Ethically Shop
Fighting poverty can seem an impossible task, but the truth is that organizations exist all over the world working to alleviate suffering by providing employment. It is also easy to partner with these organizations by ethically shopping. Below are five places to ethically shop while alleviating poverty in their countries.

The LifeStitches Project

The LifeStitches Project sells beautiful tabletop décor and other fabric products. Arua, Uganda is home to a vibrant and extensive fabric market. The LifeStitches workshop utilizes the fabrics to create skillfully sewn products. Brightly patterned tablecloths, potholders, aprons and bags show off the culture and skill of the women who create them.

LifeStitches began as a support group for women with HIV/AIDS. In Uganda, 1.2 million citizens have HIV/AIDS.  According to the website’s “LifeStitches Uganda Documentary,” 95% of “children living with HIV acquire it from their… mother.”

The documentary goes on to explain that, tragically, deep stigma often causes the women to stay silent about their condition. In 2000, a hospital worker, O’daru Grace Yiti, faced the dreaded diagnosis. Three years later, she brought other women living with HIV/AIDS together to support one another. They met “under the mango tree on the hospital grounds” and created a community for each other.

Two years later, Katherine Gnauck, M.D came to Arua and met the support group. She noticed a need for economic stability since the women faced such a strong stigma. Together, Gnauck and the support group began a project for the women to support themselves and their children.

Now, the women struggling with AIDS/HIV in Arua, Uganda have a place to make a living. Their products are available online via an Etsy shop.

Aarong

Aarong, an incredibly popular retail chain in Bangladesh, is another business that provides a way to ethically shop. Aarong sells clothing, jewelry and leather merchandise along with many other products.

The heart behind Aarong, according to its website, is to provide a “productive outlet for the marginalized artisans while celebrating quality work.” In order to accomplish this goal Aarong gives people training to become artisans. Shondhya Rani Sarkar joined Aarong to provide for her son. She worked her way up and is now training new employees. Aarong has helped over 65,000 artisans like Shondhya.

Aarong originally started as just a few artisans that BRAC, a development organization, employed to create unique goods. The beginning, in 1976, was quite slow, but over the course of time, Aarong became a well-known brand. Still employing local artisans, Aarong’s products are both ethical and well-made.

Its website provides an opportunity to ethically shop. It also has an app available for more convenient shopping.

Azizi Life

For home décor and kitchen wares in addition to bags and jewelry, the Rwandan company, Azizi Life, is a wonderful place to ethically shop. Its woven bowls and baskets have both simple and intricate designs, giving options for every style. In addition, the wooden kitchenware gives an artistic flair to everyday objects.

Azizi Life strives to build a family of businesses that would then feed into local efforts to alleviate poverty within the local community. With its roots in the organization Food for the Hungry, Azizi Life grew into a self-sustaining business that provides employment to artisans across Rwanda. In fact, Rwandan artisans create each of the products at Azizi Life.

Jeannine Umutoniwase became CEO in 2016 when the founder, a member of the nonprofit that founded the business, wanted to hand it over to local leadership.

The organization hopes to assist with “the national vision for growth and development.” According to its website, three of Azizi Life’s hallmarks are commitments to fair trade, sustainability and the environment. In addition, the artisans use natural products, and the company even ships the products in recyclable packaging.

To ethically shop at Azizi Life, visit its website.

Vi Bella

Vi Bella offers an easy way to shop ethically for jewelry, sewn and home products. Lovely and simple, the products span from stylish handbags to beaded earrings. Vi Bella also offers a wide selection of home décor.

Vi Bella started in 2011 when the founder, Julie Hulstein, saw terrible devastation in Haiti after a major earthquake. Because of the sudden poverty, she saw a need to sell goods from Haitian craftsmen. Additionally, she wanted to sell them at a fair wage and to a larger client base. Vi Bella offers a way for craftsmen to sell their products overseas.

Not long after, the organization expanded to Mexico and the U.S., employing over 60 craftspeople.

Vi Bella’s products are available on its website.

Ten Thousand Villages

Ten Thousand Villages is a store that sells beautiful handmade gifts from all over the world. With the aim to end generational poverty and bring about social change, Ten Thousand Villages sells everything from soap from Israel to hammocks that artisans made in Nicaragua.

The organization started in the 1940s when a few women from La Plata, Puerto Rico met an American by the name of Edna Ruth Byler. The women needed a go-between to export their embroidery. It started simply with Byler bringing products home to sell. Those simple acts resulted in Ten Thousand Villages, which, over 70 years later, is still thriving by employing local artisans all over the world who otherwise would have little means to export their goods.

Ten Thousand Villages provides a simple and often inexpensive place to shop on its website.

There are dozens of organizations that offer ways to ethically shop. In addition to the five above, there are a great many that have the heart to pull themselves and their neighbors out of poverty all while celebrating beautiful art and style.

Abigail Lawrence
Photo: Flickr