Are women more ethical than men?

This question could open a can of worms, and it would certainly take far more than 1,000 words to have any reasonable discussion on this topic. For this reason, I’d like to concentrate on just one area of ethics: ethical shopping.

I made an interesting observation recently that over 90% of my customers and Facebook followers are females. Whenever I visit an Oxfam shop, most shoppers are females. Where are the males? Could it possibly be our fault, that there’s simply not enough ethically produced products that appeal to our male counterparts? Or are women simply more ethical than men?

In Australia, Etiko and Eternal Creation have a limited selection of clothing and accessories for men. There are far more choices in the UK, then again over 90% of UK population recognises Fairtrade label, compared to just over 50% in Australia (according to Fairtrade Australia). I don’t know what’s the gender split of customers for these two businesses, but they certainly have far more female products than male products. Since they’ve been in business for a long time, I think we can reasonably assume that the demand for female fair trade products are far greater than those for male fair trade products.

Maybe it’s because women spend money on clothing and accessories while men spend money on gadgets and games?

While ethical fashion and fair trade are well known, ethical gadgets are less heard of. Fairphone, the world’s first ethical smartphone, is probably the only fair trade gadget that I have heard of. The Electronics Industry Trends report, released on Wednesday by Baptist World Aid, found that 97% of companies failed to pay factory workers enough to meet their basic needs.

If our male counterparts are really concerned about whether the people who made their gadgets are fairly paid, then they should demand change from the large companies, and more smaller players like Fairphone would see a market for their products. The lack of such development is a sign that businesses are not yet convinced of the size of this market, which in turn suggests that men might care more about functionality, brand and price than ethics behind the production of products.

I hope I am seeing the beginning of a movement. It took more than 50 years for fair trade to lose the “pity product” image. I hope the journey for ethical electronics will be an easier one. Perhaps we can play a bigger role in this movement, not only as consumers of electronic goods, but also as partners and friends who can educate and influence the purchase decisions of men. According to Money Smart Australia, we spent $9.5 billion a year on gadgets vs $5.1 billion a year on fashion. If we can push forward an ethical electronics movement, then many workers in the developing world will benefit.

p.s. we currently have a small range of fair trade products for men, and we will expand this product range in the near future to include clothing and accessories. Please click here.

the June Fourth Incident

It is approaching this time of the year again. On 4 June 1989, I was almost 5 years old and living in Shanghai, totally oblivious to what was happening in Beijing at the time. I would remain oblivious for another 15 years. It was not until I moved to Australia that this important chapter of history was told to me by some stranger on the street. As it turned out, all my parents’ generation knew about it, but nobody ever mentioned a word during my upbringing. This fact alone fascinates me.

So what happened? If you don’t yet know about the June Fourth Incident, I highly recommended this website built by SBS to tell both sides of the story. As a Chinese Australian who have spent more years in Australia than in China, and as a tourist who have been to many parts of China including Tibet, my views are influenced by both Chinese and western media. I support independence of Tibet. I support truth and justice. I support democracy.

My father recently moved to Australia. When I talked to him about the June Fourth Incident, he was eager to learn as much as he could. He told me that there was very limited information available to citizens at the time, and with hindsight he could see that they were censored and biased information. I asked him why it was not covered in my history classes, but he couldn’t give an answer. I later learned that many Chinese temporary migrants were granted permanent residency to Australia following the incident, including my mother. So in a way, the June Fourth Incident had a profound impact on my life too.

I often feel extremely lucky to live in Australia, where freedom of speech and human rights are respected, and democracy is seen as a fundamental human right. My father’s generation argue that democracy would not work in a large country like China. Look what happened in India, they would say. I agree to some degree that having only one party has helped China to prosper economically, but I don’t see it as a long term solution. People will rise, and people will always win.

How to feed the world’s poorest without growing more food

Image

I was invited to an event held by the ACT Fair Trade Collective last night. The topic was on food sustainability and fair trade. There were four speakers:

  • Mandy Nearhos, Co-convenor ACT Fair TradeCollective;
  • Molly Harriss, the newly appointed CEO of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand;
  • Debbie Hunt, NSW/ ACT Campaign and Engagement Coordinator, Oxfam Australia; and
  • Federico Davila, ANU PHD Student specialising in food sustainability

In the past 2 years I have been searching for answers to help the world’s poorest. My search led me to setting up Oz Fair Trade in the hope that I could help some people to improve their living standards through their skills and a fair trading system. At the moment Oz Fair Trade only deals with handicrafts, which many women rely upon for a sustainable income, as land becomes a scarce resource in many developing countries. I was thinking about expanding into food such as coffee and tea, but decided to postpone the plan because there are a few businesses in Australia that are doing a wonderful job in this field (such as Republica).

The night was very educational for me, as my knowledge of fairtrade concentrated on handicrafts not food. You’d think that farmers are the ones closest to food so why are they starving? One answer is that farmers are pressured by global economic systems to grow “cash crops” such as cotton. It’s all good when they get a good return, but the reliance on a single product inevitably makes one vulnerable to price changes. Other answers include their reliance on good weather conditions, unfair prices set by powerful buyers, corruption, land grabs etc.

The problem is not that we are not growing enough food. The problem is that a lot of the food is wasted instead of feeding the people who need it most. The world food system, as part of the global trade system, is broken. Governments have been shown to be powerless in terms of driving changes. NGOs have been doing great jobs such as pushing for Fair Trade. There are many ways to fix the system e.g. fairtrade, microfinance, microinsurance, addressing climate change etc.

As consumers, we have so much power that we don’t realise. Again and again, it has been shown that companies do listen if we are loud enough and care enough. Oxfam recently exposed ANZ’s involvement in a sugar plantation investment in Cambodia which forced hundreds of farmers to leave their farms. This contradicts ANZ’s social responsible policy. As consumers, we can hold them accountable. Be sure to be loud and clear.

So what can you do? You can:

  • choose fairtrade certified products whenever possible
  • spread the message of fairtrade among your friends and colleagues
  • waste less food and start a worm farm
  • buy locally produced food helps to reduce food miles
  • sign petitions to stop land grabs and unfair trade
  • support brands that really respect people and planet
  • vote for politicians who care about climate and people
  • write to companies who don’t have a social responsible policy or don’t obey them
  • make some noise on social media to show that you care
  • eat more veggie helps to reduce demand for meat which has higher carbon footprints, and veggie is good for you
  • lend small amounts to the poorest through organisations like Kiva and Good Return. From personal experience, the repayments have been excellent
  • choose superannuation funds such as Australian Ethical Super that invest only in ethical companies

etc.

Molly pointed out that in UK more than 80% know about fairtrade and more than 50% regularly buy fairtrade. In Australia, 50% know about fairtrade and 15% regularly buy fairtrade. This confirms my feeling that a lot more can be done in Australia.

If you are interested in how to fix the world food system, you can find useful information on Oxfam’s website. If you are interested in fairtrade handicrafts please checkout my not-for-profit social business Oz Fair Trade where customer service is guaranteed!

10 Things You Need To Know About Rubbish Bins

Speaking from my experience of working as a garbo at the National Folk Festival, I can honestly say that some of us are really confused about which bin for what, despite well intentions. So I hope I can be of assistance by sharing what I learned from the garbo experts in my 20-hour-as-a-garbo.

  1. Compost bins are for everything biodegradable e.g. food, paper etc. . Next time before you dispose a piece of plastic, see if you can find the world “biodegradable” on it. If yes, then it’s better to put it into compost bin than recycling bin.
  2. Not all paper are recyclable. Used paper napkins or used tissue paper should go into compost bin.
  3. Please don’t place recyclables or compostables in plastic bags because they will not be sorted due to safety reasons and the whole bags will go to landfill.
  4. Containers with left-over food can be disposed in compost bins only if the containers themselves are biodegradable. If not, then please remove and compost any food or liquid (even water) leftovers and then recycle the container.
  5. Paper coffee cups with plastic lids are often found in recycling bin. The correct way is to put the lid into the recycling bin and the cup itself into the compost bin.
  6. Only rigid plastics can be recycled. Soft plastics need to go into general waste bin unless they are biodegradable then you know what to do.
  7. Only glass jars and bottles can be recycled. Broken glassware, china, light globes, window etc. should go into general waste bin.
  8. Shredded paper should be put into a sealed paper box before placing into the recycling bin.
  9. Keep the lids on plastic bottles otherwise they will end up in landfill as they are too small to be sorted.
  10. Foam can only be recycled at certain facilities. If in doubt, please contact your local council.

When disposing any rubbish, please ask yourself in the order of:

  1. Can this be composted?
  2. Can this be recycled?
  3. Can this go into the general waste bin?

If you answered no to all the above e.g. e-waste will fall into this category, then there must be an alternative way to dispose it correctly. If in doubt, please contact your local council. Every bit helps to protect the environment we all love. Thank you!

My photography studio

Many people have wanted to see how Oz Fair Trade products such as jewellery and scarves would look on real people. I can completely understand that, and have always wanted to do something about it. Since I don’t have models, I have decided to bravely step up to be the face of Oz Fair Trade. But I have to be the photographer as well…hence the home studio set up (in my already crowded living room).

So…in the coming weeks, you’ll start to see some photos of me showcasing Oz Fair Trade products. Eventually, I hope to have such a photo for every product.

20140224-230223.jpg

1st Year Anniversary

Aniversario

It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since I founded Oz Fair Trade (initially known as Global Handmade). What a year! I still remember coming back to Australia from Southeast Asia with a burning desire to help the kind and talented people who lived in such poverty. The images of bare footed children selling things on streets were popping up in my head over and over again during Christmas, when my own nieces and nephews were spoiled with endless toys. I felt depressed, and I wanted to cry. Nelson Mandala once said that

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

I have been donating. I have been volunteering. But I felt that I could do a lot more. How? How can I help these people? I read widely and brainstormed. It didn’t take long before I came to the conclusion that I could help these people to find a market for their products in Australia. I would source from fair trade suppliers and sell their products in Australia via e-commerce.

I’ve always loved Oxfam, and my research has introduced me to a few other fair traders in Australia. However, most of them are quite small, and over the years Oxfam has scaled back its retail operation. In contrast, fair trade has flourished in Europe, America and New Zealand. I strongly believed that Australians are kind hearted and generous. There is no reason why fair trade can’t flourish here! I wanted to introduce fair trade products to people who normally wouldn’t have thought of buying fair trade. I wanted to help to expand the fair trade market in Australia. I believed I could do it.

So there I was, setting up a website and a business with no relevant experience or knowledge whatsoever. The first version of the website was horrible, but at the time, it was a great achievement and I was really excited when I got my first order. Over the next 12 months, I read widely and learned a lot about website development. Then in October I made the move to rebrand and launched a brand new website (www.ozfairtrade.org). I have been working very hard, managing both a start-up and a full time job. I have made mistakes along the way, but I have learned so much. Looking back, I am very proud of what I have achieved in the last 12 months, and I already have great plans for the next 12 months. The best thing that happened in the last 12 months is the number of people who have kindly supported Oz Fair Trade and made me believe in myself. The next 12 months will not be easy, but it will be great!

Thank you all for supporting Oz Fair Trade, and I promise that you will never be let down!

How to buy fair trade Christmas presents

I’m certainty no expert at gift shopping…in fact…my mum used to exchange all the Christmas presents that I gave her…but…since I started Oz Fair Trade (formerly known as Global Handmade), I have improved my gift purchase skills a lot…at least that’s what I believe 🙂

Now I want to share with you some tips about buying fair trade Christmas presents. Why fair trade presents? Because by buying fair trade presents, you are not only showing your love towards someone you care, but also you are also showing that person that you care for a better world and people who you have never met but who desperately needed your help.

By buying fair trade presents, you are giving twice.

There are some misconception that fair trade means higher prices. This is totally untrue. Most products sourced conventionally go through a number of middlemen, and the end price is often similar or even higher than fair trade products. The way fair trade market works is that the retailer deals directly with the artisans and/or the representatives of the artisan groups. This means that we as retailers are helping to cut down the middlemen cost and that we have better control over the quality of the products and the fair work practices of the artisan groups that we work with.

The end result is a fair price for the producers and a competitive price for the consumers. 

So…this Christmas, will you buying fair trade?

How to buy for mothers and grandmothers?

If you have a mother like mine…good luck…just kidding 😛

I have found that hand made cushions and table runners seem to be popular with middle age female customers. They appreciate the details, the traditional methods and the uniqueness of each product. We have a few such beautiful cushions. All cushions come with Innergreen inserts which are made in Australia from recycled plastic water bottles. Now that’s eco-friendly all the way!

Our mothers and grandmothers will also appreciate Christmas tree decorations. We have very cute handmade angle and animal decorations.

How to buy for fathers and grandfathers?

I share your pain…it can be very difficult…but not this year! How about a recycled bombshell bottle opener? The coolest bottle opener ever! Check out other items in Gifts For Him.

How to buy for husband?

We offer you something more budget friendly and long lasting than PS4, latest phone etc. How about a bomb necklace for a cool gen or a beautiful travel photography calendar that supports over 40 Australian not-for-profits? Check out other items in Gifts For Him.

How to buy for wife? 

Again, we offer you more budget friendly options that make equally wonderful presents. How about a hand woven luxury silk scarf? I have created a category Gifts For Her to make your shopping easier. Personally I think a woman will always want more jewellery…you can easily find something cute, beautiful or outstanding to suit your wife’s style. Even if fashion jewellery is not her thing, I’m sure she’ll be intrigued by our special recycled bombshell jewellery range.

How to buy for siblings / friends / colleagues?

My tip is buy what interests them. We have categories for special interests such as vegan, eco-friendly, hand weaving, natural dye, embroidery and knitting. At each category level you can also shop by price. We hope to make your shopping experience as easy and enjoyable as possible!

How to buy for children?

It’s so hard to buy for little ones…their interests are constantly changing…

Our most popular children’s products are finger puppets hand knitted by Bolivian women. An eco-cushion is also a great choice to decorate a kid’s room.

How to buy for someone who has everything?

…try our Most Unique category. Good luck!

Greeting Cards

This Christmas, why not send a unique handmade greeting card along with your presents? We have greeting cards made with printed silk and jute paper. Check them out!

All purchases can be upgraded for individual gift wrapping for just $1 extra. This option can be added in the shopping cart. I will be personally doing all the wrapping, and I’m not kidding when I say I take gift wrapping seriously! 🙂

Why not check out Oz Fair Trade’s full range of beautiful fair trade products online? I have sorted presents by recipients and interests so hopefully your Christmas shopping this year will be super easy! You can also find Oz Fair Trade products in some retail stores

p.s. we have just applied to the Fair Trader of Australia for their endorsement so please stay tuned. 🙂

How to rebrand an e-commerce store (Part V)

People matter

No matter how the technology changes or where the business operates, online or offline, the ultimate relationship between a seller and a buyer has not changed. The most important thing to be mindful of during a rebranding campaign, in my opinion, is to keep customers happy.

At Oz Fair Trade, one of things that set us apart from our competitors is our full commitment to providing the best customer services. We are passionate about fair trade, and we know that ultimately it is the consumers who have the power to push forward fair trade practices. For this reason, we want our customers to have the best shopping experience so that they will continue to support fair trade. We not only offer free express shipping on orders above $50, which is one of the most generous in the market, but also offer 365 day free return and exchange. This is unmatched by any other fair trade businesses in Australia. As a result, we have many happy customers, and any customer who has an issue will see it resolved quickly, because he/she only needs to deal with one person who really cares instead of some random employee who doesn’t care. All these earned us WOMO’s 2013 Service Award, which is shared only by the top 5% of the businesses listed on WOMO.

We were very mindful of customers’ reactions and needs when we decided to rebrand from ‘Global Handmade’ to ‘Oz Fair Trade’. One of the first things we did was posting on all social media platforms about the upcoming changes. Immediately after the new website was up and running, we emailed all our past customers about the change and the new features of the website, and invited them to visit the new site and give us feedback. We also offered them a permanent 10% discount on all future orders for supporting Global Handmade, a start-up fair trade not-for-profit. Some customers immediately responded and we were very happy about the positive responses that we received.

Through the process, we learned that people is the most crucial part of rebranding. All these website changes, social media update etc. all serve a single purpose: keep past customers happy and attract new customers. It is easy to forget the role of people when running an e-commerce from a home office, when the person responsible is faced with an endless to-do list covering web building, graphic design, photography, accounting, stock purchasing, stock labelling etc. But losing that focus would be a fatal mistake.

This is the last post of ‘How to rebrand an e-commerce store’ series. We’d love to hear your thoughts/experiences!

How to rebrand an e-commerce store (Part IV)

How much does social media matter?

It is now unthinkable to run a business especially an e-commerce business without a social media presence. What happens when a business changes its name? This was an essential part of my research before I made the decision to change the business name from ‘Global Handmade’ to ‘Oz Fair Trade’. Here’s what I found:

  • Facebook: easy to change url (self-service) but hard to change page name (need to submit a request, and keep trying if the initial request was rejected)
  • Twitter: easy to change username and url is automatically updated
  • Pinterest: easy to change username and url is automatically updated
  • Instagram: easy to change username and url is automatically updated
  • LinkedIn: easy to change business name and url is automatically updated
  • Google Plus: it was easier to create a new page in my situation

I also needed to update the information on third party review websites like True Local and Word Of Mouth Online. I found both fairly easy to do.

There might be other website/apps that you use for business. For example, I was using Survey Monkey and Mail Chimp. In the case of Survey Monkey, I simply created a new account, and it was fairly straight forward. In the case of Mail Chimp, I decided to update my information in the old account. It became messy. Mail Chimp extracts certain information from the account to be used in email footers (e.g. reply email, business name etc.), and it was not apparent in some cases why the old information still kept appearing even though I thought I had updated all information in my settings. I think I have solved the issues now, but I’m still not 100% certain. In hindsight, I should have simply created a new account.

The other thing left to update was my WordPress powered blog. I found that it was easy to change username etc. but it’s also a good idea to create a new (free) blog with the old name and inform people about the change (http://globalhandmade.wordpress.com/). It’s similar to the reason why I have kept the old www.globalhandmade.com.au website. It is always important to do everything possible to reduce confusion during a re-branding exercise.

Coming soon: How to rebrand an e-commerce store (Part V) – people matter

How to rebrand an e-commerce store (Part III)

How much does your website matter?

I heard once that it is normal to be ashamed of the first version of a website. I still remember our first version. It was definitely bad… By the time I decided to rebrand, the website was already at its fifth version, but it still lacked many key features that I desired for the level of customer service that I wanted to provide.

At the time, the website was built using a web building service provider called Moonfruit. It was once a big player in the industry, but now it’s struggling to compete with new players in terms of features and design. I remember deciding to build a website with no web building experience or any knowledge of e-commerce. So when I discovered Moonfruit, I was very excited and immediately jumped on it. Its drag and drop features allowed any web dummy to build a website. That’s its strength. However, I quickly grew out of it and the limitation of Moonfruit, especially around shopping cart, became apparent to me. In time, I discovered Ecwid, an e-commerce plugin that would work with any website. It felt perfect at the time, because I wasn’t going to dump all the hard work that I had put into building the Moonfruit site. I spent a week building my Ecwid shopping cart from scratch, and then installed it into my Moonfruit site. Soon I discovered that Moonfruit was limiting the features that Ecwid offered. It was a dead end. I made to make a hard decision. Time for some research.

This time, I really did my research, instead of jumping at the first thing I discovered. I read many articles comparing major e-commerce platform providers, and weighed them against one another in terms of the features that I needed and the prices. After some research, I decided to give Bigcommerce a trial run. You might ask why I never considered engaging a website builder. The simple reason is that I couldn’t afford to. After 10 months of a steep learning curve, I was also in a position that I understood what I wanted and a rough idea of how to get stuff I wanted.

As it turned out, Bigcommerce was perfect for my situation. It offered many features that I desired, like a wish list, mobile optimisation, gift coupons, customer rewards program and a Facebook shop. The price structure was also suitable, with no transaction fees and a competitive monthly charge. It also offered access to all backend html and css codes so potentially I could fully customise the store. However, I think I would have struggled with Bigcommerce when I first started about 10 months ago without any web building experience, because it is harder than ‘drag and drop’. But at this point in time, it was perfect for me.

One good thing about Ecwid was that I could export my products to a csv file and then import it to Bigcommerce. Although not all information was automatically transferred this way, it did save me considerable time and effort. I was again on a steep learning curve because I had no idea about CSS or HTML. Luckily though, I’m a quick learner and I really enjoy learning. Google became my best friend, and I quickly got a website up and running. So far the feedback has been great. I’d love to hear your feedback! Please visit www.ozfairtrade.org and let me know your thoughts!

Coming soon: How to rebrand an e-commerce store (Part IV) – How much does social media matter?