Jessica Ball

Fairtrade in Sri Lanka

Jessica from the Danaqa team recently visited Sri Lanka to find out more about some of the great ethical and sustainable brands on the island, working to preserve handicrafts and support rural women.


Founded in 1991, Selyn is a Fair Trade Guaranteed handloom company that engages nearly 1000 members of the traditional community of handloom weavers in the village of Wanduragala in Kurunegala.  A declining industry, Selyn is working to revive the ancient skills and heritage of handweaving and extend its benefits to rural women and men, to empower them financially and allow for a comfortable standard of living.  All products are 100% cotton and dyed in an environmentally friendly way at the company's dye plant, which includes a garden free to use by the employees, allowing them to take produce home to their families. The company also provides creche facilities, enabling mothers to continue to work.  The toys produced by Selyn are made both in the company's factory and by a network of home workers, allowing them to earn a living from the comfort of their own homes.  Selyn is a fantastic example of a company giving flexibility to employees to fit their lives, respect for the environment, preservation of traditional skills, whilst producing beautiful, well-made products.

Selyn products will be coming to our Danaqa store soon!

Island Craft Sri Lanka

The Island Craft initiative was created by the Academy of Design (AOD International Design Campus) to support local artisans and cottage industry in small villages through contemporary design collaborations. Island Craft focuses on keeping the handicraft legacy alive, while allowing artisans to lead self-sustained livelihoods. Their traditional artisan communities produce exquisitely handcrafted textiles, basketry and utensils from their humble cottages. The project supports engaged artisans by providing guidance to make quality products that meet international design standards while staying true to local techniques.With products ranging from Palmyrah items produced from the Northern Province, Handloom textiles from Gampaha, Batik, Kithul, Coconut and other Wooden carvings from the Central and Southern Province, Knitware items from Northern Province and many more.

Good Market

We were so happy to discover the Good Market, which takes place in Colombo and Galle every Saturday.  It is such a great initiative to see and you can find out more about their mission and a full list of vendors on their website.

"The Good Market wants to make it easier and more fun to “do good” and make better choices for our planet, our communities, and our health.   It is a platform where socially and environmentally responsible producers, services providers, and consumers can come together.

Sri Lanka has many organic farmers, social enterprises, and responsible businesses that are creating products and services that are eco-friendly, socially responsible, and healthy.  It also has many well-educated consumers that want to feed their families natural and organic food and choose products and services that match their values.  The Good Market is a place for these groups to meet."

Handcrafted bags and baskets from Pulathisi at Good Market.

Handcrafted bags and baskets from Pulathisi at Good Market.

WEAVE by Chrysalis

WEAVE is a collaborative effort to support the businesses of women in Thunnkkai and Pandiyankulam, two small villages in the North of Sri Lanka.  The women have come together to create hand-weaving workshops.  They are committed to reviving the handloom industry in the North, once a thriving source of income and creativity.  Their ultimate aim is to build their business in order to provide a better quality of life for their families and communities; WEAVE is helping to link them to new markets and aid in growing the businesses.

WEAVE by Chrysalis products at Good Market, Colombo

WEAVE by Chrysalis products at Good Market, Colombo


Established 50 years ago by Barbara Sansoni, Barefoot is perhaps the most well-known ethical brand in Sri Lanka.  They work almost exclusively with women, teaching skills and quality to handweavers and stitchers.  The products are produced in small workshops, most of which are in the countryside, allowing the women to stay in their rural locations, whilst still having the opportunity to work and earn fair wages.  The cotton, silk and wool fibres are all hank dyed and woven by hand.  Their flagship store in Colombo is a must visit, with floors of beautiful products and a lovely courtyard cafe.

Information about Barefoot on display at their Colombo store

Information about Barefoot on display at their Colombo store

It is so inspiring to see such great fair trade initiatives, both old and new, existing in the small island of Sri Lanka. With respect for the environment, providing sustainable livelihoods to people and offering great design and wonderful colours, we hope to return very soon!


Supporting Baluch women by keeping the art of hand embroidery alive

We invited the supplier of our beautiful new jewellery collection from Iran, Pegah Mohebbi, to write us a guest blog about the history of hand embroidery and what is being done to preserve craft traditions in Iran.

The province of Sistan-Baluchestan is situated in south-eastern Iran.  With a population of 2.6 million, it is the largest region in the country.  The province has historically suffered from political repression, economic deprivation and has witnessed violence through terrorism from extremist Sunni groups and drug smuggling.  Today, it is the most under-developed region of Iran.

Sistan-Baluchestan stands out as being a particularly traditional and conservative, with many social restrictions on women including limited rights to education, under age marriage and high levels of violence against women. 

While many government initiatives in the region have failed there is a growing trend stemming from the younger generation of educated women who aim to create job opportunities for the local women in aid of improving living standards and helping them gain independence.  One of the most successful of these initiatives involves the popular craft of Baluch hand-embroidery.

Many Baluch women have turned to the art of hand-embroidery they have learnt and practiced since they were children to make their living and to support themselves and their families. With the invaluable effort of young artists and designers around the country, this tradition is being kept alive and restored:

Mixing the old and the new: Hand-embroidery is an ancient Iranian craft. Through support and mentoring of young designers educated in this craft, Baluch women are introduced to new innovative designs, tools and techniques, helping them create pieces suited to the demands of consumers today more efficiently.

Building a support network: Baluch woman are trained and supported to be able to reach their highest potential.  They are mentored to be able to adapt their skills to the modern world.  By partnering with young artists and designers in main cities of the country and abroad, their work is introduced to the contemporary fashion world for recognition of their beautiful intricate work as well as reliable continuous income.

A sense of belonging: This is not just about work opportunities and producing beautiful colourful piece that can be worn.  It is much more.  This is about creating a safe environment and a sense of community for Balouch women who can gain independence and confidence in themselves and their ability.

For more Baluch embroidery products visit the Danaqa store or


Zambezi Baskets

Our beautiful handwoven baskets are a hit in the Danaqa is the story behind them.

Zambezi Baskets is a community driven social enterprise that designs produces and exports hand-woven home decor items made from natural fibres.

Operating from Zambia and Zimbabwe Zambezi Baskets employs over 60 rural families who express their culture and talents to create products that are beautiful, functional and durable. Our artisans advance themselves, raise stronger families, stimulate their local economies and inspire the world around them.

Artisan Powered

Artisans are the driving force behind Zambezi Baskets and the ultimate reason it exits. As artisan leaders gain skills, knowledge and economic independence, they assume greater levels of responsibility in the enterprise. Zambezi Baskets goes beyond fair trade wage scales to pay its artisans livable wages.


Our natural hand made products preserve cultural traditions and the local environment. The ilala palm and bark used in production are cultivated locally, Zambezi Baskets revives the importance of basket weaving in the area by enabling women to pass on their basket weaving skills to their daughters as income generating opportunity.

> Zambezi Baskets opperates in some of the poorest rural areas in the region between Zambia and Zimbabwe

> 78% of household report food scarcity.

> The average annual income is less than $110.

There is no industry or manufactor.

> 90% of the residents are subsistence farmers and fishermen..

> Zambezi Baskets is the only economic development project for women in the area.

> The empoverment of women is key to:

> raising child nutrition level

> improving distribution and production of food

> enhancing the living conditions of rural poor and vulnerable population.

Sabahar-Keeping handweaving alive in Ethiopia

One of Danaqa's most popular product ranges is our beautiful handwoven scarves from Ethiopian company Sabahar. 

Producing uniquely designed, hand made cotton and silk textiles, their products are entirely hand made from natural fibres, from the spinning of the thread to the weaving of the fabric.

Sabahar founder and General Manager, Kathy Marshall, a Canadian by birth but a twenty-year veteran of Ethiopia, founded the company in 2004. Her passion for preserving and celebrating the rich weaving tradition of Ethiopia combined with her desire to create respectful and ethical work opportunities for marginalized people have laid the foundation for the company.

Sabahar's core values reflect those of Danaqa's and their quality made products are a continuing hit with our customers.

Here are Sabahar's values, which can be found on their website.

  • "Sustainability: We support and train artisansto apply their ancient skills to modern, fresh designs. By providing the bridge between the artisan and the global market, we provide reliable income for families.
  • Innovation: Weaving is an ancient craft in Ethiopia but silk was only introduced to Ethiopia about 15 years ago. We adopt traditional technologies to new fibers and products. We remain loyal to tradition while adjusting to contemporary tastes of the world market.
  • Caring for each other: Our products are made with care by people we care about. We create positive work opportunities in Ethiopia, with an emphasis on employment for women. We are members of the World Fair Trade Organization."

To find out more about Sabahar and their creative process watch this short video.

GLF-a youth volunteer perspective

There is much talk of protecting the earth and our natural resources for the next generation but it is the current generation of young people that are bringing new energy and ideas to help solve the issues we face.  For the Global Landscapes Forum, Danaqa assisted CIFOR in recruiting 9 inspiring and informed students to assist in the facilitation of the days sessions.  Prior to the conference Danaqa provided a training session in techniques and exercises to aid engagement and conversation, including 1-2-4-ALL, Worldcafe and sketchnoting.

Below, one student, Mariefi Kamizouli shares her thoughts on the event and the outcome of her sketchnoting session.

"It was a great experience beinga youth volunteer at GLF: The Investment Case in London. I have learned a lot during the different sessions that I participated in. Firstly, I really enjoyed the session about "Removing barriers for investing in landscape restoration - what works where?"  the part we used the 1-2-4 all approach. I specifically liked this moment, because the audience had to identify the key barriers and write them down in order to make categories of these barriers and to discuss them further. People at this point were really engaged at the topic. It was really interactive! My favourite moment during the event was the exhibition part, where I had to sketch-note the conversation about the Case of "Indonesia Palm Oil Pledge"- (IPOP). The conversation was so interesting and so informative that I was very dedicated on the problem of Palm Oils and the deforestation there. Finally, all of the participants were happy to share their knowledge and advice to me during networking. I can not wait to collaborate with CIFOR again!" 

Mariefi Kamizouli, MSc student in Environmental Economics & Climate Change at London School of Economics & Business. 
LinkedIn page:

Conversation Flow

“Farmers are not a homogenous group. They range from subsidiaries of international corporations cultivating hundreds of thousands of hectares to smallholders seeking to secure a livelihood from two hectares — and everything in between.
As such, interventions to address the negative environmental and social impacts of agricultural expansion cannot take a “one size fits all” approach.”-CIFOR

At the recent Global Landscapes Forum: The Investment Case, experts from the financial services industry met with leaders from the corporate sector, senior government officials and project developers to explore the potential of private finance in enhancing livelihood, environment and food security benefits through sustainable investment in landscapes.

The main factors considered were the risks and barriers that are currently preventing the $10-$20 billion worth of annual investment needed in sustainable landscape management. 

When considering the definition of ‘risk’ as something that exposes someone or something of value to danger, harm or loss, let us expand the conversation to what it is that we value.  The ‘something’ that we value is the natural world of our precious planet, its diverse eco-systems that sustain us through the provision of air, water and nutrition.  The ‘someone’ that we value are the small-holders, farmers and foresters that care for the land, forests and oceans to ensure that we continue to have access to clean air, safe water supplies and secure food sources, and that people who currently do not have adequate supplies of these can have increased access to ensure an equitable standard of living worldwide. 

Therefore, as well as a need for a common language between financial and development sectors, there needs to be clear channels of communication to ensure that the needs of all stakeholders are met.  The current conversations surrounding these issues seem somewhat weighted towards how the small-holder or associated project can become more attractive to investors, without much dialogue on how the investors can best support the project to achieve its desired outcomes.  A successful conversation is based on a two way flow of knowledge sharing and understanding through attentive listening.  Are we properly listening to the needs and experiences of the small-holder who exists in the ‘real world’ of high risk through climate hazards, shifting prices, high credit rates and insufficient financial literacy; risks that have a direct and significant impact on the livelihood of the small-holder, his or her family and community and the sustainable management of our landscapes. These seem much higher ‘risks’ in contrast to the ‘abstract’ world of finance governed by rates of return, percentages and time frames. 

Effective conversation is an opportunity to share values, desired outcomes, common language and understanding, knowledge and experiences from both sides to be able to better work together to create innovative solutions to existing challenges and increase the positive impact of sustainable landscape development.

Fashion Revolution

This week is Fashion Revolution Week and Sunday 24th April, marks the third anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that killed 1,134 people and injured over 2,500.

The Fashion Revolution Campaign was started with a mission and a belief that the fashion industry can become an industry which values people, the environment, creativity and profits in equal measure, and that it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure that this happens.

This global movement is asking both consumers and businesses to get involved.  For individuals they ask us to be curious, find out and do something; this can be from asking the manufacturers, #whomademyclothes? to looking for alternatives such as clothes swaps, charity shops, vintage and customisation to prolong the life of our clothes and encourage us to 'buy less, choose well, and make it last.'

Here at Danaqa we don't work with garment workers but we do work with a range of extremely talented craftspeople to produce our beautiful range of jewellery, scarves and bags. 

We are delighted to be able to showcase the amazing work of twin sisters Haimanot and Tigist who design and make our most popular range of jewellery.

A necklace from T&H Designs

To find out more about our stunning handwoven Ethiopian scarves from brand Sabahar, watch this short video.

To find out more about how you can get involved in Fashion Revolution Day visit their website 

International Women's Day

March 8th is International Women's Day and we spoke to Danaqa CEO David Thomas about his thoughts and male perspective on this year's campaign theme #PledgeforParity.

1. What is the most valuable way in your experience, to help women and girls achieve their ambitions?

This is a difficult question to answer - for me there are two sides to it, one on a very individual level and the second more general. The general answer to this question is to provide opportunities. This can mean lots of different things, and for me goes beyond the idea of providing a level playing field. That idea is passive, I think the most valuable way that we can help women and girls achieve their ambitions is more active than that.  In whatever it is that you do you should think actively about providing opportunities to women and girls. This can be on an employment basis, or for us on trade, or can be on an education level. To give a funny example, there is a social media movement about “All Male Panels”.  The idea being that so often at workshops, meetings, events, on TV shows and on the news a panel is put together and all the participants are men. There are two ways of dealing with this. Firstly, the passive way is to say “we just looked for the best people, without prejudice to be on the panel, and they happen to all be men”. The active way is to say “we cannot have one perspective on this issue, we need a range and we need to make sure that there are women on this panel”. I believe that we should be actively providing opportunities to women.

Secondly, on an individual level I think that confidence is a large factor in helping women achieve ambitions.  There is a gender lens that we see the world in, and this impacts lots of things and impacts girls as they grow up in their confidence to do things. Everytime I see this gender lens I think of the negative impact it has on the confidence of my daughter.  At Christmas she wanted a remote controlled car, but said she shouldn’t because only boys play with them. I asked her why she thought this and she said it was because of the adverts she saw on TV.  She is 4. The effect of these things on her confidence I think is real, and this will change her ambitions.

2. What conversations do we need to be having with men to close gender gaps and create more inclusive workplaces?

I genuinely think that workplace dynamics need to be dealt with starting with a more societal change.  The remaining narratives of things “boys do and girls do” changes so much in how we see everything.  Women make dinner, men do DIY, blah blah.  I still hear constantly of the idea there is a primal male instinct to be the breadwinner -surely this is an everyone instinct. All of those elements feed into the way workplaces run.  I think there needs to be a complete rethink on all of this within households.  We should have more conversations about roles within the household, and why we do things. I genuinely think that if the answer to a questions is “because that is the way it has always been” we should look to do something different.  I think if households change their thinking on the everyday issues of things like doing the school run, the shopping, the cooking, looking after sick children, parents etc then workplaces will soon follow.

Within the workplace specifically I notice things in friends works that concern me.  The types of traditional networking events that happen at a corporate level - Golf events, boxes at football and rugby games, that sort of thing - are still prevalent.  I want to know if these are important? Can the organisers of these see the gender barrier of them? If they are important, shouldn’t the “event” be more inclusive and if not then why bother?

3. How can we increase women's leadership, especially in developing countries?

I am not sure that there are too many actions that are unique to developing countries beyond making sure access to education is genuinely equal.  Whilst not perfect, a lot of developing countries have pretty good track records for women in leadership roles when compared to countries we think of as being “developed”. Not perfect, but not bad.  The big one is that women’s education levels are on the whole lower, this cannot and should not be the case.

A poem written by a participant of a Danaqa ID workshop, developing opportunities for rural Caribbean women

A poem written by a participant of a Danaqa ID workshop, developing opportunities for rural Caribbean women

4. What is your favourite personal experience of seeing a woman's potential unlocked?

These are very personal rather than professional, but my mother only really focused on her career after all of her kids had gone to university. She is a teacher and had always worked, but as soon as my younger sister had gone to university she became a deputy head, then a head teacher - now she is a magistrate.  I feel as though her potential was only unlocked when her traditional household responsibilities were finished. Now if the roles within my household growing up were different, would this have been different? This is not to say my father was some raving misogynist, but simply that we had a traditional family life.  I actually remember my father telling me about “positive discrimination” being a good thing when I was a kid, though I don’t think that term is used much now. I really hope this idea of the traditional is different for future generations.

5. How you do make your work/life/relationship balance work in as equal way as possible?

I try my best to be mindful.  I have spent most of my professional career being the “trailing” spouse. This wasn’t done for gender reasons, but it wasn’t “not done” for gender reasons too.  Meaning, as my wife and I have had different opportunities we have tried to look at how they are best for us as a family ignoring the gender roles we are supposed to play. That meant that after maternity leave was done, I did a large part of the child care for our daughter, and will do again when we have our next child (soon!).  I try to remind myself of defined gender roles a lot and my deep desire not to have them influencing my children.  It is really tough as they are part of my upbringing to think in “traditional” ways too. This doesn’t mean that we have an unequal relationship the other way, my wife sacrifices a lot for me as well, but the reasoning is never because “that is how it is supposed to be”.

Danaqa owners, husband and wife, David and Nadia

Danaqa owners, husband and wife, David and Nadia

'The Twins' jewellery on CNN and Fashion Business Africa

It has been a fantastic week of press for Danaqa suppliers 'the twins'! being featured on CNN as an African start-up and selected as one of the top African jewellery designers on Fashion Business Africa.

 Twin sisters Tigist and Haimanot founded jewellery business T&H Designs when they were just 21.  They cleverly mix their traditional Ethiopian style and heritage with stylish designs and quality materials, which is why they are so popular at Danaqa.

Watch the CNN feature with Haimanot here.

And read the Fashion Business Africa article here.

How many origami flowers can you make with one Ethiopian newspaper?

Last time our CEO David travelled to Ethiopia I asked him to bring me back a newspaper for a window display idea I had been thinking about.  To display our beautiful stainless steel vases from India I thought it would be great to make some origami flowers, and as Amharic script is so pretty, I thought an Ethiopian newspaper would be ideal.

Since having the vases and flowers displayed in the window we have had lots of admiring comments, including one lady who was going to take the idea and instructions back to her students.  Sharing the instructions with this enthusiastic teacher has inspired me to post them on our blog as well, for anyone that fancies having a go themselves.  It is very easy and the results are very effective!  

Origami Rose instructions
Our origami flowers in the Danaqa window

And for those of you wondering, you can make exactly 18 flowers with one Ethiopian newspaper!

World Humanitarian Day

2015 is the European Year for Development and the EU has themed each month to highlight the different issues that development faces.
August is the month of Humanitarian Aid, as described on the EU website as,

Natural disasters, wars, and conflicts can have devastating effects on civilians, depriving them from the basics of subsistence like food or electricity, sometimes overnight. Humanitarian aid ensures the very survival of the affected populations after a crisis hits by responding to basic needs such as food, shelter, clean water or physical protection. European humanitarian aid is unconditional. It is there for anyone who needs it, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age or political beliefs. It is about human dignity, not about politics.’

It seems that we are facing more humanitarian crisis’s than ever but as history has proved it is in times of crisis that we as humans naturally come together to help and support each other.

In one article on the EU website entitled, ‘Europeans show increasing support for EU humanitarian aid’, we can see that European’s support of humanitarian aid has increased, with 9 out of 10 citizens supporting EU-funded humanitarian aid.

"The solidarity of Europeans gives hope to hundreds of millions of people around the world who need aid for their very survival amidst conflicts, displacement or natural disasters. I am proud of the strong support of our citizens for Europe's humanitarian work: it drives our Union to keep being a force for good in this increasingly complex world," said Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.

Another article highlights how creativity, innovation and resourcefulness are strong characteristics that can help people through times of crisis.  ‘Creativity in the face of adversity’ talks about ‘Humanitarian Innovation’, as communities use creative problem-solving and entrepreneurship to help improve situations.  It gives the example of Jordan's refugee camp, Za'atari, which currently hosts nearly 83,000 Syrians.

‘With limited resources, Syrian innovators have managed to adapt the camp in many ways. For example, removal men have created wheels to move the ‘caravan’ homes (provided by the international community) around the camp – a market demand created by families and former neighbours who want to live close together again.  Residents of Za'atari are clearly making great efforts to rebuild their identity in this new setting. In many of the homes we visited there was a clear sense of the way in which material innovations can contribute to attempts to reconstruct social and cultural norms from Syria.’

As 2015 is the EU Year of Development we cannot look at humanitarian aid issues without considering the relationship it has with development aid.  For a more efficient and sustainable future for developing countries and communities there needs to be a clear and effective channel of communication and strategy between humanitarian and development aid agencies so that communities can rebuild and move beyond the survival needs of basic food and shelter after a crisis, as stated by Michel Gabaudan in his article ‘From emergency aid to development aid: agencies are failing to connect,’ in The Guardian,

‘…this failure to bridge the gap from humanitarian to development assistance can prevent people from rebuilding their lives. The human toll of conflicts and disasters is too high as it is. What the world needs is an aid system that can respond quickly to those crises, and provide effective development assistance – and seamlessly bridge the two so that no more lives are threatened.’