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Alaffia Certified Fair Trade Holiday Gift Baskets

The Alaffia holiday baskets were uniquely designed and created for the 2008 holiday season. These are Alaffia basket weavers in Blitta, Togo. Gift baskets include the basket, three body care products and a handcrafted ornament and retail for $34.99. Six months ago, while on the road I received a suggestion from Justin Miloro (Global Associate Whole Body Coordinator) for Alaffia to propose an exclusive Fair Trade gift basket to Whole Foods for the holidays.  I remember feeling a little fever at this moment, as my mind went immediately to the Alaffia Basket Cooperative in Togo.  I went directly to contact Togo, and a week later we had a prototype basket to present to Justin. Upon his approval, we immediately began weaving the baskets in Togo. We invited 16 women from the Bolga region of Ghana to join the 100 Alaffia basket weavers. After two weeks of production, we realized that even with 116 women, we would not be able to make enough baskets on time since each basket takes an average of three days to complete.  Our cooperative director, Limata Gbadamassi made a trip to the northern Ghana Bolga region to meet with more basket coops.   For the next three months, more than 350 women worked to complete the gift basket order. These Alaffia basket weavers in Sokodé, Togo came from Ghana to provide extra help to fulfill the holiday basket order. This is exactly why I felt feverish when I first thought about making the gift baskets.  The baskets presented a great opportunity to provide more jobs at a time when food prices had just increased by 150% in West Africa. More importantly, it was also a great opportunity to help further Alaffia’s mission to preserve our cultural knowledge.  These baskets have been made in Togo and northern Ghana for centuries, and this project encourages the preservation of this knowledge. One basket cooperative in the Bolga region of Ghana that helped weave the Alaffia holiday baskets works together under large Baobab trees. In addition to the cultural benefit of these baskets, they are also environmentally sustainable.  They are made from native Gamba grass that is wild-harvested from uncultivated areas.  Our baskets are 100% biodegradable, helping to reduce waste in landfills.  We also designed them so they will be useful after the holidays and after the lotion, soap and shea butter have been removed. Some ideas for possible uses include lunch box, jewelry container, food storage as we do in Togo, sewing or knitting box, or even a small garbage can.  I believe we can continue to live on this world with 7 billion other people only if goods and materials are designed for more than one use.  Earth simply does not have enough resources for single use items. Olowo-n’djo Tchala visited Alaffia’s basket cooperative in Blitta, Togo during his trip in September. Here he reviews Whole Foods holiday baskets in progress. To me, the most exciting part of this Alaffia gift basket is that they are not mass produced in a factory. Every single basket can be traced back to exactly where it is made. Each weaver puts her unique touch in color and detail weaving; every single finished basket is unique as well.  These baskets can be considered a form of art, a piece of our cultural heritage.  They are an opportunity for cooperative members to put food on their tables and support their families in a place where average income is less than $200 per year. Furthermore, Alaffia uses at least 10% from the sales of these baskets, like all our products, for our community enhancement projects in our West African communities.  Because these baskets are fair trade, there are no middlemen involved.  The chain of custody is clear: First, Alaffia receives an order from Whole Foods Markets. Then, we send this order to the Alaffia Basket Cooperative in Togo and the baskets are woven. When the baskets are finished, we ship them to our Olympia, WA facility where we add the lotions, shea butter and soaps. The finished baskets are then shipped to Whole Foods Markets across the USA.  The reduced chain of custody and lack of middlemen mean that the women who weave the baskets receive a greater percentage of the final selling price and we are able to continue our community projects. Alaffia handwoven baskets stacked and waiting to be packed for transport in Blitta, Togo. It is with greatest sincerity that I thank Whole Foods for the opportunity to make these baskets and thank as well Whole Foods customers, whose purchases will help us continue our social mission to preserve culture, promote gender equality and reduce poverty in our West African communities. On behalf of all the Alaffia cooperative members, I wish you a peaceful and pleasant holiday season.