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Balinese jewelry: Sandpiper Imports

Founded in 2012, Sandpiper Imports is a fair trade company that offers a unique & classic collection of high quality .925 sterling silver jewelry designed and handcrafted by artisans in Bali, Indonesia.

As a member of The Fair Trade Federation, we follow nine established fair trade principles and work directly with a small silversmith artisan community in a village an hour outside of Ubud, a city well-regarded as the cultural and artistic heart of Bali.

The high level of craftsmanship has been passed on from generation to generation. Sandpiper Imports honors the cultural creativity of our artisans by selecting pieces that were designed by them. Whether you fall in love with a traditional Balinese filigree style or a design with a more contemporary flair, your purchase of their gorgeous and timeless jewelry fosters economic sustainability for this community and helps to keep this craft alive.

Erika w Nyoman & MadeOne of the most special things about owning a fair trade business is the opportunity to truly  connect with the artisans producing the goods you import and to learn more about their lives and their histories. Nyoman, the founder of the silversmith group I work with, was a child laborer who began working in a silver shop at the age of 6 to earn money so he could go to school. I asked him more about this experience and was profoundly touched and humbled by his story of the hardships he endured and the drive and gumption he had as a young man to overcome those obstacles and start his own business.

The conditions in the shop he worked in were rough. Nyoman and his brother, Made, worked very long hours with very little pay and a bully of a boss who was verbally and occasionally physically abusive. Both of Nyoman’s parents worked long hours as well-his father drove delivery trucks, his mother stood on the side of the road to sell goods she had purchased at a premium from the marketplace to resell to those who couldn’t travel; they were one of those families who lived in a hut with a thatched roof that always leaked and anxiously scraped together enough money every day to put food in their bellies. But they wanted their boys to go to school. The only option was for the boys to work to earn that extra money needed for books, uniforms, and fees. And so they did. And despite the hard years of working in a difficult environment, and balancing schoolwork with the stress at home, Nyoman was a dreamer who loved much about the silver business, who loved talking to the customers that came into the shop, who carved out precious minutes of the day to furtively draw designs for the jewelry he one day hoped to create. He graduated high school and enrolled in university. His parents were very proud of him and their sacrifices motivated him to do better, to be able to provide for them in their old age. In his last year at the university, he heard someone crying out his name in the streets. It was a customer from his former employers shop, a woman who came to Bali to purchase jewelry every year that Nyoman had grown close to and to whom he had confided his dreams of one day owning his own silver shop. She said she had been looking for him. She disliked working with Nyoman’s ex-boss and wanted to give Nyoman her business going forward. This was a very big deal! This was his chance to make his dream a reality but it was also incredibly risky, especially at such a young age. The customer offered him a generous loan for start up capital but as he planned and bought the necessary equipment and the raw silver, he realized he still didn’t have enough money and was devastated when he thought he would have to say no. His mother had recently inherited some gold jewelry from a deceased relative and, in one more sacrifice for her son whose talent and future she believed in, she pawned it and gave him the money. So eight years ago, Nyoman was able to start his very own silver company, with his brother and a childhood friend. They persevered through some very lean years, had some tough learning curves as all entrepreneurs do, but his desire to establish his business the “right” way, has earned him a loyal following of a select few wholesale customers around the world, including myself. He’s grown to employing 12 artisans full-time and sending contract work to many others.

When I first met Nyoman I asked him if he had ever heard of the concept of fair trade before and he said he had not. As I DSC_3662explained the principles to him, and showed him how fully he followed them in his business, such as paying his artisans well, ensuring that all of their children went to school, employing women, developing a working environment that was respectful, safe, and cooperative he beamed at the praise but also seemed a little confused. To him, there was nothing special about running a business that way, it was just the right way, the way things should be. He instinctively started a fair trade business.

When sharing this story with me, Nyoman teared up several times. He is overflowing with gratitude-for his parents, for this first customer who gave him the opportunity to follow his dream, for the talented artisans he employs, and for all of the customers who love the designs and appreciate the craftsmanship of the jewelry his team makes. With the success of his business he has built a lovely home for his parents to live in and has started a family of his own, with two young boys. He has broken the cycle of economic oppression his family has been in for generations. He named his company Suksma, Balinese for “thank you.”

-Erika Poulos

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