Unique Batik Blog

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Pompom and tassel trend

We’re in full summer mode here at Unique Batik and we’ve got lots of great ideas to help you make the most of your adventures – in style.

Do you love the pompom and tassel trend? From totes to clutches, we’ve got a variety to choose from in a range of colors for every occasion. What makes ours special? They’re handmade in Guatemela, and each piece is unique in its craftsmanship.

Related post:  Las Mujeres De Panabaj: Working Together to Rebuild

Guatemala is known for its vibrant and vivid colors, where artisans take pride in their patterns, materials and creations. There’s something for everyone – whether you like a bit of whimsy or a simple a pop of color. If you’re looking for one-of-kind style and authenticity, go the Fair Trade route!

Pompom and tassels at Unique Batik

Shop our Unique Batik bags


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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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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.

Carmelita and Maria

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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Honoring the endless circle of friendship

As summer transitions to fall, it may be time to, as the traditional children’s song says, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.” There’s no minimum to how many friends each person is required to have, but there’s no limit either As long as they’re true blue (as well as silver or gold), you can never have enough friends.

And what’s the second verse to that song? “A circle is round, it has no end. That’s how long I’ll be your friend.” And there you have the idea behind friendship bracelets – an endless circle that represents a friendship without end. Whether handcrafted (a la 1970s macramé or 21st century beaded) or purchased, the gift of a friendship bracelet comes from the heart and reminds the recipient he or she is loved and never alone in the world.

Friendship bracelets recognize and celebrate a variety of relationships. Even though they’re technically one size fits all, individual designs may lend themselves to specific friendships.

I’m going to miss you, friend

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He or she was your summer your camp buddy, your summer-job-away-from-home confidante, your driver’s ed partner. Now you’re going your separate ways and you’d like to offer a light, “it was fun to know you” goodbye gift Neon Summer Friendship bracelets are an obvious choice, but not just because of their name. The bright colors and basic design encourages staying in touch without pressure.

Crazy fun friend

0006123_todos-snapYou love this guy or gal who makes everything not just more enjoyable, but one of the best times of your life (or at least it seems that way in the moment). The Butterfly Slip Knot bracelet, the Skinny Crystal Bracelet and the Skinny Crystal Wrap tell your crazy fun female friend that you always want to be on her speed dial list. The Santiago Snap and the Todos Snap are a little more masculine, but let your crazy fun male friend know that you treasure every zany minute with him.

Perfect fit college roommate friend

There are more bad college roommates than there are good college roommates, but when it’s good, it’s very, very good. If it’s happening now, carpe diem and exchange Chica Friendship bracelets. But maybe your perfect college roommate was a while ago and she became your bridesmaid or child’s godmother or held your hand during a challenging time. A Balsa Wood bracelet helps you celebrate the natural bond that was created long ago and still connects the two of you.

We’ve known each other forever friend

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Your mom dropped you off at kindergarten and cried a little. You were holding hands with your new best friend within 15 minutes and the two of you still stay in touch. You know a lifetime of each other’s heartaches and triumphs. The Beaded Friendship bracelet has a bead for every time she was there for you, in person or in spirit.

No matter how old you or your friendships are, acknowledging the value of an existing friendship with even the simplest gesture can polish the silver and gold in your life.


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How to tell if it’s fair trade?

Google “fair trade products” and you’ll be offered up hundreds of websites selling everything from food and wine, to coffee and tea, to apparel, jewelry and cotton. So the question arises: how do you tell if you’re really buying fair trade or not?

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Fair trade or not fair trade?

The answer seems simple enough: the business should belong to a fair trade organization and be able to display a fair trade symbol of that organization on their products and/or website. Okay, but you there are a plethora of such organizations and logos. Confusing? A little. It’s a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack except there are hundreds of needles, and you don’t know if one will actually do what you want.

How do you even know what a given claim of “fair trade” means? Does it for example just apply to the raw materials used in a product (the cotton in clothing), or every step of the process (the entire clothing manufacturing process)? Contrasting with organic food production which has legally enforceable international standards, fair trade production does not.

So what should you look for next time you’re shopping online or in a store? The following’s a brief rundown of the most important fair trade certifiers and organizations and what their logo means to you, the consumer.

FLO, the international Fair Trade Labelling Organization

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To myself personally (big coffee drinker; someone who likes hanging out in cafes drinking mocaccino while writing articles about topics such as fair trade) this is the most instantly recognizable. Of course recognition doesn’t imply comprehension. I naively thought it was solely for coffee. Tea perhaps. It’s not. FLO is an international umbrella organization made up of different labelling initiatives from 21 countries and covers a wide range of products including coffee, coco, tea, spices, fruit, and rice and even sports balls!

The distinctive blue and green logo was created in 2002 to replace a variety of different logos from member organizations. It’s the coffee connection which has probably made it the most recognized global fair trade standards brand, but what does it mean?

Essentially FLO develops internationally recognized fair trade standards. FLOCERT (their independent certifier) then check to make sure these standards are being met and that producers are treated and paid fairly. These standards apply not only to producers, but also to exporters, importers and licensees.

IMO (Institute for Marketecology)

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Like FLO, IMO (don’t you love acronyms?) is an international organization which develops standards and provides independent certification and verification (through its Fair for Life brand). IMO began life by developing organics standards for sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and the gathering of wild plant materials. Fair trade seemed a natural progression and in 2006 IMO released as a more holistic, integrated approach to fair trade and an alternative to FLO’s standards.

Today IMO works across a wide range of industries to guarantee that in every stage of the production process human rights are protected, producers are paid a fair price and that environmental stands are upheld. IMO operates in 90 countries.

The Fair Trade Federation (FTF)

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You’ll see many artisan handicrafts and clothing carry the FTF symbol. This organization works a little differently. According to the website its purpose is “to support farmers and artisans in developing countries through the practice of fair trade.” FTF promotes what is termed “360° fair trade.”

What this means essentially is that along with fair wages, safe working conditions and environmental responsibility, there’s a drive to empower people in third world countries. It’s the old adage of give a man a fish, versus teach him to fish. So initiatives exist to not simply trade fairly, but to think long term and provide assistance to grow third world businesses and create long term viable commercial partnerships.

Some examples unique to FTF are:

  • Advance payment to suppliers
  • New product development
  • Problem solving together (if issues arise)
  • Realistic time, work and delivery expectations

Unique Batik is a proud member of the Fair Trade Federation, partnering with artisans in Guatemala, Ghana, Thailand and Pakistan.

There are also other standards and certification organizations such as The World Fair Trade Organization and Fair Trade USA which also provide consumers with certainty around fair trade purchasing.

The main thing you can do if you’re unsure about a business (aside from checking for accreditation logos) is to ask questions. Think about it. If you’re running a businesses that operates in a fair trade environment, (whether it’s a vast online store or tiny stall in a farmers market) you’ll be proud and want to talk about it. You’ll have plenty of information available for customers. A key philosophical part of fair trade is trust in people. So talk to people, find out about what they do and who they are and go with your gut instinct.


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Principles of Fair Trade: Capacity Building

We have all heard the old adage “give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” Perhaps a better adage for the world of fair trade would be “buy fish from a November 2014 blog1 man for a fair price, he eats for a year; show him how to craft a better net, he eats for a lifetime.” Possibly not as catchy…but it’s a good illustration of one of the important principles of fair trade — capacity building.

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