Ethical trading can now claim a mainstream presence on the capital’s high streets and support from top-name brands. Ikea, for example, has adopted a fairtrade policy and has sent world-famous Dutch designer Hella Jongerius to southern India on a mission to work with women’s groups in 500 villages. The results include dazzling hand-embroidered wallhangings now appearing in its mega-stores in Wembley and Edmonton.
Fairtrade Fortnight (February/March 2009) has been promoting the need to give all producers of imported goods from developing countries a fairer deal (see more details on www.fairtrade.org.uk). The fashion industry set an example with Estethica, a group of 39 designers, each committed to the three principles of fair reward, organic production and recycling.
London’s biggest shops have caught the fairness bug, too. Sally Bendelow, head of home design at Marks & Spencer, says: “Our customers expect it.” With an appealing vintage feel, new rosy-printed bed linen at M&S starts at £25 for a matching duvet cover and pillow case made from 50 per cent percale fairtrade cotton. Other ranges are in more discreet plain colours. The Fern “eco-sofa” has a fairtrade cotton loose cover, and M&S is stuffing cushions, pillows and duvets with fillings made from recycled plastic bottles; furniture is made from mango wood in Indonesian villages — with a new tree planted for each one used.
Sainsbury’s has been doing fairtrade for nearly 15 years. It was the first major supermarket to sell foods certificated by the Fairtrade Foundation; now it has 777 fairtrade products and sells a fairtrade t-shirt every 10 seconds. It added fairtrade cotton bedding and towels to its range two years ago, with cushions at £3.99, tea towels from 49p and bed linen from £5.99.
John Lewis has a “responsible sourcing officer”, Lucy Shaw, who buys fairtrade cottons, including high-quality white bed linens. And 30 per cent of flowers delivered by John Lewis are from farms in Kenya, whose workers get an extra 10 per cent extra to pay for health and education.
High-street chain Muji has a new Fairtrade bed linen range (www.muji.net), and on the web, at Natural Collection, you can find beautiful organic and Fairtrade towels and bath robes (www.naturalcollection.com).
At present, the Fairtrade Foundation’s mark covers only foods and fibres (mainly cotton), though there are plans to extend it. But there are other important schemes working.
The Rugmark started in India in 1994 and came to Britain in 2001. This label guarantees that a rug has been made under good conditions without the use of child labour — a widespread problem in the rug-making workshops of Nepal, India and Pakistan. A British design competition for students is now in its second year. A supporter is The Rug Company, with its portfolio of beautiful designer rugs, hand-woven in Nepal. Look also for the Rugmark in mass-market shops such as B&Q, Laura Ashley and Carpetright, and on websites such as Wovenground.com.
London shops are also keen to sell appealing ethical goods. “The product definitely has to come first, not the fairtrade message,” says Martin Abel, who, with business partner Teresa Owen, runs Fairwind in Crouch End, north London. They use about 50 suppliers from 17 countries and are continuously working with them on ideas for making products more stylish. Especially smart are cushions in modern designs made by workshops in Kashmir, and bowls and vases designed in France are made in vivid, shiny modern colours from “spun bamboo”, an ancient Vietnamese process that coils and glues bamboo slivers around a mould.
“Luxury is my key component,” says Alison Satasi, who founded her Luma website three years ago to create glorious homeware and help producers. Colours and styling are distinctively upmarket. Now Satasi has a shop in Barnes, with stock that includes blankets in seductive fibres, such as organic cottons, linens, silks, fine merino wools and hand-spun cashmere (from £56 to £275). Some things are currently on special offer. There are hand-stitched throws helping a home for disabled boys in Calcutta (98 Church Road, SW13; 020 8748 2264; www.lumadirect.com).
More embroidery comes from a group for destitute women set up by Mother Teresa. Rough teak blocks make great side-tables, mirror frames are fashioned from old vines, and ladders come from coffee-tree branches. Popular laundry baskets come from a collective of women’s self-help groups in northern India where droughts often make work scarce.
In Gabriel’s Wharf on the South Bank is the little Ganesha boutique. Owners Jo Lawbuary and Purnendu Roy buy from Indian co-operatives and producers’ associations and have now opened a second shop in busy Covent Garden selling fashion and home accessories (38 King Street, WC2; 020 7240 8068; and at 3 Gabriel’s Wharf, 56 Upper Ground, SE1; 020 7928 3444; www.ganesha.co.uk).
Find fairtrade shops by visiting the British Association of Fair Trade Shops at www.bafts.org.uk. These include Fair Shop, recently opened in Brighton (21 Queens Road, Brighton; 01273 723215; www.thefairshop.co.uk); Harvest Moon in Hitchin; and Amba Nature in Leigh-on-Sea (www.ambanature.co.uk).