The Artisan Co-operative Family

To encourage a group of artisans to band together while inspiring them to strive toward a common goal is something that requires both leadership and passion. Francisca Rosa Martins, otherwise known as Chica Rosa is a larger-than-life presence and has a tremendous energy to encourage women in her community to raise up their livelihood through work in handicrafts. We wanted to get her perspective on life and work in the cooperative.

ES: Hi Chica, when did you start working as an artisan?

Chica Rosa: I started in 2004

ES: When we started collaborating back then in 2004 we never imagined that these bags would end up all over the world. It still amazes us. How does that make you and the other artisans feel?

Chica: Well, first off it makes me sure to be careful to the details. It is exciting that these products are sold outside of the country. I feel that it's difficult to produce each item but I feel accomplished when I see the result of my work. To see the transformation not only of the material in a product so beautiful but also to see the ability of the women in this's fantastic! In this partnership the difficulties become insignificant compared to the great satisfaction that I feel. The result of our work is that we have created this great family.

ES: What has changed since you joined the project?

Chica: The income from the production has improved our lives, it's made many friends to feel happier than before. My life has changed thanks to the income that I have with this work. We produce as a group and I love it. We are a group! We learn from each other, sometimes we are students and sometimes we are teachers.

ES: What have you been able to do for your family recently?

Chica: I bought clothing for the kids and we made a trip together to have a good time. My family and I are always together. We have had the opportunity to travel, buy gifts. On one occasion, I traveled with some artisans. That was fantastic too.

ES: Anything else?

Chica: This partnership makes me very happy.

ES: Us too.

Fair Trade In Japan: Love & Sense

Fair trade fashion is a relatively small but growing market segment in North America and Europe. But what is the situation of fair trade fashion in other markets? Here in the West we rarely hear about the market for fair trade products in Japan.

Today we're interviewing our friend, Tamae Takatsu to find out how things are developing there. Tamae manages a series of pop up retail shops called Love & Sense and also has experience serving on the board of OXFAM in Japan. She has been promoting and advocating for fair trade for over 10 years.

Tamae Takatsu, Fair Trade Advocate in Japan

Tamae Takatsu, CEO of Fukuichi Co.,Ltd.

Escama: Hello Tamae! You have a unique approach to selling fair trade products, you're selling in Hankyu department store and to some of the most exclusive department stores in Japan. How do you do it? It would be difficult to pitch a fair trade themed pop up shop to Neiman Marcus, is Japan completely different?

Tamae: This is my own approach. Fair trade products in Japan are generally not positioned as high-end, or luxury items. I decided to take the 'path of most resistance'.

Escama Studio bags are available at Takashimaya

An early Love & Sense pop up shop in Takashimaya

Escama: The 'path of most resistance'? I like that! What exactly do you mean?

Tamae: More than 10 years ago, I was involved in establishing OXFAM Japan. I had the notion that the organization should retail fair trade products because I knew that OXFAM UK included product retailing among their activities. It turned out that it was difficult to do in Japan with some problems including the quality of the products. In those days, I gave up the idea to be involved in fair-trade, and ultimately I ended up running the shops by myself. I started to plan how to target a luxury market, an affluent clientele with high quality, high style products. That is what I mean by the path of most resistance.  

Escama: But how did you follow the path of most resistance and actually end up in Takashimaya, Isetan, and Hankyu department stores? That's impressive.

Escama Bags In Isetan Department Store

Ground floor pop up shop at Isetan, the most popular store in Japan.

Tamae: It took many years, it didn't happen overnight. Early in my career, in the early 1990s, I had my own marketing company and my clients were department stores. I advised them with matters concerning merchandising, marketing and promotions. So I had connections with decision makers and I understood the culture of department stores. This was important but it was not the only factor.

Escama: What was your first exposure to fair trade and how did you start your first pop up?

Tamae: I became exposed to fair trade in 1998 and started to research artisan-made products on my own. I contacted the company People Tree and participated in their fair trade study tour to India in 2000. I gradually developed the theme for the store, (Love & Sense), started identifying products and made contacts with artisan groups. Then I arranged meetings with decision makers in department stores to convince them that fair trade was something that must be done. I told them that fair trade is necessary for other parts of the world. If we have marketing influence then we need to work with poor countries to increase fair trade.

Escama and Tamae in Sankei newspaper


National newspaper Sankei with circulation of 500,000 readers, covered the retail store Love & Sense, Tamae's business Fukuichi Co.,Ltd. and the fair trade movement for five straight days.

Escama: Did you convince them?

Tamae: Back then no. It wasn't time. But sometimes opportunities come by themselves. In 2006 the head of LOFT department store asked me if I knew anyone who could make a pop up shop in his store. I thought about it and decided 'I can do it'! I didn't have any experience doing a retail store. It was a disaster! No sales. The only sale was when my assistant bought a bar of chocolate. But the display was beautiful and we took lots of photos. Not long after that, a friend introduced Love & Sense to Omotesando Hills shopping center. It is one of the most elite shopping destinations in Tokyo. (Customers arrive there in Rolls Royce with chauffeurs, that kind of thing). It was a miracle! Our pop up shop was a hit in one of the best places in Tokyo. Because Omotesando Hills shopping center is so highly regarded, it opened the door for Love & Sense. Ever since then we have opportunities for pop up shops in department stores all over.

Escama: I love to hear stories like this! So for 10 years you have sold fair trade to the most affluent market segment in Japan. Do you have a feeling for how this has impacted Japanese views towards fair trade? 

Tamae: In Japan, the biggest impact comes from famous shopping areas, never from the bazaars. Japanese people are insular and don't think about the outside world. So when famous department stores like Takashimaya, Isetan, or Mitsukoshi create promotions themed "I Love The Earth," "Global Green Campaign," it helps raise awareness from the top down.

10 Years ago I created the company Love & Sense to help promote fair trade in Japan. In 2006 we conducted a market research survey with 1,000 respondents and asked questions relating to fair trade awareness. Only 1% of people had any concept of fair trade, only 3% had heard the word. In 2015, according to the survey conducted by another organization, 50% of respondents had heard the word 'fair trade' and about 30% knew some of the concepts. Awareness of fair trade is becoming known in Japan through mass media. I have been doing media outreach for about 10 years and there's a growing interest in fair trade among Japanese people. Escama Studio metal tote bag in Japan

 Media outreach is another key to Tamae's success.

Escama: What's next for Love & Sense?

Tamae: Big things are happening in May 2016. A fair trade 'Ethical Week' promotion in Hankyu Department Store, the most popular department store in Osaka will run through May 10. The location of the promotion will be in the highest traffic area of the store and there will be many other smaller fair trade pop up shops, each with their own unique theme.

Escama: For more information about Hankyu, visit the link >> 

Hanyu Department Store

A Fair Trade Business: An Artisan's Perspective

With politics in utter chaos and so much bad news coming from Brazil we thought that it's important to underscore the fact that ordinary people in Brazil are extraordinarily resilient and still manage to survive and thrive.

Escama Studio has been working in Brazil with 65 artisans since 2004. Over that time we've made 200,000 bags and our products sell in 30 countries worldwide. From our perspective, this venture has been a great success: it's sustained us and we're proud of what we've accomplished. But we wanted to hear from the artisans what their experience has been over the past 12 years.

So today we interviewed one of the artisans, Angela Bezerra

Ethical Fashion from Escama Studio
ES: Hello Angela, when did you start working as an artisan making bags?
ANGELA: I started 10 years ago, in 2006.
ES: What feelings do you have when you make all of these items with your own hands?
ANGELA: I feel really good. I feel like I am important and useful and that I'm still active in the labor market at the age of 62. It's the kind of work that brings me well being. I'm always willing and I feel encouraged.
ES: How is the experience of working with a group of other women?
ANGELA: The contact with this group of women sharpens my creativity. I feel flattered when we deliver the finished pieces, they're very beautiful.
ES: We are selling to people all over the world, how does that make you feel?
ANGELA: To see the recycled material turn into a work of art created by my hands, appreciated by customers worldwide is something that brings me a lot of responsibility, but this doesn't translate into difficulties. I know that the reputation of our work comes down to commitment and dedication. That's what makes me infinitely responsible.
ES: What has changed since you joined this project?
ANGELA: The changes are numerous beyond just the financial aspects. It makes me feel good to talk about what I do, to my family, friends and community. I love to tell them that we export to the world and that we are connected with the current market. We are many women who help each other. We are an example in our community of strong and important women.
ES: What have you done or bought for your family recently?
ANGELA: I could buy some things for the home but the most important thing is to assist my husband and to give gifts to my children and grandchildren. It makes me feel very good about myself.
ES: Have you had a moment lately when you thought "I'm Really Happy"?
ANGELA: I love what I do every day!


The Human Cost of Fast Fashion -- TRUECOSTMOVIE.COM

Consumers are becoming more aware of the true cost of fast fashion. Hopefully this film will bring this topic to the attention of more people. Behind the beautiful  photography of many fashion brands is often a supply chain that relies on factories with deplorable working conditions. The disconnect between the brand image and the heart breaking reality in overseas factories is the subject of the film The True Cost. See it if you can!

Escama Studio -- Joking around with Francisca

Staging a video without laughing is not easy. Here is an out-take from a video that we shot with Francisca's group. It's in Portuguese but laughter with friends is a language that we can all understand.

Fair Trade Halloween

October is Fair Trade Month, it's a great time to learn how YOU (and me and everybody) can make the world a better place just by making better choices in the way that we buy things. Throughout the month of October Escama Studio will post some easily digestible tidbits about Fair Trade so that we can all learn together.

So let's start with some treats. Halloween is coming up. If you're stocking up for trick-or-treaters you can make a huge impact by buying Fair Trade chocolate. Our friends at Fair Trade Winds have 5 excellent reasons why it's much better to buy Fair Trade chocolate!

Looking for Fair Trade Treats for Halloween? Here are a few ideas. If you know of any other Fair Trade chocolates, candies or snacks suitable for trick-or-treaters please send them our way!

Equal Exchange makes 'Mini's' in Milk and Dark Chocolate



Clif Kid Z Bar is widely available at grocery outlets or Amazon

Newman's Own is widely available with chocolates, licorice and other treats

Divine Dark Chocolate

Glee Gum and Glee Pops are individually packaged for Halloween


Mama Ganache has organic Fair Trade chocolate skulls & trick or treat packs


We're scouting for more fair trade treats for Halloween. If you have any other ideas for individually packaged, cost effective Halloween treats we'd love to get your feedback! We are compiling a Pinterest board for Fair Trade Halloween and would love to show more treats. Thanks!

Brazilian - San Francisco Company Makes Fashion and Profit From Trash

Brasília, San Francisco / June 26

Against the contrasting backdrop of social unrest and glitz at the World Cup in Brazil this month, 65 women have taken a cottage industry and turned it into an international business, creating employment that will last longer and be more sustainable than the World Cup final on July 13th.

The artisans from underprivileged communities outside of the nation's capital, Brasília, have repurposed a traditional craft born of scarcity -- crocheting recycled pop-tops -- to create fashion purses and accessories that sell to the likes of MoMA in NYC, The Royal Academy in London and Takashimaya Department Store in Japan. The artisans have been working in partnership with Escama Studio -- a San Francisco-based design group -- since 2004. Escama Studio supplies award-winning design, capacity building and marketing assistance, and has made the products available in over 30 countries worldwide. The hand-crafted products have been featured in international magazines like Elle, InStyle, and Oprah Magazine and won the IHDA Independent Handbag Designer Award for Best Green Handbag. 

Escama Studio Founder, Andy Krumholz explains: "From the beginning, we knew that we wanted to refine this stunning art form and adapt it for an international audience. And luckily along the way we were able to build a business that also recognizes the work of the artisans and elevates the living standards of their families. It's been a win-win for everyone". With the success of the venture, the initial group of 12 artisans in 2004 has grown to now 65 women and men. Demand is strong and shipments leave Brazil every two weeks providing a steady flow of income at a fair living wage for the artisans.  





 More Backgound:


  • Escama Studio is a social enterpise based in California and Brazil. The mission is to create innovative on–trend fashion accessories while promoting sustainable development through trade.
  • All of the products are handmade using 100% post-consumer recycled aluminum pop tops that have been sourced locally from recycling centers in neighboring communities.
  • To achieve their unique aesthetic, the Escama Studio team adapted traditional Brazilian crochet work and imbued the handmade crafts with a modern design sense and new materials. With designs originating from both San Francisco and Brazil, the pop top bags are handmade in Brazil by artisan groups who are not just contract manufacturers, but an integral part of Escama Studio.
  • Each product comes with a hangtag that bears the signature of the artist who made it. The artist's photos and bio's can be found on the web.
  • Escama Studio is a member of the Fair Trade Federation, the trade association that strengthens and promotes North American organizations fully committed to fair trade.