Designing Change: Fair Trade Principles Inspire Innovative Products by Madeline Kreider Carlson

How do mission-driven businesses integrate principles and design? For members of the Fair Trade Federation (FTF), a commitment to the nine Principles of Fair Trade not only provides the ethical foundation for their business practices, but inspires the design of products as well. Fair Trade Federation members are businesses based in the U.S. or Canada who engage in long-term trading relationships with artisans and farmers in developing countries. Their business models create sustainable, positive change by:

•    Creating Opportunities for Marginalized Producers
•    Developing Transparent Relationships
•    Building Capacity
•    Promoting Fair Trade
•    Paying Promptly and Fairly
•    Supporting Empowering Working Conditions
•    Ensuring Children’s Rights
•    Cultivating Environmental Stewardship
•    Respecting Cultural Identity

FTF members keep artisans at the heart of everything they do—including the design process. Here’s a closer look at a few of the Fair Trade Principles, and how FTF members translate their ethics into design innovation:



Mata Traders

Create Opportunities for Marginalized Producers. Fair trade is a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development, and FTF members strive to create economic opportunities where the need is greatest. Mata Traders’ product designs are created by a team of craftswomen skilled at machine sewing and hand embroidery. In their community, social pressure makes jobs for women hard to find. For most of them, working for the Mata Traders cooperative is the first time they have ever been employed outside their home.






Global Goods Partners

Cultivate environmental stewardship. For producers in disadvantaged communities, using recycled materials is not just environmentally friendly design – it’s also a way of creating opportunity with very limited resources. Global Goods Partners’ duffle bag for men is stylish and durable, and it’s made from recycled rice bags!



Andean Collection

Build Capacity. FTF members invest in building local capacity in artisan communities, supporting artisans to develop skills that allow them to independently grow their businesses. For fashion-forward FTF member Andean Collection, building capacity means valuing the input of two design teams: one in Otavalo, Ecuador, and one in New York City. Several times each year, Andean Collection’s New York team travels to Ecuador to engage in design collaboration with artisans based on mutual respect. Both design teams thrive on the chance to share their sources of inspiration—the urban metropolis and the rural countryside. Read more about Andean Collection’s collaborative design process in the feature article in FTF’s Holiday Gift Guide.



Respect Cultural Identity. In a world of globalization and mass production, sometimes the most innovative designs come from looking to the past. Jamtown’s line of handcrafted musical instruments brings indigenous designs to new markets— allowing families that have produced instruments for generations to preserve their skill and cultural heritage.


For more about how FTF members put the Principles into practice, visit

ABOUT: Madeline Kreider Carlson is the Membership and Programs Manager at the Fair Trade Federation, the trade association that strengthens and promotes North American organizations fully committed to Fair Trade. Before joining FTF, Madeline completed a year-long independent study of the art and socio-economic significance of crafts and women’s craft organizations, funded by a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Working with fair trade organizations in the U.S., Guatemala, Nicaragua, Egypt, Uganda, Indonesia and Mongolia, Madeline gained an understanding of the challenges craftswomen face as well as the promise that lies in communities of artisans. A craftswoman herself, she has studied bronze sculpture, backstrap weaving, basketry, embroidery, felt-craft and batik. Find FTF members exhibiting at NYIGF at Various Fair Trade Federation members participate in the NYIGF specifically in the Sustainability display.

One Response to Designing Change: Fair Trade Principles Inspire Innovative Products by Madeline Kreider Carlson

  • Modestus says:


    I agree that innovation is the way forward and the survival strategy for artisans.

    BTW, recently I have developed an innovative range of crafts (up-cycled + recycled) integrating the war widows in Sri Lanka. Will any member/s of the FTF be interested?

    Like to hear from any who would like to distribute them in North America.

    Modestus Karunaratne
    Ethical Inspirations

Friend me on FacebookFollow me on Twitter