At Wrap London we believe collaboration is key to success, and we always strive to build strong relationships with our suppliers. This season we are proud to be working with Maison Bengal, an accessories brand who are committed to developing the skills of their artisans as well as raising awareness of Fair Trade principles in their industry. We whole-heartedly support and believe in everything they stand for, and we know you will too.
We caught up with Sheenagh Day, Founder and Director of Maison Bengal to share her inspiring story and find out how it all began.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and the story behind Maison Bengal?
I lived in Bangladesh for a couple of years in the early 2000s, working for a UN-affiliated family planning and reproductive health organisation. This is when the idea of starting a Fair Trade company gradually gained strength. Poverty, and in many cases extreme poverty, was the underlying cause of so many of the issues affecting the women I worked with. In many cases poverty denied them basic human rights - access to education, nutrition, decision-making, choices and life opportunities. At the same time, I was struck by the high level of artisanal skill in weaving, macramé and basket-making I had seen while travelling around the country. Providing women with an income for these skills, very often for the first time in their lives, was the driving force in creating Maison Bengal.
What does Fair Trade mean to you?
Fair Trade means not only that we pay a fair wage for all products, but also ensuring that we and our partners comply with an array of environmental, labour and health standards. The WFTO (World Fair Trade Organisation) monitors the compliance of member organisations to their strict standards.
Fair Trade helps to build resilience among vulnerable communities in order to help them address current and future challenges. It is wonderful to be able to witness over the years the many changes in people's lives that a fair wage and regular work can bring, particularly in education, nutrition, health and housing.
We now work with approximately 5,000 artisans in Bangladesh, about 95% of whom are women and young mothers who would otherwise not have an income. Our artisans are based all over the country and are selected to receive training in handicrafts as they are amongst the most vulnerable communities. Maison Bengal now exports all over the world, and we import approximately one 40ft container of products every 5 weeks.
If Covid-19 has taught us anything it is how connected we all are, wherever we live in the world and whatever our circumstances. The time has come for us all to pay much greater attention to our choices as consumers, and to think compassionately about the people who make the products we buy.
How important is sustainability for your brand? Can you tell us more about the materials you use?
Sustainability is key to our brand. All our products are made from either jute or hogla (seagrass indigenous to Bangladesh). The raw jute is either plaited into the shape of a basket, or hand woven into a fabric from which we make our wide collection of bags. Fair Trade is fundamentally an approach to commerce that places the welfare of the original maker, and the safety of the planet at the center of the business. Social justice and solidarity are the values on which our business is based.
As well as providing a wage for workers, can you tell us a bit about some of the community projects Maison Bengal has undertaken?
Maison Bengal also funds a small out-patient clinic, and we provide special assistance to our partner NGOs in times of special need such as floods or cyclones, or of course Covid-19. Many of our producers have bought their own land on which to grow food and have accrued cash savings. We are helping to change the lives of some of the neediest families in one of the poorest countries in the world.
We adore the jute bags we have complementing our collection this season. What's next for Maison Bengal?
We are constantly sampling new products to add to our range and our now delighted to be working on a number of special collaborations with known brands.