Fair trade, making, and the global economy, part 1

About 13 years ago I was a single man, a bearded 25-year-old Peter Pan with a part time job in Salt Lake City. I worked at a library, hiked and daydreamed. I daydreamed about playing in a band (I’m a drummer) and about finding romance.

In between all this, I spent some time volunteering as a clerk at a Ten Thousand Villages store in Sugarhouse.  It was an ideal gig for me at that stage of my life and I should have made more time for it: besides gratifying my altruism, I had to deal with the public in all their scary glory.  That was a challenge to my shy and retiring ways (which was why I didn’t spend more time at it.)

Years passed.  I got married, started a career, started a family, and my gaze shifted from being directly involved in the Fair Trade movement (though I still made a point to buy my chocolate fair trade when I could).  It has always remained in the back of my mind, though, and recently I’ve gotten back in the game by selling fair trade goods on ebay.

Enlisting artisans in third world countries to make decorative items for collectors in the first world, to be shipped across oceans and then back and forth across the big wide USA . . . to my perception, this is a complex question.  For the time being, I see this as a mostly good thing, a step in the right direction (though onto a path that might take some surprising turns), and so I’m doing what I can to support it.

Therefore, I’ve started pointing out specific products periodically on this blog, and will continue to do so.  I’m doing this partly because I sell them, but mostly because I like them.

The element of fire – brass

I’ve always been fascinated by brass.  When it’s polished it gleams like gold, and even though it can tarnish, it has a hardness beyond gold that gives it a more powerful feeling for me.

Even though Susan Cooper chose gold for the sign of fire in The Dark Is Rising Sequence, in my mind brass is the perfect substance to symbolize the element of fire: the warm gleaming tone invites and welcomes flame in candlesticks and evokes it in jewelry.  And the tone of brass instruments: bright, warm or hot.

When I was a teenager I had a favorite brass candlestick: a thick, deep cup that held a thick white candle.  I remember the night I watched in fascination as the candle burned down to heat the brass, melting the wax until the wick floated in a pool of clear melted wax inside this hot bright metal.

It’s fitting that at least one alcohol stove, the Trangia Spirit Burner, is made of brass.  One of these days I’d like to get one and compare it to Mechanic Mike’s Side Jet Alcohol Stove, which I bought this summer.

I sell on ebay too, and I recently started offering some interesting brass bracelets.  Some of them are elegant, some of them are downright badass, or at least I think so.  The nice thing about them is that they’re made by artisans in South Africa, so by offering then for sale I’m doing my part to promote economic self-determination and self-reliance in developing nations, as well as make one more gesture against racism.

But it’s not only the social virtue of it that gets me about these bracelets.  I’ve seen plenty of social virtue free trade merchandise that doesn’t excite me.  These things are different: they’re just cool-looking, or I should say, hot-looking.  You can have a look at them here.

alter ego cuff 1