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Just Trade was founded in 2006 by jewellery designer Laura Cave. She and her team collaborate with artisans in South American and India, to design and make fair trade and ethical brass- and silver-plated earrings in bold, statement shapes and in striking navy and forest green, ribbon-shaped rings, jaunty anchor necklaces, spiral-shaped brass bangles, and cute animal-shaped pendants carved from tagua nuts.
Laura has a BA Hons in Silversmithing and Jewellery, and a MA in Jewellery from the Royal College of Art. During her studies she travelled to Peru to volunteer on a Fair Trade jewellery projects in the shanty towns of Lima. She enjoyed it so much that she kept going back, and it was on one of these visits that she discovered Hope Jewellery (formerly the Zoe Project).
Hope Jewellery was a group of female artisans living in the shanty towns of Lima, who had skills in traditional crochet techniques but were struggling to find a sustainable, long-term route to market for their products. Laura saw great potential and suggested combining their traditional craft skills and materials with her jewellery knowledge, and Just Trade was born.
She worked with the artisans on designs suitable for the UK market and gave additional training in jewellery making, teaching techniques and design, which gave them confidence to make their own products.
“One of the things that struck me is the healing power of learning how to make things and make them well. Fair Trade is not only about paying a fair wage; it is about training, capacity building and empowerment.” Laura says. The Hope project has grown and is now based in four areas of Peru.
In 2010 two design graduates working with Just Trade visited the Flowering Desert Project in Southern India. They found artisans who were all trained in tailoring, but were struggling to find work and hindered by an intermittent power supply. They offered training in basic jewellery-making techniques using hand tools (cutting out the need for an electricity source), and the women quickly perfected beading, cutting, polishing and hammering.Around half the women in the production unit live in the Mahalir Aran Trust safe house on site, a refuge for vulnerable women. They now work in a supportive environment, given free transportation to their studios, plus counselling, healthcare, advice on money management and help educating their children.
The Sosote Fair Trade Project in Ecuador followed – a country with many highly skilled artisans also struggling with an export market. They use tagua nuts – a sustainable alternative to animal ivory – to create hand-carved pieces of jewellery. Just Trade now works with eight different artisan groups in Peru, India and Ecuador. All artisans are provided with regular work and a living wage, working in a safe and supportive environment, allowing them to improve their homes, pay for medical treatment, and to educate their children.
Laura and her team are based in Peckham, South East London, and make annual trips to collaborate and develop with artisans, focusing on trends, design and quality. Each workshop specialises in a different traditional technique, but all are made with care and skill from locally-sourced and ethical materials where possible.
The artisans in Peru create striking brass pieces and their craft is labour intensive. The brass is roughly cut to size, design shape is glued on and holes are drilled so that this design can be cut out by hand from the metal. The edges are filed and sanded and, if required, hammered for texture. Finally, the metal is polished and any beaded details are added before it’s sent to Laura and her UK team for final assembly.
The artisans in Ecuador craft pendants out of tagua nuts from a type of palm that grows in the South American jungle, known as “vegetable ivory” (a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to animal ivory). Pendants are hand carved and polished, and sent to the UK for assembly.
The women in the Flowering Desert Project in Tamil Nadu, India, create finely textured jewellery. Using basic techniques and hand tools - therefore not requiring a reliable electricity source - they hand cut each piece from a brass sheet, planish using a hammer and polish. Pieces are then sent to the UK for assembly.
Just Trade has something for everyone. For those who want ethical and fair trade jewellery it is inspiring to learn about who made each piece, where the materials came from, and at how the makers benefit from their work.