Unique Batik Blog

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5 Reasons to Shop Fair Trade

The words “Fair Trade” have hit the trend radar lately, but it’s way more than just purchasing beautiful, artisan crafted products. It’s a movement and lifestyle for many of us who want to make a difference across the globe. 

There are many reasons to shop Fair Trade. Here are our top 5!

1. Fair Trade gives artisans control over their future by providing them the opportunity to build their own businesses, which in turn benefits their communities. A thriving community provides more hope for tomorrow.

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2. Fair Trade values the importance of protecting the environment. For example, instead of using toxic chemicals, our partners in San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala use coffee, avocado, berries, cocoa, tree bark, and other plants to create the beautiful colors you see here. Many of the plants used are actually grown in their backyard.

3. Fair Trade supports communities and artisans around the world by enabling them to receive livable wages to cover home costs, education, health care and more.

Related post: Gautemalen traditions: Natural Dyes

4. Fair Trade brings you closer to different communities and cultures around the world. Every piece is unique to where it was made, and carefully handcrafted by talented artisans.

6. Fair Trade means that what you’re buying matters and making a difference. From handmade bags and to beaded jewelry, all of our goods have their own life and story.


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Display Inspired! Partner Spotlight: Pachamama Market

The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to recharge your retail batteries and reflect on what worked and didn’t work in the previous year. It’s also a great time to search out inspiration for the upcoming year, particularly in terms of store displays.

So when one of our fabulous retail partners, Pachamama Market, shared this photo on Instagram of our Tapestry Purse Line:

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we felt a burst of inspiration and creativity. We reached out to the owner, Lindsay Woodruff, and asked if she could share more of her store on our blog – starting with those fabulous wooden boxes and her accessory department.

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From Lindsay: This is my favorite spot in the whole store. Most folks don’t know that your local lumber yard or hardware store has all of the “end pieces” for really, really cheap because they are irregular shapes and sizes or still have the bark on them. I just glued some clothes pins on and screwed them into the wall- ta da! Perfect scarf displays!

Simple and stunning – what an easy and visually effective way to showcase scarves and maximize a smaller footprint by going vertical with the display.

Up next – clothing. What can often feel like a jumbled mess of prints and colors, we love the way Pachamama Market stays true to the natural wood texture and feel with these handcrafted shelving pieces.

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From Lindsay: This is one of the easiest and most eye-catching fixtures in my store. There is a great little salvage shop in my hometown, Iron Dog Salvage (www.irondogsalvage.com) where I found the wood for the shelves. They are actually barn rafters from a 19th century barn here in Ohio. The pipes are just basic 3/4” pipes from my local hardware store. My parents, my husband, and I built them in a single afternoon. (And I got a C in shop class!) These really are easy, so it kills me whenever I see “reclaimed wood and industrial pipe shelves” online for hundreds of dollars. 

Another great display handcrafted from reclaimed wood, Pachamama Market’s Jewelry Spinner:

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From Lindsay: This was a really easy piece, too. I was trying to figure out how to create a floor display for my jewelry that was easy to move around. Thankfully my father was visiting his brother who just so happened to have some scraps of antique mahogany lying around. I love that it lets the light hit the jewelry from all sides.

Handcrafted jewelry on a handcrafted spinner – what great synergy! But what about those jewelry tags?!

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From Lindsay: Our tags are printed on wood veneer so we can remove them at checkout and reuse them (if the customer agrees!). The tags were designed and printed by a local designer, Jess Nielsen of the Olivine Design Studio (www.theolivinedesignstudio.com). 

And what about food? Often one of the hardest items to display, we love Lindsay’s create your own outlook to building fixtures!

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From Lindsay: My uncle who had the mahogany scraps lying around also had some antique walnut he was looking to get rid of. My father was kind enough to custom build these shelves that sit near the register as a beautiful display.

Another great display that takes up a small footprint in the store but also maximizes the space.

Many thanks to Lindsay for taking the time to share these displays and hopefully offer a bit of inspiration.

Now if we could all just get Lindsay’s Dad to come visit us for a few weeks! 🙂

Need more inspiration?

We’re updating our inventory daily with NEW items for Spring from the artisans we partner with in Guatemala, Ghana, Thailand, and South Africa.

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Check out What’s New on our website.

And be sure to follow Unique Batik on Instagram for even more visual inspiration!

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Unique Batik is a Fair Trade wholesaler and online retailer based in Raleigh, NC.  In business since1991, Unique Batik now partners with artisans (individuals, families, and co-ops) in Guatemala, Ghana, Thailand, South Africa, and Chile.  A proud member of the Fair Trade Federation, Unique Batik guarantees its artisans fair wages, long-term relationships, and safe working conditions that are free from discrimination and forced child labor.  This allows the artists to make a living, stay in their home communities and carry on cultural traditions.


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Guatemalan Traditions: Natural Dyes

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Income is more valuable than ever for women in Guatemala, as construction jobs are disappearing for their husbands. Many women are now the sole wage earners in their households. With pressure to support their families and raise their children, Natural Dye Co-ops are popping up all over Guatemala.

Unique Batik partners with natural dye artisans living in San Juan la Laguna, which is located on the western shore of Lake Atitlan. San Juan la Laguna is a quiet, clean village of about 8,000 residents.  Off the beaten (tourist) path, its resulting relaxed atmosphere allows visitors to get away from the bustle of the city and experience the genuine friendliness of the indigenous Guatemalan people.

In the co-op, the women have perfected ways to create dyes from coffee, avocado, berries, cocoa, tree bark, and other plants.

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Cotton thread is dyed in these homemade mixtures and then woven to make scarves,

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clothing, household items, and handbags.

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Shades of green pulled from avocado; Coral red plucked from achote seed; Neutral shades drawn from eucalyptus and guava.

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By using local plants, many of which are growing in the back yards of the women, sourcing ingredients takes much less time. Some of the plants used can even result in various colors, depending on how long the yarns are left to boil in the dye vats. For example, the sacatinta plant yields blue to grey to charcoal, all dependent on boiling time.

Support these talented women and shop our entire line of Natural Dye items HERE.

Download a printable Natural Dye Color Chart HERE. 

 


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10 Simple Ideas for Summer Entertaining

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This is our absolute favorite time of year. The warmer temperatures outside have everyone out of their winter slumber and ready to get social. Whether you want to host a backyard barbecue or a weekend brunch, we have 10 Simple Ideas to make Backyard Entertaining an absolute breeze!

1.Design an easy menu

Choose easy dishes that you can prepare ahead of time, that way you can enjoy the outdoor party without getting stuck in the kitchen. Cut fruit, dips, spreads, and baked goods can be easy to whip up the day before. One of our favorite make-ahead dishes for a barbecue is this Loaded Baked Potato Salad from The Shabby Creek Cottage.

2. Keeps drinks simple

Just like the food, decide your beverages beforehand and keep it simple. Depending on the occasion, wine and beer may be an easy choice, but always be sure to include non-alcoholic options as well. We are currently obsessed with infused water – not only does it taste delicious but it’s super easy to make ahead of time!

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3. And you can easily take drinks to the next level with these impressive looking (yet easy to make) ice buckets from The Chic Site:

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4. Speaking of drinks…

Keep the drinks in a separate area from the food. This will encourage guests to mingle, and will keep folks from trying to balance plates and cups.

5. And keep those drinks bug free!

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We love this idea for using a simple cupcake liner to top your cup to keep your drink in and bugs out.

Entertaining in the summer means great weather, but warmer temperatures can almost mean bugs, so don’t forget about the food –

6.Serve salads and fruit in large glass canisters with a lid, like these from 4 Men 1 Lady:

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That way guests can serve themselves without worrying about flies in their food.

7. Another simple solution for bugs, use slices of lemon pierced with cloves on and around food as a natural repellant. 

8. And if you’re hosting guests near water, provide a simple station with bug spray and sunscreen.

9. Keep dessert straightforward with a serve yourself Ice Cream Bar.

Fill a cooler with ice and top with salt to keep it cool without melting. Add a few pints of ice cream, a scoop, and cones – you’re done!

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You can even take it to the next level by providing marshmallows – guests can add one to the bottom of their cone to keep the ice cream from melting out.

10. Lastly, keep decor simple by using fresh flowers and fruit. 

Bouquets of fresh flowers are so easy to decorate with, and guests can take them when they leave – no clean up required!

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Shop this look HERE.

You can also keep bowls of lemons, limes, and oranges (that you can use for drinks) to add pops of color to your tablescape without the waste!

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New for Spring – Florecita Line

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Coco Chanel iconisized the Little Black Dress, a simple design that any woman could keep in her closet and dress up or down depending on the occasion. Created to match anything and everything, the versatility of a basic wardrobe piece is the reason that the LBD continues to resonate nearly 100 years later.

And our newly expanded Florecita accessory line is essentially the Little Black Dress for your purse! Timeless design in great neutral colors – a basic for any wardrobe. Bold prints and fun colors are always great for brightening up displays and keeping inventory interesting, but don’t forget the appeal of the basic accessory that never loses it’s season.

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At the top of the new line: The Florecita Paris – your new go-to large handbag.

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Available in an array of colors, this lightweight carry all boasts long leather handles for over the shoulder ease (think Longchamp…but Fair Trade!) and a large interior that you’re going to love! Plus with it’s neutral colors, it can easily translate from Spring to Fall – we love that kind of versatility!

Next up, the Florecita Purse.

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Just like it’s larger partner Paris, our Florecita purse has sweet leather detailing but also includes a cross-body strap. Perfect for the person who wants a small bag with a bit of room, the zippered top offers more space and keeps essentials safely tucked inside.

Another great cross-body option, the Florecita Snap.

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One of the best details of this small bag: the strength of the snap! Items inside will never fly out; a must-have feature in a sweet little travel bag.

Another great travel bag option: the Florecita Passport

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and for just the essentials: Florecita Double Pocket Cell

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Both the Passport and the Double Pocket Cell have zippered pockets for added security and a longer cross-body strap for ease of use.

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But one of the best features of the Pocket Cell: its lightly padded lining to keep cell phones safe. This case is great for a grab-and-go trip or to toss in a larger tote.

For the person who wants a coin zip with a little room, the Florecita Two-Zip.

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Doubling as a wallet, the two-zip gives you the option of carrying cards, coins, or both!

And finally, last but certainly not least, the Florecita Coin rounds out the collection:

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The entire collection is handmade in the highlands of Guatemala, by talented Fair Trade artisans with an eye for detail. Each purse and pouch is incredibly well-made, hand-crafted to used for any adventure!

 

 


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Artisan Spotlight: Carmelita Ramos

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re reposting this Artisan Spotlight on one of our favorite leaders: Carmelita Ramos. Enjoy!

Sparkling beads dance across her hands as Carmelita Ramos creates earrings and bracelets to sell to customers in the distant land of the United States. Her dreams of earning a living and educating her children were once just as distant, but through her work and creativity and her connection with fair trade, those dreams have become a reality. Carmelita’s story did not begin so differently from that of many, many other women in Guatemala. Being able to sell her handicrafts to a fair trade company like Unique Batik has given her the hand up — not handout — that changed the course of her life.

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Carmelita making the carnival bracelet

Born into a family of thirteen children in the rural mountain village of San Jorge in the department of Solola, Carmelita’s challenges in life started early. None of the girls in her family were sent to school. This is still true for many girls in Guatemala; of the two million children who do not attend school, most are indigenous girls living in rural areas. In fact, 90% of these girls do not attend secondary school. Carmelita was no exception.

With no education, Carmelita’s options were few. She became a maid at a young age, which is a typical path, with 98% of domestic workers being women and 70% of domestic workers being indigenous Maya. However, Carmelita’s story took a turn when, through her employers, she began making jewelry to sell for export. She immediately showed promise as a designer, creating an original bracelet featuring bamboo and making oven mitts out of scrap fabric. For her first significant order, she received a paycheck of Q1200 (the equivalent of $150 US dollars).  It brought tears to her eyes because she had never seen a Q100 note.

Carmelita’s creativity and ingenuity have been a big factor in her success as an artisan. Now part of a jewelry making cooperative of eleven people, all family members, Carmelita sources the beading materials herself and trains co-op members how to make new jewelry designs. Unlike many other artisans in the area, when Carmelita’s group creates exclusive new designs for a customer, they do not sell them to anyone else. The group members work from their own homes, but confer on pricing, production, and any other issues that might come up.

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Today, not only has Carmelita’s story defied expectations, but her leadership of the artisan co-op has influenced the lives of many others. Her own daughter, Maria, has graduated with a degree in business administration.  She has partially paid for her education and transportation to school through part-time work making beaded jewelry with the artisan co-op. Another group member, Marta, has five children, for whom Marta desperately wanted an education. Her husband did not support her dream, but through her earnings as an artisan, all of Marta’s children have gone to school.  Since the time her jewelry work began, Carmelita and her husband, Juan, have gone from living with her mother-in-law to buying their own land and building a two-story cement block house — an extraordinary accomplishment for a woman who started with no education and no means.

The journey has not been without its challenges. Competition in the area is fierce for beaders, keeping their wages low. There is even a “bead mafia” which controls the availability of beads, so Carmelita’s group is not always able to source the colors they need. US buyers are not always reliable, and it is the long-term, fair trade relationship with Unique Batik that has made a difference in the success of Carmelita’s group. Ten years ago, a US buyer placed a big order for beaded jewelry from women in Carmelita’s village, then pulled out without paying the women for their work. A mutual acquaintance gave Carmelita Unique Batik owner Sharon Gale’s phone number. Carmelita called Sharon for help, and that began the relationship between Unique Batik and Carmelita’s cooperative.

Carmelita’s talent as a designer is special, but without the opportunities created by fair trade purchases, even with all her hard work and creativity, the story might not have such a happy ending. Given the opportunity to be treated with integrity and turn her gifts into a secure life for her family, Carmelita has transformed her own narrative. Thanks for being part of her happy ending


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So easy to get hooked on crochet treasures

carryall pompom (6)It’s not just grannies that are enchanted with the repetitive movement of a crochet hook catching a length of yarn and then slipping over and under and through. Hipster women and men are crafting hats, scarves and their own versions of hacky sacks with brightly colored yarns. Occupational therapists teach patients recovering from strokes and accidents how to crochet because the hand movements strengthen muscles that other exercises never reach. And children, with their innate speed and fierce determination, often complete enough, ahem, granny squares for a full scarf in one sitting.lacey crochet headband6

What is basically a manipulated yarn chain, crochet is a historical mystery. Crochet-like work has been found in items from primitive South American tribes, the Mediterranean, Asia and the Middle East.  It’s likely that explorers brought crocheted items home from exotic countries. Since crochet is easily unraveled, learning “how to” was just a matter of working methodically to replicate a pattern.

Modern crochet is bolstered by a renewed interest in handcrafted items. Yarn entrepreneurs are adapting a variety of materials in myriad colors into a flexible medium of varying textures, densities and pliability. And Pinterest, the best friend of every craft and crafter, provides plenty of inspiration to crochet novices and veterans.

crochet ball (4)Aquacatan, a village in Guatemala, is on a trade route that has been in use since Pre-Columbian times. One of its international claims to fame is the brightly colored textiles, which often feature crochet, that are representative of South American culture and fashion. If you spot a brightly colored bag, crocheted with thick yarn, chances are it originated in Aquacatan.

Unique Batik’s website is alive with color and texture through a variety of crochet products every age and every taste. Girly girls of all ages are partial to our Lacey Crochet Headband and our Crochet Headband. Our Animal Balls enjoy being part of a good game of toss and hacky sack players are drawn to our Crochet Balls and our Crochet Sports Balls.floppy kufi (4)

Fashionistas and fashionistos are partial to our Kufi Hat, our Banded Kufi Hat and our Floppy Kufi Hat. Come on, you know it’s true – you can never have enough kufi on your head! If you’re on the go, our Carryall line offers dazzling additions to any outfit. Try the Carryall, the Carryall Small, the Carryall Large, the Carryall Backpack or the Leather Trim Carryall Large. And if you think there are a lot of Carryall varieties, just wait until you see how many designs that are available.

With just a hooked needle, a skilled crochet artisan can utilize almost any long fiber (including plant fibers) to craft decorative and useful items. Crochet is a portable craft so it allows busy mothers in economically poor regions an opportunity to multi-task – caring for a family and adding to the household income.

Armed with all this crochet knowledge, it’s likely you’ll never look at yarn or the end result of yarn crafting the same again!