Bonnie Radnidge and some of the ‘fair trade’ products she imports.
Bonnie Radnidge and some of the ‘fair trade’ products she imports.

Masai mama makes fair trade

When she returned from a trip to Africa last year, Bonnie Radnidge began living by the African proverb ‘You can’t eat an elephant in one day’.

“To me, it means that to make a difference, it doesn’t really matter how small the thing you do is – just do it,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie was affected by the poverty she saw in Africa and was inspired to start her own ‘fair trade’ business in Ballina to sell the crafts of the Masai tribespeople.

“In Africa, kids are not named until they reach two years old because so many of them die when they are young,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what kind of business I wanted to start but, after visiting my sister and seeing her working with the women of the Masai tribe in Tanzania to empower them, I decided to open Masai Mama Interiors to give these people the opportunity to generate income for their families.”

“Our little shop selling things from the other side of the world is a bit like biting the tip of the elephant’s tail off, but at least we are doing it.”

Bonnie said she wanted her business to be holistic and mix fair trade exports with western buying.

“People can come and buy gifts that have more meaning than gifts bought from everyday giftware shops,” she said. “It’s about conscious buying; buying stuff you know will ultimately trickle back and have some effect on these women.”

The ‘fair trade’ of her business means that the money raised from selling the tribal crafts goes straight back to the makers and helps them to sustain a quality of life.

“The money has helped Masai people to put windows and gas stoves for cooking into their huts,” she said.

Another Masai man ‘Julius’ has been given the opportunity to send his three children to school by making backpacks for the business using a treadle sewing machine.

“Because the Masai walk really long distances, we saw them make sandals out of tyre treads - with seatbelt webbing threaded through them to hold them on their feet,” she said. “They are talented and creative and use discarded things to make useful items. Some of them strip apart telephone cables and group the wires together in colours and weave bowls.

“Others make Christmas decorations out of plastic bottles cut into shapes with beads sewn onto them.”

“Everyone that comes in here loves it. We sell unique gifts from unique people.”

Bonnie has now teamed up with a Brisbane business woman who works with artisans on the streets in Bangladesh.

“She has set up an old people’s home, where the old people are looked after and in turn they care for the small children to free up their parents to work and make crafts to sell,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie’s fair trade has now expanded to include the crafts of the women from the Kalahari tribe and the Nepalese felt makers from the Himalayan mountains.

“The Nepalese village women make felt purses - selling them under fair trade goes back into the concept of building a village,” she said.

“The countries with the worst poverty don’t give much voice to women so I’m also trying to raise the voice of women around the world” Bonnie said.

Although there is no official board that monitors fair trade in Australia, Bonnie is keen to see one established.

“We need to have a consistent sustainable approach to fair trade imports,” she said. “America has a fair trade board, but we need to establish one with an Aussie slant.”

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