Today we are continuing our celebration of Fair Trade Month and the producers who create the lovely products sold by Autonomie with a tale of small community action.  Literally two days ago we launched a whole new product line: Fair Trade belts and jewelry produced by our Fair Trade partners: Proxy Apparel. On top of being Fair Trade, the accessories are all environmentally friendly. They use up-cycled materials such as soda can tabs, wrappers, and bar codes that would normally end up in landfills.  Not only are we excited to be carrying such beautiful pieces, but we are super inspired by the story behind the women who make the jewelry.

Unlike many of our other products, which are made with larger scale Fair Trade manufacturing, these Fair Trade accessories are made in a small women’s cooperative in Guatemala. The cooperative was founded by a small group of women who wanted to empower themselves in 1988. Living in community outside Guatemala City, many of these women were marginalized by their society, where men make up the majority of the workplace, and by decades of Civil War that finally ended in 1996. Because of these issues, many women found it hard to find work to support their families. So the founders of UPAVIN Cooperative decided to bring their sewing and jewelry making skills together to form a cooperative, where every member is an owner and every member has an equal vote.

The women in this co-op grew to become the 80 members they are today, spanning several small communities around Guatemala City.  Most of the women in the co-op have become the sole providers for their family and are making it possible for their children to go to school in order to better their lives and those of the community.  Because the cooperative members have equal say and pay, they are able to take care of their families and provide health care and child care for each members entire family.

Since the early days in 1988, UPAVIN has expanded their cooperative beyond jewelry and seamstress work. In addition to the jewelry their cooperative now provides the community with a craft business, local bakery, and a soy milk store. They also now run a small school and child care facility. 

UPAVIN is a clear example of how people can empower themselves as workers. They can band together as one unit and make Fair Trade a reality. By joining their skills they have created a democratic and safe place for their fellow members to work, opportunity for themselves and families, and strengthened their communities. This is true direct action of workers who want a better life for themselves and future generations. 

Although these cooperatives follow Fair Trade principles, they differ from many Fair Trade certified farms and factories around the world. Typically those farms and factories are still in the model of typical business, with owners or boards and many different pay scales. Many are unionized to include democratic practices and all adhere by Fair Trade standards of fair wages, safe work environments, fair hours, and benefits including health care, life insurance, and pensions. Cooperatives are on a much more grass-roots level but still follow the same principles. All members of cooperatives like UPAVIN receive fair wages and technically own the company!

So when you make the decision to support small community run cooperatives like UPAVIN, you are directly benefiting the craftswomen or men who made your product. The money goes directly to the producers and they decide what to do with it. What they’ve decided is to provide health care, child care, and education for their families and within their communities and beyond.

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GIVEAWAY: In honor of October being Fair Trade Month, we are giving away a pair of our Fair Trade belts or jewelry! Head over to our Facebook to win a pair of the Proxy accessories our UPAVIN cooperative members produced! Our last Facebook status is a link to our blog. Enter our giveaway by sharing our blog post. Just hit “share” underneath our blog’s link on Facebook! Also, for the next week all UPAVIN made jewelry is on sale on our website!