With winter approaching in Kathmandu, I wanted to buy some nice Nepali handicrafts to brave the cold in style: yak wool slippers and scarves, knitted sweaters, and more. I recently got the chance to visit fair trade shops like Kumbeshwar Technical School (KTS) and Sana Hastakala. After seeing firsthand the positive impacts of their work, I was more than willing to pay a little more for good quality products that support hardworking marginalized people. It feels great to buy a product with a story, and to know that my purchase is making a small difference.

Have you ever bought something and wondered where it came from, who made it, how they are treated, and if the profits ever make it to the producers? Fair trade certified organizations ensure that their employees are given opportunities, treated well and given a proper salary for their work. They focus on employing marginalized people, upholding gender equity and non-discrimination, and creating safe and healthy work environments free of child labour. In a country like Nepal which is one of the poorest, fair trade has transformed many lives since the first fair trade organization began here in 1993, Fair Trade Group Nepal (FTG-N).

As an International Development student at the University of Waterloo, I have learned about fair trade in school and through organizations like Ten Thousand Villages, which sell handicrafts from around the world. But here in Kathmandu, it has been incredible to see the other end of the chain and personally meet women producers who benefit from fair trade practices. For example, I met a woman named Soma from KTS who has had many struggles in her life. As a child she dreamed of becoming a lawyer, but her parents did not allow her to go to school. When she grew up, she barely got by selling vegetables on the street, but when she came to KTS, they provided her free education as well as training in carpet weaving. With her new practical skills, she was able to get a job at KTS and has worked there over 20 years. She said with tears that her life is so much better now. It’s people like Soma that are supported when we buy fair trade products!

For tourists, expats, and local Nepalis, I highly recommend visiting local fair trade businesses in Kathmandu.