Wednesday, 10:00pm
14 July 2010

Making a difference

Designing with Fair Trade organisations in Nepal

There are two main Fair Trade certification marks, but one is much better known than the other, writes Chris Haughton.

The FLO mark (below, left) has become a common sight in many food shops and supermarkets, issued by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation to identify Fair Trade products. But the second (below, right), used by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) to brand organisations that use Fair Trade manufacturing, is less familiar to many consumers.

01 fair trade logos crop

Companies such as People Tree are doing their bit to show that it is possible to combine Fair Trade with great design, but why isn’t it everywhere? More than 50 per cent of coffee sold in the UK is fair trade, but in clothing it is less than one per cent.

The WFTO offers designers a chance to work with ethical producers all over the world. It can sometimes be a little frustrating working with producers with very basic equipment – in Nepal we are working with only twelve hours of electricity per day. But there are some amazing traditional crafts and hand made objects that lend themselves to beautiful high-end products if designed well.

10-finished owl

Above and top: I decided to create a small fair trade soft toy to sell along with my book (A Bit Lost, Borim Press and Walker Books). Using traditional cottage industry techniques, the toy is spun into yarn, dyed, hand-woven and sewn by the women at fair trade production group Mahaguthi.

12-carpet grid

Above and below: Through People Tree, I was introduced to the Kumbeshwar Technical School. They support and train lower-caste men and women, as well as running a school and an orphanage. They make amazing natural hand-spun Tibetan wool carpets, and I noticed that the carpet making process has similarities with the pixelated quality of digital images. Many of my own images are quite flat with few colours, so I had the idea of producing some of my designs as carpets. We found a way to convert digital images directly into carpet graphs which should make the design process a little easier for KTS in future.

13-carpet in production

Below: Making cushion covers for Associated Craft Producers, the largest fair trade group in Nepal.

acp cushion ideas

Eye magazine is available from all good design bookshops and at the online Eye shop, where you can order subscriptions, single issues and back issues. The summer issue, Eye 76, out this week, is a music special. You can read a selection of pages on Eye Before You Buy on Issuu.

Student subscriptions are half price, see