Sapia from Colombia
Turning orange peels into whimsical ornaments and tagua nuts from the rainforest into a cruelty-free, carved ivory-like necklace — it sounds like magic, but it's all in a day's work for free trade artisans at Sapia in Bogota, Columbia.
Launched in 1995 by Ana Maria Piedrahita, a medical doctor who set out to help disadvantaged women in her hometown become skilled handicrafts workers, Sapia now provides a livelihood to almost 40 artisans, and works with close to 50 independent suppliers. Columbia has one of the greatest wealth gaps in the world, with many displaced people uprooted by civil unrest. Sapia works with these at-risks families to provide stable income and an outlook for a steadier future.
Sapia prides itself on using natural, recycled, sustainable materials, including reclaimed leather, chirilla seeds and tagua nuts, from a tree like a palm. Tagua nuts are called 'vegetable ivory' because of their similar smooth white interior. They can also be dyed in bright colors and sliced, carved, or etched for eye-popping fashion appeal. Collecting the nuts after they ripen and fall to the ground does not destroy the tree and allows Sapia to fulfill one of its fair trade missions, to sustain the environment.
Another mandate is to create sustainable employment, and Ana Maria emphasizes she wants customers to appreciate that they are not providing charity: "They are supporting the lives of people who want to work. Without fair trade we would not be where we are now."
She points to Denise, who started as the cleaning lady and is now in charge of the warehouse, with double her income only five years later. Rosa, another longtime Sapia employee, says the work there is about more than just a paycheck. "I enjoy the relationships with the people I work with — they are like my second family."