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Maker's Story, Sheenagh Day at Maison Bengal

Each and every basket in our assortment is handwoven from materials borne from the earth. There is sea grass, known locally as Hogla, and vegetable fibre known as Jute; both of which grow in abundance in Bangladesh. These baskets are woven by female artisans that are supported by Maison Bengal, a fair-trade social enterprise.

See our full range of MB baskets!

Who is Maison Bengal? Founded by the inspirational Sheenagh Day, Maison Bengal is a social enterprise based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

During the 2000’s in Dhaka, Sheenagh was working for a UN affiliated Population and Reproductive Health Organisation. Whilst living and working in Bangladesh, she had the idea of starting a fair-trade company. Poverty, and in many cases extreme poverty, was the underlying causes of the issues affecting the women she worked with. Poverty denied them access to education, nutrition, rights, decision-making, choices and life opportunities. Sheenagh realised that a relatively small increase in family resources could make a big difference to their lives. She was also super impressed by the high level of artisanal skills, in weaving and basket-making, which was particularly evident throughout the country.

After travelling and researching widely, Sheenagh identified three NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) who specialised in poverty alleviation by training local communities in handicraft production. These organisations became Maison Bengal’s local fair-trade partners and a collaboration was born.

The importance of Fair Trade

Fair trade is fundamentally an approach to commerce that places the welfare of the original maker at the centre of the business, as opposed to company profits. This means not only paying a fair wage for all products, but also ensuring that an array of environmental, labour and health standards are adhered to. The WFTO (World Fair Trade Organisation) monitors the compliance of their member organisations to their strict standards.

The role of Maison Bengal, as a fair-trade buyer, is to ensure year-long consistent orders for the artisans they work with. Fair trade has a positive impact on education, housing, health, safety, a shift in gender dynamics; all vital areas we often take for granted.

What exactly is Jute and Hogla?

Jute and hogla are natural, indigenous plants to Bangladesh. Hogla is the native sea-grass growing along the thousands of rivers in Bangladesh. Jute is the second most important vegetable fiber after cotton due to its versatility. Over 90% of the world’s jute is grown in Bangladesh in the fertile Ganges Delta. It is traditionally known as the golden fiber, due to its colour and its importance in trade throughout history.

Positive Outcomes thanks to Maison Bengal

As well as providing a wage for workers, MB has undertaken several incredible community projects! MB now works with over four thousand producers throughout Bangladesh, thanks to the wide networks and handicraft training programs put into place by partner organisations. In all of the communities in which MB work, producers are now able to send all their children to school. Parents now have enough money to pay for books, pens, shoes and uniforms. All the mothers MB work with are particularly keen to make sure their daughters have the best education possible, thereby giving them greater life choices.

Images and text courtesy of Maison Bengal

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