...written by Sherin
I love reading and joined a local book club late last year. I've met some lovely women, and realised that one of them, Jane, runs a freetrade jewellery company: SilverChilli. I checked out the website as soon as I found out and they seriously have some amazing stuff.
I decided it would be great to ask Jane some questions about the company and I really learnt a lot about how great free trade really is and how inspiring Silver Chilli's work is!
How did you all meet and come up with the idea?
I already knew Zoe and we were both really interested in free trade. Zoe travelled a lot and both of us came up with a lot of ideas of what we could sell freetrade. On of our ideas was peanut butter and another was fruit juices. Unfortunately, with both those products, there were alot of guidelines.
I eventually decided to write to organisations to find out about any freetrade operations and eventually got a reply back from a Mexican company. I went out there for 2 months and helped with all sort, such as marketing and customer services and it was a great experience. We went to San Fransisco for a gift show. As it rained a lot there, it gave us a great chance to get some research done.
I became friendly with Rosia, the who was in charge of graphic design, and came to realise that there was absolutely no free trade support in the country. So we set up our website, and this was before the dotcom bubble hit, which means that we were one of the first online stores. My partner, Iain, was very interested in computers and he helped us launch our website. We did have to set up our website with no stock. It was the days when it took forever to send something anyway, so when someone ordered something, we'd have it made and then sent to them.
It was actually quite hard to set it all up, as all the services were still trying to catch up with the boom of computers. In fact, we were the first dotcom website on the British Federation of Fairtrade Shops!
We definitely felt that there was a market for freetrade jewellery. When we walked around Mexico, we saw that lots of people were on the floors, with towels which had jewellery on them. These people were definitely in need and we wanted to do something about it.
Inspiriation for jewellery?
We don't have an official designer as we buy straight from silversmiths. Zoe usually does get inspiration from wherever possible.
Why should we commit to free trade products?
There are many reasons for why to commit to free trade. It is really hard for some people around the world to make a living. They have to sacrifice a lot and, sometimes, can't even afford basic medication, and this goes against Human Rights in general. These people have real skills and do need the basics in life. They don't have access to capital, which means that no one will lend to them. And if you can't borrow money, you can't get to the next step to improve your life.
What we do is we pay 50% of the order upfront to the silversmiths, so that they can afford the materials to make the product. As soon as the product has been delivered, we pay the rest to them ASAP. Some retailers wait months to get paid, and so they find it really hard to deliver the product. They can't afford the materials, which mean they can't afford to work.
What we do is also good for the environment. Our silver is 100% reclaimed silver.
We are a purely Not For Profit company. Everything we earn, we give back on terms of local projects. We have started and we sponsor a local health project. Women find it the hardest to save moeny for themselves and are always finding it difficult between paydays. The project helps women by giving smear tests and cancer screenings and we pay for the treatment. The project is also a refuge for women, especially those who are victims of domestic violence. We have a psychologist and a lawyer who are there to provide councilling and advice. Our psychologist actually used to work for the Red Cross. We also help with providing toys for special needs children.
Who is the jewellery aimed at and how would you recommend it to be worn?
We really wanted to create jewellery that is really easy to wear, as well as affordable. The jewellery is for daily wear and you can wear it for any occassion. We also wanted something that people could play and fiddle with while on the phone. We stayed away from ethnic, statement pieces and decided to stay as mainstream as possible. We want people to love what they're buying and decided to have it all really wearable. That's what we want people to think of first, with the free trade elemant being an extra added bonus.
Seriously, how inspirational is all of this?? I definitely recommend you to check our SilverChilli. The jewellery is gorgeous and it all goes to such a great cause.