What`s so secret about Fair Trade bags, I hear you ask?
Afterall, aren`t things like that available to buy online and in a growing number of specialist shops, markets and gift fairs?
Well, yes they may be, but these bags are handmade from buffalo leather in Nepal and therefore quite special – and this blog post tells you why.

Officially, the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal is a landlocked sovereign state located in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by the People’s Republic of China and to the south, east and west, by the Republic of India.
With an area of 147,181 square kilometres and a population of approximately 30 million, Nepal is one of the world’s most beautiful, but poorest countries – about two thirds of female adults and one third of male adults are illiterate.
Kathmandu is the nation’s capital and the country’s largest metropolis.

The Association for Craft Producers (ACP) is a truly inspiring local organisation which provides professional services in technology, design, marketing and managerial skill for over 1,200 low income, primarily female, craft producers.
They are also committed to undertake precautionary measures to prevent industrial pollution for the preservation of Nepal’s fragile environment.

ACP are a member of the Fair Trade Group Nepal (FTGN) and the Federation of Handicraft Association (FHAN).
They are the body that overseas the work of the producers that make our unique Fair Trade buffalo leather shopping bags…..

These bags are made in an area called Sindhukot, which is located high up in the Himalayas in a very remote area of Nepal.
The residents collect the buffalo hides, which are bi-products from dead animals, from surrounding villages and then produce the bags completely by hand, as their village has no electricity, sewing machines or technology whatsoever.
Traditional tanning methods making these bags the most eco- friendly leather bags you can buy!

There is no work for the villagers where they live and their subsistence farming does not provide enough food, so in order to find work, they must travel to the city of Kathmandu. The villagers have to make their way on an 8-day round trip to the capital simply to find out if an order has been placed for their bags.

It is a 3 day walk to the nearest road, then they wait for a bus for another day`s journey by road. In Kathmandu, they visit the Fair Trade group ACP to see if any orders have been placed. If it has, then they purchase the required buffalo hide from local small villagers on their way home, thus distributing the income a little.

The bags are made using the following traditional tanning process:-

1/ The skins are soaked in water for 2-3 days. After this period, all the remaining flesh can be removed with a knife.

2/ The skins are then soaked in salt water for 20-25 days with the water being changed every 5 days. This stage removes any remaining hair.

3/ Then the skins are again soaked in water, this time Dhairo leaves are added, an indigenous plant, which provides the active tanning components.
The leather is left for 15 days to 1 month in this solution which is changed weekly.

4/ After the tanning and pigment is completed the leather is then left in the sun to dry and kneaded and stretched regularly.

5/ Finally, the leather is treated with mustard oil which softens and preserves it and is then ready to be cut and hand sewn into shape.

The long journey back to Kathmandu is then repeated, this time putting the bags on the back of donkeys, in order to take the finished products back to the ACP offices and to receive the balance of payment.

And the result….. is a simple, stylish, strong and durable Fair Trade buffalo leather shopping bag, which has dark leather detailed stitching across the front and back panels and double shoulder straps. Handmade cotton yarn is used for the stitching. The bag is fastened at the top by a leather toggle.

Because chemical dyes have not been used, the natural blemishes of the hide are visible. The more it is used, the better it will get!

It`s worth remembering that these bags are currently responsible for the income and welfare of the whole community and contribute to many surrounding villages high up in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal.

If you have any questions to ask, or comments to make about the issues raised in this Blog post, please leave your comments below.
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Many thanks for reading and being a part of this community – Paul.
You can learn more by visiting our website – THE FAIR TRADE STORE.