level. While one person might see old bottles and jars littering the streets of Ghana, the women who work for A Ban Against Neglect (ABAN), see materials to make gorgeous bags, wallets and jewelry. At ABAN, not only are used bottles and bags given a new purpose, but the women’s lives are renewed as well.
ABAN works in Accra, Ghana. Since the 1980’s, the country has represented success of growth and development in Africa. However, according to Rural Poverty Portal, farmers in rural areas are still struggling because of soil erosion and a loss in fertility in the ground.
ABAN provides women in Ghana with healthcare, education and a home.
Many younger men and women have left their villages to look for jobs in Ghana’s urban areas. Because of the migration, there is a high rate of unemployed young people in Ghana’s cities.
Rose, a graduate of ABAN’s program, was one of many unemployed women in Ghana. The young mother of a baby named Theo, she was found on the streets as a teenager and welcomed into the ABAN program. Now, she works for ABAN as a talented and successful seamstress.
ABAN mission is to provide a new beginning for extremely poor or homeless young mothers like Rose. For two years, ABAN offers women healthcare, education and a place to call home.
During the two years that women participate in the ABAN program, they take classes in reading, writing, math, business and childrearing techniques, and a vocational trade. By the end of two years, each woman has the vital skills she needs to support herself and her family.
In addition to taking classes, the women choose to learn the art of sewing or jewelry making. The craftswomen and tailors create all of ABAN’s products from melted bottles and jars that are found on the streets each day.
To make an ABAN bag, the first step is to collect water sachets for the lining. Local organizations and schools in Accra have partnered with ABAN to find and gather water bottles and jars on the streets of the city.
Next, each water sachet is hand-washed, sanitized twice, and dried before the seamstresses at ABAN’s facility sew the bags together.
The artists use a traditional method called Batik to decorate ABAN’s products. First, the artist stamps a white fabric with wax, and then she dips the fabric into brightly colored dyes. Once the fabric is dry, she boils the fabric to remove the wax.
Thistle Farms has been partnering with ABAN for the last few years. We are delighted to take this partnership deeper through Shared Trade. You’ll be able to check out more of ABAN’s products at the Nashville MarketPlace in October.
On Friday, we introduced you to MamAfrica, our Shared Trade partner in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Watch this video to learn more: