The Way Business should be…

FAIR FASHION? MATA TRADERS certainly think so…

mata2I have come across lots of businesses in my quest to unearth the beautiful ones. This business is a truly beautiful one with a great backstory. Based in Chicago, Mata Traders work closely with a combination of artisans, craftsmen and women, weavers and block printers to bring fairtrade fashion to the US. Started in 2005 Mata, which incidentally translates to Mother in Hindi, is the creation of three friends Maureen Dunn,  Michelle King and Joni Bookheim. Travelling in the Asian subcontinent changed their views of development, on poverty and how businesses should operate. Being there and experiencing first hand the context in which many worked and lived in the asian subcontinent, inspired the development of the business. Like many of this disposition, the recognition of these problems are what underpins much of the fair trade movement.  Although there is an ongoing dispute about the precise definition, in broad terms, fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalised producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair trade organisations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade. Unfair trade often exploits producers, manufacturers and the farmer in the developing world, underpaying them for their skills, exploiting their vulnerability and trapping them in the market based race to the bottom. Unscrupulous middle men, sub contractors and exploiters often intervene in these economic transactions which discriminate against many small businesses attempting to bring their products to market. Beautiful business as a set of principles recognises the need for the development of relationships where people and the livelihoods matter. Mata Traders recognise this too. They  told me,

All of our products are handmade by four fair trade organisations, all of which are members of the WFTO.  We work with 3 women’s cooperatives to make our clothing and cloth accessories (bags, scarves, headbands) – 2 in India and 1 in Nepal.  For our jewellery we partner with a large fair trade organisation in Delhi that has for decades been a leading advocate and supporter of marginalised artisan communities. Mata Traders is a member of the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) and we adhere to fair trade principles in the production of all of our products.


Block printing on fabrics

Block printing on fabrics

India, for those who have had the privilege to travel there, is an amazing country. Full of contrasts, beauty and fantastically friendly people. It is also a country of immense poverty, rooted in years of exploitation, from both home and abroad. Much of the Asian subcontinent, having struggled for decades is now finding its feet in the global economy and more than able to stand up against the worlds leading economies. This is a region built on creativity and innovation wrapped in years of traditional skills and artisanal crafting. The ability to create, recreate, recycle and upcycle is astonishing and deserves to be brought to new markets by the likes of Mata Traders. Their range is very impressive for a smaller business, encompassing jewellery, bags, accessories, home decor and of course clothing. Designs created in the US are made real by co-op communities of embroiders, stitchers, machine-ists and makers. On their visits to India and Nepal, the business team is able to talk with the people making the products, see their conditions and satisfy themselves they are working with the right people. They are also able to see the quality and craftsmanship of many of the, mainly women, artisans. What is particularly beautiful is the thought that a business idea created by friends in the US can bring people together thousands of miles away. Helping poor families increase their income, sending children to school, upskilling people especially women, bringing confidence in a future and self respect to new friends, must be more rewarding than any business profit. I would be more than happy to call Mata Traders a beautiful business.

Our products are handmade using artistic traditions such as block-printing and embroidery…no factory production here. Combine that with flattering design and a flair for colour, and you’ve got the Mata look. But that’s just half the story – this is fashion with impact. For our producers, it’s an opportunity to make a better life for their families. Choosing fair trade means you’re helping fight global poverty.

a very small part of the Mata range

a very small part of the Mata range

Mata Traders: Beautiful Business, Cooperatives and Friends

 Joni tells the story

 …One of the best parts of our work is being able to visit the groups every year and get to know the women who make our clothes and jewellery.  The co-ops are very warm and welcoming environments, for us to visit and for the members to work in.  More than anything, the women say they love the friendships they’ve made through their work.

 The cooperatives that make our products work in rural and slum communities with women who have little or no education; many can’t read or write.  Because of their work, they can afford to send their children to school and pay for necessities that they couldn’t before.  The cooperatives are really amazing, supportive organisations that are social service providers as much as they are employers.  There are social workers on staff, and members are provided resources such as on-site daycare, paid maternity leave, medical check-ups, health care, vision testing and glasses, and retirement pensions.  To promote social mobility, the women are offered classes in literacy, financial literacy, and computers.

 As fair trade organisations, the cooperatives pay their members a living wage in the local context and monitor working hours, with overtime being compensated accordingly.  In addition, our groups ensure a safe, clean, well-lit and well-ventilated workshop environment.  Our jewellery producer has been a leading advocate and organiser of marginalised and exploited artisans for decades. Under their guidance, artisan communities set up their own cooperatives and produce jewellery and handicrafts for domestic and international customers, including such big buyers as Ten Thousand Villages and SERV International.  And, in a sector in India notorious for child labourers, they ensure that no child labor is used to produce our jewellery.

 As we regularly visit our producer groups, one of the most rewarding aspects is to see the changes and advancements that occur for the women and their families.  One example of many is Harshali.  After her parents died, she was raised, along with her siblings, by her grandmother – a roadside fish seller.  She joined the co-op at age 18, and through her work, not only was she able to put herself through college, but she funded her younger siblings education as well.  Now she oversees the tagging and packaging of every garment that leaves the cooperative, which is quite a big job. Joni Bookheim 2013

 Mata Traders bringing beautiful business back home and making trade fairer for all.

To view the beautiful Mata range go to or for General Inquiries email


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This entry was posted on 14/02/2013 by and tagged , , .
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