‘SHOW off your label’ is the slogan of Fairtrade Fortnight (running until March 13) and is a theme well suited to Ramsey’s own Fairtrade clothing and gift shop, Shakti Man, at 66 Parliament Street.
Founded seven years ago, Shakti Man is the island’s only completely Fairtrade shop, specialising in ethical clothing and gifts from at least 30 countries around the globe. It even looks and smells exotic like an eastern bazaar, with shelves stacked with soft furnishings, rails of fashionable organic clothing and counters laden with jewellery and other myriad objects. No wonder customers come from all over the island to buy gifts for others or just to treat themselves.
Shakti Man, which leads the way in ethical trading, was founded by Leni Lewis, who was inspired by her travels in India and Nepal, where she became aware that many children were living in poverty, often with barely enough food to live on. She determined to do something to help them and, returning home, set up Shakti Nepal, a charity that funds a centre for street children in Kathmandu.
She began by organising a couple of community events; she then had the idea of bringing back artefacts and selling them to raise money for the project. The charity has now developed an orphanage that offers shelter to 30 children.
These days, Leni travels to ensure personal contact with her suppliers and has ‘really great contacts with small cooperatives, mostly in central and northern India’. She brings back crafts and clothing that support sustainable projects and is now designing garments herself.
In the meantime, Shakti Man continues to evolve and stocks other shops in the UK now too.
‘The last five years has seen a big shift towards ethical consuming,’ observes Leni. ‘People are much more aware that they have choices. We try to promote the Fairtrade message where we can, but we don’t want to challenge people’s way of life. People generally do what they can. But if as consumers we are more mindful of how we spend our disposable income, we can have the satisfaction of knowing that we are helping to make big changes to people’s lives.’
The ‘Show off your label’ tag is taking on a new meaning as Shakti Man starts to stock more affordable clothing, said Leni. Alongside the designer labels will be basics such as boxer shorts, tights, socks and leggings in surprisingly soft and inexpensive bamboo. But their best-selling product is still chocolate!
Shakti Man works closely with the local chairty One World Centre and is delighted to give talks and workshops for schools and community groups on the subject of ethical trading.
‘We want to make it easy for the general public to support Fairtrade,’ she said.
A percentage of the profits from Shakti Man is donated to various projects and Leni has seen for herself the difference it makes.
‘On my last visit, we visiting one of our knitting groups in Patan, Kathmandu. The group is called Kumbeshwar and the women are from the lowest caste. We helped set up a crèche for the children and, last year, gave £4,000 to improve facilities.
‘The crèche now has new flooring, windows and play area.
‘It was quite touching to see it. Without the support of the community here in the island, we simply couldn’t do what we do.’