Is it Fair Trade?
These days I see Fair-Trade certification logo on a lot on packaging. As a consumer I immediately have a warm and fuzzy feeling about a company that cares about its practices and its sourcing. What would a brand owner who does her own sourcing say?
Let’s ask her.
Hello, I am Kate and I am the founder of Katari Beauty. I source my own ingredients because I trust no one and no certification is enough for me to give you the information you can only get when you see it for yourself.
I was asked before if Katari is Fair Trade certified and I said no. Not because I do not support the concept but because I believe that impact is more meaningful when it is direct. For some companies having this certification makes total sense, as they are not traveling around the globe scouting villages and working with artisans. They buy from suppliers. I do not buy from suppliers. I buy direct. What does it mean? And is it Fair Trade?
I have my own definition of Fair Trade.
When I was looking for the best in flower waters, (rose water, for instance), I searched high and low, on streets, local souks, artisan markets, through word of mouth, simply driving the roads and stopping by road side stalls in the villages famous for making rose water, taking down info, talking, discussing prices, and buying samples.
When you do not bargain with a vendor at a market, does it mean you paid them a fair price? I think so. They name the price. I pay it. I call it fair.
I have no idea what organizations who support fair trade really do, but do they do anything specifically to support artisans that I work with? Unlikely. You know what supports my artisans? My orders. SUSTAINABLE earnings. Earnings that grow from the orders I place because you support me and trust me to buy Katari products.
We do get into discussions about inflation in Tunisia or prices of utilities in Egypt and how they affect cost of living and subsequent adjustments to costs and ultimately the price of products I buy. It is an open conversation. I welcome it, because I cannot have products without artisans. Artisans cannot create if they are strapped for cash and cannot function.
It is a symbiotic relationship and one of a direct nature. I chose to go to direct sourcing because I wanted to pay the full price directly to the artisan, bypassing a distributor, who can bargain with them and cut profits for artisans to below the level of sustainable earnings.
Another reason I wanted to source products directly is because then I can tell you the entire story of the product or ingredient. When you read articles about a certain product and you do not know anything about how it is made, you can nod and think yep, this is how it is made. And website after website, restates the same facts, until you go to the field yourself and realize that it is not in fact how it works. It is more complex, more involved, or sometimes just not accurate.
There is nothing easy about doing your own sourcing. You are subject to enormous amount of work and variables. Let me just list a few:
- Traveling far to remote places where ingredients can be sourced
- Finding a trusted source
- Doing product comparisons and testing
- Narrowing down the best one:
- Learning from the maker about the process
- Going to their village, field, etc to see the process for yourself
- Liking or disliking what you saw (if you did not like it, you go back up and start from scratch)
- If you liked it, looking at prices, volumes, ability to increase volume, how long does it take to make, and a bunch of other variables that will make it feasible or not feasible to work with this artisan
- And then the fun part – personal relationships. Sometimes it just does not work, because a lot of people (artisans), entire communities have been taken advantage of previously and they do not trust you or do not trust you completely. You can earn their trust, but sometimes it is just not working because you are used to doing things one way and they are doing it another way and you cannot find a way to work well together to accomplish a common mission – sustainable earnings for the artisan and delivering ever-growing supply of their product to the market allowing them to grow.
- And for last – the super fun part – logistics. I am going to skip the details of duties and tariffs and a total nightmare of figuring out international logistics, complex international relationships between countries and hoops you have to jump though to get products to you. I will write a separate article about international logistics for a small business. That will be more like a 3-volume War and Peace, where War part took 2.5 volumes. Stay tuned for this one.
So why do I do it when I can get a Fair Trade certification, buy from a reputable supplier and spare myself agony, stress, expense and aggravation of doing it all myself?
My mission is to bring pure, timeless and elemental beauty staples from Mediterranean artisans. I had to find them for myself. No one can find them for me and tell the story of how each is made, who are the people behind the process, how they live and what motivates them to make most incredible ingredients for countless generations. When you fall in love the people, the process no matter how stressful, becomes a part of the beautiful story that I want you all to know.
So, what is Fair Trade?