I love the holidays. It’s one of the few times of the year I get to spend with my family in the winter wonderland that is Vermont. I have very fond childhood memories of waking up early to check our stockings and our presents under the tree. I also enjoyed playing dreidel and eating warm latkes with our Jewish friends. I feel very fortunate that I was able to enjoy many holiday traditions over the years. Perhaps my favorite tradition was decorating our Christmas tree. My mother made it custom to give my brothers and I new ornaments each year with our name and date written on the bottom, in hopes that we would keep our ornaments to share with our own children one day. My mother always bought ornaments from local craft fairs or shops. As a child I didn’t understand why handmade was better, I just knew that it was.
As an adult I’ve sneered at cheap plastic ornaments sold at department stores, but believed that either A) handmade ornaments are aesthetically more pleasing or B) I became a snob due to my New England upbringing. Either could be true, but I think it’s because now I know that the majority of holiday ornaments are made using forced child labor.
According to a New York Times article, many holiday ornaments in America were made involuntarily by children in sweatshops. Children can work up to 15 hours in poorly lit, unventilated rooms, threatened with abuse. This is the type of fact that I would avoid saying out loud, in fear of being seen as a Debbie Downer, and believe me I get it. No one wants their holiday spirit ruined. Some of the most caring people I know would respond with, “I don’t want to talk about it.” But maybe it’s time we should.
To avoid being a total Grinch, I’d like to discuss positive alternatives mass produced ornaments and holiday decor. I believe that most consumers would avoid purchasing products of child labor if they were given alternative options. Americans are the largest consumers of goods made from child labor, so we also have an opportunity to make the largest global impact.
Buy Local or Fair Trade
You can avoid buying items from sweat shops by supporting small businesses and buying local or handmade goods. You can also buy goods that are fair trade certified. When you buy fair trade you are supporting global artisans who are working in safe conditions and are paid a fair wage. You also can be assured that your favorite ornament or decoration was not made using child labor. Fair trade is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, and you can be a part of it.
Here is a short guide to some festive fair trade decor for the holidays. I included a variety of items to appeal to those who are traditional, or those seeking a modern twist. Don’t see anything you like? I also include a list of suggested websites with holiday collections. This holiday season, consider supporting a slave-free lifestyle by buying fair trade.
Ornaments and Tree Decor
This ornament set is made with recycled oil drum by artisans in India.
This clay ornament set is a personal favorite of mine and is handmade in Haiti.
I’m obsessed with these ornaments, which are tiny replica of the Little Market’s hand oven baskets.
Sadly the Citizenry sold out of their mud cloth stockings, but look at this gorgeous tree skirt!
Okay, admittedly I chose this one because it looks like my dog Finn! This sweet ornament is made by the Community Crafts Association of the Philippines.
As a child I always liked mouse ornaments. These sweet ornaments are made by an artisan group called Sapia in Colombia.
West Elm was the home retailer to join Fair Trade USA and sells an assortment of items in their Fair Trade Certified Line. These felt tree skirts are handmade in Nepal, either with pom poms or stars, and have the option to be monogrammed.
Dassie Artisan has a beautiful artisan Christmas collection.
These vibrant ornaments come in different colors and are handmade and embroidered in Chiapas, Mexico.
The Little Market sells pom pom garlands in a variety of colors, but maroon is my favorite.
This garland is handmade with palm leaf stars by an artisan group called Prokitree in Bangladesh. I use this gold garland to decorate my own tree!
This garland adds immediate cheer to a room and is handmade in Nepal.
Candles and Menorahs
The Little Market has candles for every occasion, including Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza. They even have candles scented like gingerbread, peppermints, and pine trees. Mmm.
I love this modern twist on a menorah, handcrafted with black marble in Mexico.
This silver centerpiece is made by an artisan group called Noah’s ark in India.
The Little Market has a variety of beautiful handwoven baskets, including this new silver collection.
I love the idea of using fair trade baskets at the dinner table.
An adorable alternative to a tree skirt.
A festive twist on the traditional woven seagrass baskets. Made with gold or silver.
Other Holiday Decor
Take a modern twist on holiday decor with this Chilean bronze wall hanging.
These simple felt stockings have the option of being monogrammed.
You can find more fair trade holiday decor at Novica, Fair Trade Winds, Fair and Square Imports, Servv, Fair Indigo, Neighborly Shop, Mango + Main, and many more. After reading this I hope you will consider buying your holiday decor from fair trade certified websites and stores! If we all make a small impact, we can collectively make a large impact.
by Robyn Drake