The historic exploitation of underpaid weavers by unscrupulous middlemen means that this timeless skill is under threat. The younger generation, quite understandably, have been searching for alternative ways to make a living. This has led to the community, where we work in Ecuador, having some of the highest rates of migration in the country, with 60% of children having at least one parent who now lives overseas. The destruction of family and community life has led to high rates of alcoholism, double the national rate of youth suicides and teen pregnancies are the norm.
The art of creating Panama hats weaves into the fabric of daily life for Andean mountain communities. Women weave everywhere – on the bus, walking to the market, on their way to the fields. It is so intrinsic to Ecuadorian day-to-day life that in 2012 UNESCO declared the art of weaving a Panama hat was on its Intangible Cultural Heritage* list.
Weaving a hat from paja toquilla represents the cultural heritage of an entire community. There is a campaign in Ecuador to rename the Panama hat the ‘Ecuador hat’. This movement has our full support.
*Intangible Cultural Heritage is a term used for knowledge, traditions and rituals that permeate the everyday life of a particular community. This heritage forms an intrinsic part of its identity and culture, passing from generation to generation.
WHO WE WORK WITH
Yet this timeless skill is under threat because of the continued exploitation of underpaid weavers by unscrupulous intermediaries. Quite understandably, the younger generation has been searching for alternative ways to make a living. Consequently, there is a migration problem in the Ecuadorian community where we work, with 60% of children having at least one parent who lives overseas. The destruction of family and community life has caused other socioeconomic problems such as alcoholism, youth suicides and teen pregnancies.
Most Panama hats pass through the hands of up to seven different intermediaries. These middlemen are called perros (or dogs) because of their unscrupulous purchasing practices. However, Fedorahatt works directly with artisans through every step of the process – weaving, dyeing, blocking and finishing. We ensure that as much of the final value as possible remains in the hands of the artisans themselves, not with intermediaries!
THE NEW SUPPLY CHAIN
Fashion brands largely ignore part-time and homeworkers (who comprise the informal economy) in their assessments, disclosure and reporting. Most corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives have only a minor positive impact on the lowest levels of the supply chain. In contrast, throughout the last decade, Fedorahatt has developed, co-developed and implemented several practices that positively affect working conditions at the lowest levels of the supply chain.
We continue to innovate and have begun work on a new generation of standards in collaborations with:
• EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) Easy • Eco-mapping creator Heinz Werner Engel
These adhere to the same bottom-up approach we have trialled during the past decade. Building on our previous work together, we are trialling visual tools rather than writing. These include pictures, emoticons and symbols so they are fully inclusive and accessible for our artisan groups. These tools will enable them to assess, map, generate feedback and ensure document compliance in visual and understandable forms.
The average age of our weavers is 58, so we must ensure this way of life is viable for future generations. Since our business began in 1992, we have worked tirelessly to preserve and encourage traditional hat weaving skills in Ecuador. Therefore, Fedorahatt works with weaving associations to break down the price of every style of hat. We calculate the cost of the raw materials, the dyes, the overheads, the labour and the profit margin. We pay a fair price, which is monitored through interviews to ascertain the local cost of living. The cañasta básica vital, (the Ecuadorian Government’s monthly market cost of meeting basic needs for a family of four) is also a comparator.
We provide ongoing training and investment for tangible skills such as design development, weaving skills, costing of products/overheads and health and safety, and intangible benefits such as self-esteem and human relations.
In 2009, we became the first company in the world to be Fair Trade Certified under the Sustainable Fair Trade Management System. In addition, we piloted the Fair Trade Guarantee System in 2011, becoming the first fashion brand to receive the new label. For work on the three-year EU Geo Fair Trade project, we collected more than 60 social, environmental and economic indicators. Accordingly, we used these to measure the fair trade impact of our business practices on 165 women and their families, communities and environment, tracking progress over three years.