Some of ye may have seen a story in the past week about a New Jersey bridal shop refusing to sell a wedding dress to a bride. Why? Because the bride is a lesbian.

Quite apart from the fact that this kind of discrimination is utterly abhorrent (and apparently expressly illegal under state law), it’s also incredibly poor business sense. The manager, due to her own bizarre squeamishness, denied custom to a bride and my goodness, her business is going to suffer for it from those she deems ‘acceptable’ to sell to. It appears, by the reviews on Yelp and Google, that it already is.

Customers of WaterMemory past, present and future, here’s what I care about:

– That you are happy with what you pick out;

– That it is of the highest quality;

– That you (or the eventual recipient) really like it.

Yep, that’s about it. You are my customer and in my eyes, you deserve honesty, respect and courtesy. You don’t deserve a side order of codswallop and prejudice to go with your transaction.

But lastly, a few words to Alix Genter, the bride on the receiving end of this awful treatment:

Alix,

I’m so sorry you had to go through this. This was the last thing that should have happened to you. I hope you find your dream dress, from a place where you are treated with the common decency and respect you deserve. Best wishes for your day and for the rest of your lives together!

– Regina, another bride-to-be who started crying after photo number four

It is often said that the simplest ideas are often the most effective- the ones that look to answer a seemingly small need often make the most profound difference to people’s lives.

The corollary to this is that the smallest problems (or so they might seem from the outside) can be the most insuperable barriers to progress, and that’s where this post comes in.

I was all set to write some vaguely amusing fluff about my latest supply embargo, and then this article from the Grauniad stopped me in my tracks.

Girls and women in Uganda, because they cannot afford sanitary products, are enduring physical discomfort, missing school and worse, are being physically and sexually exploited by boys for money and supplies.

Imagine. The usual discomfort of menstruation, complicated by the lack of appropriate sanitary products, the medical problems caused by using unsuitable products and the shame.. like anyone else reading this, I am completely aghast.

It is possible to take specific action through campaigns like Dignity! Period, which campaigns and fundraises for women in Zimbabwe, and through the Katine campaign. I will use the money I save on supplies in this coming embargo to donate and will otherwise spread the word. (By the by, here is the most recent update from ACTSA.)

Could you imagine the difference made to a woman halfway across the world by just having the proper supplies on hand? The difference to her health, to her mental wellbeing and her life circumstances overall.

I wondered about writing this on what is supposed to be my craftyblog, but it strikes me as somewhat artificial to section off these things as blog-appropriate or blog-inappropriate. I’ve spoken before about the three Rs and ethical auditing- why should my blog be a craft-only space when my choices for WaterMemory are based on far more than that?

In that vein, I’ve taken the decision to relocate posts from my ethical living blog here. (Don’t be surprised if some old posts show up at various points- I’m keeping it chronological, baybee.)

talk about timely!

October 23, 2008

Look at this! Just as soon as I finished the previous post, this popped up.. fair trade silver? I am there.

Lately I’ve been wondering about conducting an ethical audit for WaterMemory, somewhat inspired by this one, to see where I could improve.

An ethical audit would look at WaterMemory on the basis of labour, materials used, implementation of the three Rs (reduction/ re-use/ recycling), environmental impact overall and social/ ethical impact. This is part of one of many, I think- I am aware there are probably a good few aspects I’m missing out on in this effort.

Labour

As I am the only person involved in the design and creation of my wares, with access to as much tea as I can drink, it’s easy for me to say that on the labour front, I do fairly well. That said, on some pieces (particularly knitted bags) I cannot charge for the time used without the price going through the roof. That’s a trade-off I’m okay with, though. Maybe it sounds trite, but I’m far happier for my bags to be loved than for them to be ‘properly’ priced.

So: a happy workforce overall. Result!

Materials

Given the sheer amount of materials I use, across a few different crafts, this will be a difficult one. There are also a few ways to assess them- in terms of labour used to create those materials, their ecological impact, the practices involved in their creation etc.

In card-making, I frequently use ‘rescued’ papers- scraps that would otherwise be stuck in the green bin. Although they’d be recycled anyway, I still reckon that re-using them is slightly better. Paper can only be recycled a finite number of times, and this varies depending on the grade of paper.

Beading, my main love.. here is where things get interesting ethically, by which I mean difficult. I use Bali silver and Hill Tribe silver for my decorative touches. Both are community traded, meaning that the craftspeople are supported in their traditional craft with proper pay, but beyond that the details are somewhat foggy.

I use semi-precious gems, which raises another area of difficulty. Gems are often mined (an issue in itself) in the most appalling conditions- health risks include silicosis, caused by inhaling silica dust (more here). I try to buy from companies with better labour rights records, but the information I have is sketchy. I do not buy on a large enough scale to be able to work directly with the producers of these materials, so I buy on trust.

Overall, my strategies are to buy from companies and countries whose labour practices I trust, but this doesn’t *really* answer the question. As well as that, it’s a negative move, when I should really be looking for alternatives. It’s all very well to not wish my materials to be the product of exploitative or unethical labour, but wouldn’t it be better to actively seek out fair trade and community trade alternatives?

Pledges

I pledge to use more materials made by small-scale crafters and companies, whose overall practices I can stand over. As much as boycotting can achieve, I would be happy to also vote with my euro to support individuals and companies who are trying to do the right thing. (Etsy and Cow’s Lane, here I come!)

I also pledge to source and introduce more community-traded and fair trade materials to my work. It can only benefit my customers to know that indigenous communities are being supported and encouraged in their craftwork by being properly paid for their work.

I pledge to continue using recycled and reclaimed materials in my work and to expand my use of them.

I pledge to expand my contribution to charities through WaterMemory and also to come up with some creative ways to fundraise, using my work.

If there is anything I’m missing out on here, please feel free to drop me a line. If you’ve found a company that is doing the right thing, or a lobbying group that works on this issue, I’d love to know about them.