Fair trade deal helps Cambodian women

by Derek Walter | Staff Writer
Published: Last Updated on
ByTavi representative Jen Shepard spoke on November 28 to students about her trip to Cambodia. On the trip she saw how handbags and clothing were being made by hand in the allies of Cambodia. Photo by Derek Walter

ByTavi representative Jen Shepard spoke on November 28 to students about her trip to Cambodia. On the trip she saw how handbags and clothing were being made by hand in the allies of Cambodia. Photo by Derek Walter

Jen Shepard, a representative from the byTavi boutique, discussed fair trade in her visit to the University of Indianapolis on Monday, Nov. 28, in UIndy Hall A. byTavi is a local clothing and handbag shop that employs workers from Cambodia and “operates under fair trade principles, respecting the dignity and health of every employee,” according to bytavi.com. Shepard and several of her friends and colleagues visited Cambodia to learn how byTavi’s handbags and clothing were made and who made them. Cambodia is a small, impoverished country located next to Vietnam and Thailand.

Twenty-five percent of the population of Cambodia was killed in a governmental attack from 1975 to 1979, according to thehistoryplace.com. This left the population in ruins, and now two-thirds of the Cambodian population is under the age of 30. Shepard said that the killings also ruined the country’s economy, and nearly one-third of the people had less than $1 a day to live on.

On this trip, Shepard met a woman named Tavi, who the company is named after. The company all started with Tavi going to the Center for Global Impact back in 2008 after her husband passed away, and she became a single mother to two children, according to the byTavi website. Tavi requested a sewing machine and seamstress training from CGI and began sewing pillow covers. The website said she inspired 30 other women in her community to join her, and they labeled all of their products, byTavi.

byTavi has now expanded to a clothing collection of 50 pieces, including handbags, purses and a small men’s line. Each piece is handmade and sewn with the name of the person who made it on the inside. Shepard said a skirt or dress takes the women about 15 minutes to make, and a handbag takes approximately two hours to craft.

The women get paid per piece of clothing made, which is part of the fair trade agreement by CGI, according to Shepard. For example, the women are paid $9 per skirt/dress made. Along with employment under the fair trade agreement, the women are provided with a daily lunch, regular health checks and a weekly Bible study.

“We needed to spread Jesus throughout these people,” Shepard said. “During Bible study, they would get into a circle and later start singing.  This was a way that God helped advance Cambodia and its people though the past decades.”

Freshman exercise science major Grant Reedy attended the event and said that he learned how buying fair trade goods can help the women and their families.

“This [Shepard’s speech] was very eye-opening at how the decisions we make every day have such an impact throughout the world,” Reedy said. “One decision could make one family’s life.”

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