The Huaywasi Difference: Talking Fair Trade
Posted on 24 October 2019
As Fair Trade month is upon us, we wanted to take the opportunity to talk more about what Fair Trade means to the Huaywasi family. There are a lot of terms thrown around in the ethical fashion industry, so we first wanted to clarify the definition of fair trade. Though there are many definitions floating around the Internet, here is a concise definition from the World Fair Trade Organization that we like:
“Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South”.
To help further clarify, we’ve also outlined some fair trade myths as outlined by the Fair Trade Federation:
- Fair trade is not meant to pay workers in foreign countries North American wages
- Fair trade is not meant to be a form of charity. Producers and artisans are skilled at their craft, and fair trade organizations and businesses allow the supply chain to be shortened to that these artisans are receiving a greater share of the product’s profit
Still a little confused? Luckily, the World Fair Trade Organization has further outlined ten fair trade principles to explain things in a more clear way. Read below to educate yourself about these principles and see how here at Huaywasi we abide by them!
Principle One: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers
Huaywasi was formed as a way to bring more financial security to women in the community where our larger non-profit LLI serves. Huaycan is a lower socioeconomic community outside of Lima where many immigrants from different areas in Peru have settled to find a better life closer to the capital city.
Viewpoint from one of our classrooms in Zone S in Huaycán
As mentioned in our previous blog, when our Women’s Program within LLI started workshops in different areas around Huaycan, many women approached our team to say they had the artisan skills they needed but did not have access to a market where they could be profitable. That’s when the idea for Huaywasi was formed.
Continuing to push this idea of opening doors for artisans, Huaywasi is committed to finding local wholesalers and fair opportunities here in Lima to provide an even greater advantage for each artisan depending on what their goals are.
Principle Two: Transparency and Accountability
From the start at Huaywasi, we have always prioritized accountability for our artisans. WTFO states within this principle:
“It (the fair trade business) is accountable to all its stakeholders and respects the sensitivity and confidentiality of commercial information supplied.”
As part of Huaywasi and LLI’s guiding principles, we take the sensitivity of the artisans very seriously. We do not post any pictures of artisans (or LLI participants) on personal social accounts, and we have participants and parents sign waivers to allow pictures of them/their kids on our official social accounts.
Furthermore within Huaywasi, we have monthly meetings where we discuss a wide range of topics, including a “question of the month” where we ask the artisans more about themselves or their work. Though we understand the importance of our customers knowing the makers behind their products, there is a fine balance between knowledge and an invasion of privacy, which we take very seriously. We make it very clear that the artisans do not have to answer any of these questions if they don’t feel comfortable, and keep the questions mostly work related.
These monthly meetings provide open communication between the artisans and the operations team, which have led to collaborative discussions such as production schedules, wage raises, and future management decisions.
Still, full transparency within the supply chain process is an ongoing challenge that Huaywasi is currently tackling in a more aggressive manner. We have been carefully tracking our 2019 finances in detail in order to show our customers where every dollar of their purchase is coming from.
Our full report will be released in 2020, but for now we wanted to share a small preview based on product pricing information already collected:
Traditional Retail Source: Fashion Revolution
Fair Trade Brand Source: Their website
We’re proud to price our products more heavily on the labor cost and effort artisans put into each piece, and we continue to take that into account in our future collections.
Principle Three: Fair Trading Practices
Within this principle there are many fair trade practices that can be adhered to by the organization and the artisans. WTFO states:
“Fair Trade buyers, recognising the financial disadvantages faced by Producers and Suppliers of FT products, ensure orders are paid on receipt of documents or as mutually agreed”
Huaywasi always ensures that artisans receive their monthly pay within a week of delivering their order (allowing time for quality control and pay calculation based on the hours they turn in), and in most cases is less than 3 business days. If the artisan needs a portion of their pay the day they bring their delivery due to unforeseen expenses, we also provide them what they need the day of.
Artisan Herminia working on Screenprinted Headbands
In addition to timely payments, we have been able to support our artisans as they invest in better machines. Since all of our artisans work from home, it’s important to us that they have the materials they need to be the most successful, whether it be with Huaywasi or in their own personal ventures.
WTFO also says in regards to fair trade practices:
“Buyers consult with suppliers before cancelling or rejecting orders. Where orders are cancelled through no fault of producers or suppliers, adequate compensation is guaranteed for work already done.”
We take artisan compensation for work they are completing on Huaywasi’s watch very seriously, which is why we pay them for every hour they’ve contributed to a product, whether it goes into final production or not. This includes samples and unfinished products due to unforeseen complications on any side, whether it be operation & design teams or artisans.
WTFO continues on this principle:
“The organisation maintains long term relationships based on solidarity, trust and mutual respect that contribute to the promotion and growth of Fair Trade. It maintains effective communication with its trading partners.”
Over half of the seven female artisans we currently work with have been part of the Huaywasi family formally or informally for over 8 years, with our “newest” artisan having joined us over 4 years ago. Our bond with these women goes far past the fashion and business, and we trust them with creating beautiful pieces on their own time and in their own house.
Principle Four: Fair Payment
WTFO categorizes fair payment into three different sections: Fair Prices, Fair Wages, and Local Living Wage.
“A Fair Price is freely negotiated through dialogue between the buyer and the seller and is based on transparent price setting. It includes a fair wage and a fair profit”
Though we pay artisans based on hours rather than each product, we do factor the wage that they were paid as an indicative factor of how to price products, along with other factors such as raw materials, shipping, wholesale prices, etc.
According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, average wages rarely exceed 3% of the final cost of what you pay for a piece of clothing at retail stores. At Huaywasi, we want artisan wages to account for much more, with our 2019 Fall/Winter collection having labor costs account for between 14 - 42% of the final cost.
Fair Wages & Local Living Wage
“A Fair Wage is an equitable, freely negotiated and mutually agreed wage, and presumes the payment of at least a Local Living Wage. A Local Living Wage is remuneration received for a standard working week (no more than 48 hours) by a Worker in a particular place, sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for the Worker and her or his family.”
As stated above, we pay our artisans an hourly wage per product they create. Peru normally posts minimum wages not based by hour but by month, and currently in 2019, the minimum wage is S/ 930 (Peruvian soles) per month.
Based on WageIndicator.org, a standard family living wage in Peru including two kids is $318.80 USD, or about S/ 1070 soles per month. From this amount, we divide this by 4 weeks, and then by the normal Peruvian work week of 48 hours, which produces a wage of S/ 5.36 soles per hour.
Artisan Alejandra knitting outside at her flower shop
We’re proud to say we pay our artisans more than this hourly living wage wage, as we know based on seasonal fluctuation and customer demand the artisans may not be fulfilling enough hours with orders to consider Huaywasi a full time job. Furthermore, many artisans have primary jobs such as Alejandra, who owns a flower shop with her husband and is able to knit for Huaywasi while she manages the shop.
Principle Five: Ensuring no Child Labour and Forced Labour
This principle is pretty obvious in terms of Huaywasi, but to further elaborate on “forced labor”, we take care to ensure our artisans aren’t producing something too elaborate for their machines or too complicated to where it becomes a nightmare for them to produce.
Artisan Daria showing off her in-progress Verano Tote (her favorite combination of colors)
We want our artisans to be happy while doing their craft and learning new things along the way, but when certain sample products are taking too much exhausted effort, we scrap the idea for the sanity and happiness of the artisans. Keeping open communication with them in terms of product design is key.
Principle Six: Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Freedom of Association
Female empowerment and development is one of the core values of Huaywasi’s origin and continues to be our mission. As our project originated from our parent non-profit organization’s Women’s Empowerment Program, its purpose has always been to funnel profits back into this program as the program continues to thrive and expand in the Huaycan community.
Something unique about Huaywasi as a fair trade fashion project is that we still very much operate under a 501(c)3 mission-based organization. This means that after artisan wages, shipping, overhead, raw materials, administration, and marketing expenses, all excess profits are channeled back into LLI, specifically within the Women’s Empowerment Program.
Currently, the WP is focused on Mujeres Emprendedoras (Women Entrepreneurs), which is a 3 month entrepreneurship program held for free for women over the age of 18 in Huaycán who want to start or improve their own small businesses.
Women learn hard skills, such as how to develop a business plan, how to track their own finances, how to create an excel document - as well as soft skills: strategies for self-confidence, developing a captivating business elevator pitch, and the importance of customer service skills.
Current participants of Mujeres Emprendedores at a networking workshop
In 2018, 60% of the graduated women now have their own business, with 40% of them starting the business after completing the course.
By buying Huaywasi, our customers are helping us attain this goal of elevating Mujeres Emprendedoras even further to reach more women and advance their course plan.
Principle Seven: Ensuring Good Working Conditions
Another unique advantage for the artisans is that they are fully able to work from home on their own schedule and their own time.
With the average amount of time Limeños spend in public transportation climbing to 95 minutes every day, the artisans are happy to be cutting out that low productivity time. Additionally, they are able to take care of their children and families and avoid hiring a nanny, a common practice among Peruvian dual-earning households.
Artisan Guillermina creating a blouse in her home
We provide the artisans with raw materials that they are able to pick up from our office and from there, they are able to complete their monthly orders whenever they see fit. We also allow circumstantial flexibility of order delivery dates due to unforeseen complications such as health or family issues, or a late delivery of raw materials from our operations team.
Principle Eight: Providing Capacity Building
Regarding this principle, WTFO states:
“The organisation develops the skills and capabilities of its own employees or members. Organisations working directly with small producers develop specific activities to help these producers improve their management skills, production capabilities and access to markets”
As stated above, our artisans are encouraged (many have already completed) our Mujeres Emprendadores program to improve their entrepreneurship skills, as well as the additional classes the Women’s Empowerment Program offers including tech and English classes.
Furthermore, through our Fashion Designer internship program, we love our artisans and designers to collaborate on patterns and learn new techniques or practices that they are able to put into use in the future.
“Lo que más me gusta de sen artesana es aprender de cada uno de los voluntarias que vienen y te enseñan cosas que yo como artesana no sabía y me gusta mucho aprender”
What I like most about being an artisan is to learn from each of the volunteers who come and teach you things that I as an artisan didn't know and I like to learn a lot.
-Elena, a Huaywasi seamstress
Artisan Elena discussing a new shirt pattern with Program Manager Jill
In some cases, artisans have even been able to learn new skills to increase their product offering, such as Herminia collaborating with a screenprinting and digital design company in Lima to perfect the use of a new screenprinting machine.
Lastly, an initiative we’re looking forward to starting this year includes engaging artisans in the sales of their own products through partnerships with fairs and pop-ups in Lima.
Principle Nine: Promoting Fair Trade
“The organisation raises awareness of the aim of Fair Trade and of the need for greater justice in world trade through Fair Trade.”
We love promoting other fair trade brands through our social channels and keep ourselves as educated as possible about Fair Trade through organizations such as Fashion Revolution, The Good Trade, Fair Trade Federation, and others.
Artisan Elena holding Fashion Revolution's "I Made Your Clothes" campaign sign
Our team does also stress the transparency of the connection between fair trade and charity. Though our project is technically part of a larger non-profit organization, buying a Huaywasi product is not a form of charity to these artisans, but rather a way to empower them through their skills and crafts in a responsible way.
We believe the Fair Trade community is collaborative, inclusive, and stronger in numbers :) Through our membership to Chicago Fair Trade, we have committed ourselves to growing the Fair Trade presence in the Chicagoland area and beyond, and we love seeing this community continue to flourish.
Principle Ten: Respect for the Environment
“Organisations which produce Fair Trade products maximise the use of raw materials from sustainably managed sources in their ranges, buying locally when possible.”
A top priority for Huaywasi both this year and next year is focusing in on sustainable raw materials. We first started this initiative in 2018 with our knitwear, when we converted to using 100% alpaca yarn, a super sustainable Peruvian raw material.
Artisan Nélida knitting with 100% alpaca yarn
Though 100% sustainable fabrics from ethical companies are extremely expensive to source in Peru, we do try to maximize our usage of native Peruvian fabrics, such as national viscose, Pima cotton, and colorful tela andina, which decreases the environmental impact through international transport and also boosts the Peruvian economy.
Since the beginning of 2019, we have also strived to produce at least one upcycled product per season. Thus far, we have repurposed some unreleased suede dresses to create the Carina Tank in SS19 and Chan Chan Wristlet in FW19.
We are continuing to make upcycling and recycling a priority as we have just completed a full inventory check this month of what fabrics and materials artisans have available so that we are better able to brainstorm ideas for repurposing.
Furthermore, allowing artisans to work from home and creating handmade products does reduce energy consumption and minimizes overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Lastly, our packaging is eco-friendly: we utilize no plastic and wrap items in either paper (often recycled from other shipments) and/or a reusable tote. Our product tags are made of paper. Ceramics are placed in cotton reusable drawstring bags.
The Bottom Line
Huaywasi is continuously working towards the initiatives discussed above as we evolve. We strive every day to run our brand through fair trade values which in the end provide a better life for the seven artisans we work with.
Many of our customers have asked about further fair trade certifications or member organizations. In actuality, there are some certifications that Huaywasi does not qualify for based on the requirement that you have to be a for-profit business to be a member/certified.
But in further transparency, most of these certifications and organizations are expensive to apply to and many remain expensive through yearly membership fees. As we steadily grow, we want our main focus in profits to be exactly what we stated above, investing back into our community programs, rather than using those financials to apply for certifications.
Nevertheless, we still nourish our partnership with Chicago Fair Trade and improve upon these fair trade principles to the fullest extent. At Huaywasi, the ideologies behind fair trade were truly the seeds that rooted our brand and mission, and we cannot wait to continue to watch them grow.
All seven artisans with Program Manager Jill at monthly artisan meeting
We would love answering any further questions you guys have around our practices or fair trade in general--let’s continue the conversation in the comments below!