Member of the Month – Guaranteed Members Special
History of Island Spirit
After a wonderful year from 2009 – 2010 as the Communications Manager with Partners in Community Development Fiji, I started a small company called Island Spirit. The economy in the UK was going down hill rapidly and jobs in the charity sector were becoming more and more scarce so I felt it was as good a time as any to get out and try something new!
I had previously learned quite a bit about the needs of Fijian outer-island communities and felt I wanted to share this real Fiji with people who care about the environment and local community development. I have the skills to get the message out there and contacts within Fiji to provide a service.
Island Spirit is therefore based on a few simple principles: mutual benefit for both the Fijian people and guests in the form of conservation, local economics, education, life experience and enjoyment.
We provide a variety of tailored eco adventures specialising in island adventure, reef volunteering and true cultural immersion. We aim to offer unique, high quality and authentic Fijian adventures providing inspiring and fulfilling experiences through connecting our guests with nature and engaging with local communities.
Island Spirit Fiji is the first World Fair Trade Organisation Member to trade with any Pacific Island country
Island Spirit, based on Taveuni, Fiji, has just become the first ever organization in the world to work in collaboration with Pacific Island producers to enable access to Fair Trade markets such as Oxfam.
This first time for a Fiji-based company, World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) membership, brings a rare and unique opportunity to women’s groups to sell their produce anywhere in the world through Island Spirit’s merchandising arm: ‘Island Spirit Crafts’.
Island Spirit is the latest addition to the long list of World Fair Trade Organizations throughout the globe. They joined to ensure customers of their commitment to Fair Trade practices and are committed to the WFTO principles.
Particularly unique is the trading relationship they have formed with a few small women’s groups on the outer, more remote island in Fiji – Taveuni. The new product line has started with organic, hand-made yoga mats and will soon expand to include jewellery and other household goods.
Karen Mapusua, Coordinator of the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community noted the importance of this certification and the fact it is a first for the Pacific Islands:
“For Island Spirit to become a World Fair Trade Organisation is a breakthrough for the Pacific. It is not only opening up market opportunities for the women producers in Taveuni it is also paving the way for other Pacific producer groups to enter the WFTO system.”
The still strong practice of weaving ‘loga floor mats’ for social purposes such as meal time, social events, and relaxing in the mid-day heat led to the idea that those very same durable mats can be made into a smaller version – the yoga mat.
Says founder of Island Spirit, Kirsty Barnby: “Introducing the idea to make their usual mats but smaller wasn’t the problem, the women are so incredibly keen to produce – they’re understandable really excited about generating their own income. They’re basically being offered a job out of the blue for doing something they’ve done for years. Maintaining consistency in size is proving a slight challenge because they use an arms-length ‘katu’ instead of measuring tape! But I think it’s all a matter of practice with the measuring tape!”
Island Spirit will sell Fair Trade products to maximize the use of raw materials from sustainably managed sources. Their Fair Trade ranges are all locally sourced.
“We seek to minimize the impact of our waste stream on the environment. Our women’s group producers just make mats the way they have for centuries – naturally minimizing their environmental impact by using organic and zero pesticide methods – just by being traditional.” says Kirsty.
The production line uses minimal energy consumption and whenever possible uses solar to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In certain villages which have new solar installations such as the one we recently provided for Vidawa Village, the women can weave at night. It’s great for everyone, kids can do their homework, elderly eyes aren’t straining as they drink their traditional root drink ‘kava’ while playing cards and women can weave away after dark if they choose.
All the current weavers are women located around the 18,000 strong population of Taveuni in Northern Fiji. They are all members of a handicraft co-operative called Taveuni Empowerment for Women which Island Spirit works closely helping with quality management, logistics and financials.
One of the villages, Lavena, takes 1.5 hours by bus to get to from the main town along a bumpy track. It is quite literally at the end of the road which circulates Taveuni. It is so remote the women don’t have that many opportunities to better themselves and their families if they want to. The initiative is so important to these groups of hard working ladies. Maria is a weaver in Lavena village: “The alternative income generation gives us choice, choice to spend our own money or even go to weekend or evening workshops – the extra money makes us also feel good, independent and strong”.
The initiative is generously supported by the EU and POETcom who have helped both financially and by facilitating the WFTO application.
|Head Office:||Bath, United Kingdom|
|Year of foundation:||2012|
By Kirsty Barnby from Island Spirit