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Meet the Maker: Just Trade

We spoke to Laura Cave, founder of Just Trade about their products available in the Kettle’s Yard shop. Click here to browse Just Trade.

Tell us about Just Trade

I set up Just Trade in 2006 to provide a route to market for a small group of artisans I had met in Lima, Peru, who were making jewellery but had nowhere to sell it. That group is now called Hope Jewellery and we are still working with them 17 years later. There are now 45 women in Lima and in two cities in the Highlands who are involved in crocheting and jewellery making. As well as Hope Jewellery, we now work with groups of artisans in Ecuador, India, Indonesia and Vietnam, which is very exciting. We have built Just Trade around the interests of the people who make our products.

Tell us more about your ways of working

What I noticed when I first travelled to Lima in 1997 to volunteer with a different jewellery project, was that the artisans didn’t have access to training in the design process. The result of this – and it happens everywhere – is that the same designs get copied over and over again and the artisans end up competing on price. There’s no way they can earn a decent wage in this way. So, I have carried out extensive workshops on the design process with most of the artisans we work with. We have visited fruit markets, museums, taken photographs of walls and railings, created pinhole cameras and much more and encouraged the artisans to take inspiration from their surroundings and their cultural heritage to design their own, completely unique products. Our approach is very much based on collaboration, always with an eye on trends in the UK market.

What inspires the designs on your products?

That depends very much on the product and the customer. We make bespoke collections for some of our customers, especially in the cultural and heritage sector, so designs could be inspired by artefacts in a current exhibition or, in one case, by the founder’s dog! The inspiration for our core ranges have come from sources as diverse as Peruvian mythology, seaweed, pre-Incan textiles, Indian temples, printing blocks and the Elizabeth Line!

Can you highlight a memorable moment since starting your brand?

There have been so many memorable moments over the last 17 years, it’s really difficult to choose just one. Probably the most unforgettable experience was being in Ecuador in 2016 when the earthquake struck. It was terrifying. I was standing, or trying to stand, in the middle of the street, watching cars rolling up and down the road, whilst buildings around me collapsed. Three of the five artisans I was working with lost their homes. It was really tragic, but made me even more determined to find markets for their products. Fair Trade is about building long-term relationships and we did everything we could to help them to get back on their feet as quickly as possible.

What is your favourite thing about creating your products?

We absolutely love working in collaboration with the artisan makers from the different groups around the world. We learn from them, they learn from us. It’s really exciting when a workshop results in a new collection, that has to be up there with my favourite things in the world.

Tell us more about the importance of sustainability at Just Trade

We built the business on the 10 Principles of Fair Trade, established by the World Fair Trade Organisation. Principle number 10 is Respect for the Environment and we have tried to embed this into all the decisions we make when planning a new product.

We have a Sourcing Policy and an Environmental Policy, which guides our decision-making when thinking about new products. Wherever possible, we source materials that have a minimal environmental impact.

In Indonesia, the artisans we work with make beads out of recycled glass and it is really exciting to be launching a new range with Kettle’s Yard. This bespoke collection, exclusive to Kettles Yard takes inspiration from Jim Ede’s extensive collection of beautiful pebbles so considerately curated and displayed in the house.

Also exclusively to Kettles Yard we have been proud to collaborate with Aura Que, founded by another Laura who works with a group of artisans from a World Fair Trade Organisation certified collective in Nepal. Together we have produced hand-knitted hats inspired by the striking self portrait of Christopher (Kit) Wood and his bold choice of knitwear. The women who make these hats are able work around their family commitments, whilst being paid fairly for meaningful work. The hand knitting process is a zero-waste generating, zero carbon-emitting process for this cosy knitwear!

In Ecuador, we work with Tagua, the seed of the Tagua Palm that grows wild in the Amazon region. It is carved and polished by the artisans, but is fully compostable, as is any of the waste generated in the production process. In Peru, most of our products are crocheted using cotton and the artisans have now replaced the polyester filling they were using to stuff the crocheted products with leftover scraps from the textile industry.

The bags we use to package our jewellery are plant-based and fully compostable. Our neighbours here in Peckham give us all their cardboard boxes for us to reuse when we send out orders and we buy our cleaning products from a refill store to minimise our use of plastic. We are constantly examining our processes to see where we can make them more sustainable, but it is an ongoing process and there will always be room for improvement.