By. M.J. Smith
It is increasingly obvious to most that there are major changes going on in the world today.Â In almost any facet you can imagine – the government, the economy, the environment, the educational system, the business world – the effects are being felt. Change can be disconcerting for some, but others thrive on it, and see this time as an opportunity to improve life for themselves and others. This passion connects like-minded individuals to fight for a common cause, a greater good.
As a medical marijuana activist, I have seen the power that can come from taking advantage of this opportunity. Over the course of the last year, it seems as if we have made more progress in this movement than over the last decade. Looking at the bigger picture, I see similar progress being made in many other movements. Maybe itâ€™s just that we care more now, that we are not so wrapped up in the artificial things we have come to rely on. Maybe itâ€™s just that we are getting smarter, by learning from our previous mistakes and finally stepping up to do something about it. Whatever it is, those of us embracing change are using this momentum to push our causes to the next level and build thriving businesses out of them in a whole new way.
Exotic World Gifts, a Fair Trade import company whoâ€™s founders live in Del Mar, CA, is a shining example of exactly that kind of business. Their focus is on promoting a concept known as socially responsible purchasing â€“ doing good by shopping good. They sell a wide variety of unique items including home dÃ©cor, jewelry, fashion accessories, art and gifts. What sets them apart from other importers is that a larger portion of your purchase goes directly to providing artisans in developing countries with a sustainable income, empowering them to provide for their families and get out of disadvantaged situations.
They now carry over 600 products, many of them made by women, from fifteen different countries. As a member of the Fair Trade Federation and Green America, they subscribe to the same core value of these renowned organizations: respect for people, their culture and the planet. Purchases of fair trade gifts help support the global economic system and contribute towards the eradication of global poverty. Each item you purchase comes with a touching story about the artisan, their product and their background, so purchasers know they are connecting to a greater good, hence creating â€œThe Circle of Goodâ€.
Fair Trade Gifts Created by Artisans from Remote
Areas of the World
Location-Chiang Mai, Thailand
Perhaps the most infamous product made available by Exotic World Gifts is their elephant art, and yes, the elephant is the one who does the painting. If you need further proof, check out their You Tube video â€“ Original Elephant Painting, which has gotten over 10 million views to date. Your purchase of elephant art directly contributes to supporting the Asian elephants, which are rapidly becoming extinct and are in need of our help now.Â Purchasing these authentic elephant paintings is one part of the solution and helps pay for food, medical care and environmental programs.
From the Himalayan mountain region of India, these women are victims of child marriage, but now these brave and talented women are earning a living making jewelry and ornaments. They receive training in weaving, cutting, and tailoring. Their work reflects the ethnic art of their region. They use dry tree resins and pine, and source local gems, stones, and metals. Tree resins are a renewable resource, and an excellent alternative to wood. They polish the resins to create beads of different sizes and shapes.
Cana Flecha Bracelets
Zenu Indians of Colombia
These beautiful bracelets are hand-crafted with braided strips of cana flecha, a durable palm used by ancestors for centuries. This tribe is loyal to their cultural legacy, but were stripped of their riches, lands and possessions by colonial settlers. Using their ancestorsâ€™ Pre-Columbian weaving techniques, they now create jewelry with a contemporary design.
Thai Cloth Bags
Location-Hmong Tribe, Thailand
Hmong Tribal Women
From northern Thailand, these women have a great sense of humor, and make wonderful purses in a variety of materials from cotton to silk, with hand stitching and recycled materials. No two bags are exactly alike.
Thai Cotton Scarves
Local Artisan Group
A talented artisan group from northwestern Thailand, this â€œGreenâ€ Cooperative uses locally grown cotton and produces all natural dyes. These scarves are 100% cotton and are hand woven in the local rural community, where the land is undependable and they cannot rely on two seasons of good crops. Scarves give them the means to have sustainable income and to continue to work in the village. Fair trade wages keep them out of poverty.
Hand Carved Bowls
Local Artisan Group
These hand carved bowls and home accessories are made of bamboo, coconut, and cinnamon stick inlaid one-by-one onto mango wood or mahogany. They have a beautiful smooth finish, are food safe, work cool or warm, and are eco-friendly. From â€œsomewhere in the middle of a rice paddyâ€ in Bali, these bowls are made by highly talented artisans from sustainable natural resources for fair trade wages, providing an ongoing means of income for food, education, and basic needs.Â The purchase of these home dÃ©cor items allows them to stay in their villages with their families instead of traveling to the cities for income.
One of the best things about working with NUG Magazine is getting to meet so many wonderful, inspiring people in our community. On a rainy Saturday morning in March, the ladies of NUG headed to Ocean Beach Wellness Center to meet Liz Allen & Mark Fangue, the founders of Exotic World Gifts, and observe their training session with the ladies of the collective. Exotic World Gifts are now sold at this location, as well as Green Earth Herbal Collective in Pacific Beach.
Not only have these collectives partnered with this beneficial organization, they have reached out to many local artisans as well to sell their wares, creating a dual-use environment that benefits their members, the local economy, and the global economy. You will find an interesting array of eco-friendly and environmentally responsible merchandise like Dr. Bronnerâ€™s Magic Soap, Manitoba Harvest hemp oils, local artist Midoriâ€™s recycled jewelry and art products, and much more. Thanks to Lynn and the ladies of OB Wellness for having us!Â A fun and educational time was had by all, and we were happy to take part in â€œThe Circle of Good,â€ leaving with a few new gifts of our own.
Listening to Liz & Mark tell the story behind each of their products, it was easy to see that they have a passion for what they are doing – traveling the world, experiencing new cultures and sharing it with others.Â At the same time, they are able to help improve the quality of life for the artisans they meet. In 2007, Liz & Mark left their corporate jobs to pursue their vision of helping others and making a difference in the world. They have put their many years of business experience to good use, connecting people all over the world and introducing them to the power of doing good. Locally, along with bringing â€œCompassion Shoppingâ€ to the San Diego community, they give seminars on â€œLiving What You Loveâ€ to inspire others to follow their passions too.
NUG: Thank you both for taking the time to answer a few questions for our readers. How did you get started traveling the world and discovering these unique cultures and products?
L&M: Both with tender hearts and a passion to make the world a better place, the creation of Exotic World Gifts really started by asking ourselves two challenging questions, â€œWhat do we want and how do we want to feel?â€Â While traveling in Belize on vacation, we met wonderful women in a very remote and impoverished area trying to sell their beautiful handcrafts.Â This was our first â€œah-haâ€ moment when we looked at each other and said, â€œWe can help these woman by opening up distribution to the global market.â€Â Â As firm believers in the principles of Fair Trade, this was the start of stepping away from the corporate world and starting a company based on the Triple Bottom Line â€“ people, planet, and reinvesting profits to do good.
NUG: What has been your favorite exotic location so far? What was that experience like?
L&M: We have had eye-opening and heart-warming experiences in every developing country, but would have to say Kenya for its rich culture, warm and wonderful people, and magnificent safaris.Â There is something magical and life changing in Kenya.
NUG: Your You Tube video was quite a sensation, receiving over 10 million views. How did this experience affect you and your business?
L&M: Once we were in alignment with what we were supposed to be doing, empowering artisans with sustainable income through Exotic World Gifts, amazing things have happened.Â The Original Elephant Painting video going viral drew immediate attention to our newly started business.Â National Geographic, Animal Planet, The Oprah Show producers, national news channels, Vogue magazine and others contacted us.Â In fact, you can watch the â€œWild on Tapeâ€ National Geographic show they asked us to film by going to www.ExoticWorldGifts.com.
NUG: You mentioned you just got back from a trip to Costa Rica. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
L&M: We went to Costa Rica to work with indigenous artisans and put together a â€œTravel with a Purposeâ€ trip filled with Fair Trade learning experiences, humanitarian volunteer activities and adventure.
NUG: Whatâ€™s next on your itinerary?
L&M: Due to many challenges in Costa Rica for a â€œTravel with a Purposeâ€ group trip, we have moved the location to Guatemala, where we will give a rare insight into the culture of Guatemala and their authentic artistry, learn about the importance of fair trade and eco-travel, visit an ancient Maya site, and tour the charming city of Antigua Guatemala as well as the beautiful and diverse lakeside villages surrounding Lake Atitlan.
NUG: Traveling to third-world countries can be intimidating for most people. What tips can you share for someone who may want to follow in your footsteps?
L&M: Like traveling anywhere, you need to be smart with your intuitions and wise with how you carry yourself and money.Â Look like you have been there before, research ahead of time about the cultural doâ€™s & donâ€™ts and please donâ€™t act like a â€œloud ugly American touristâ€!Â In many developing countries there are very nice accommodations available, English speaking people and wonderful food.
NUG: Can you explain more about â€œThe Circle of Goodâ€ and how one country or person can affect change in another?
L&M: Itâ€™s amazing how, for example, a woman in Cambodia whoâ€™s leg was blown off by a landmine, created a beautiful purse â€“ Exotic World Gifts purchased it for cash â€“ a retail store in San Diego sells the purse with its story â€“ profit proceeds are used to build two schools in Malawi, Africa.Â Essentially, a disadvantaged artisan in Cambodia helped orphaned children in Africa get education.Â That is a beautiful â€œCircle of Goodâ€ of a global proportion.
NUG: What advice can you give to someone else who wants to live their passion?
L&M: Authentically answer the questions, â€œWhat do I want and how do I want to feel?â€Â This may take months, but be really honest with yourself and you will feel alignment and free, as if you won a personal lottery!Â Â It does not matter what others think is right for you, only you know the gifts you have to offer the world.
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