As I write about values and virtues, particularly as they relate to Fair Trade and the work I do, respect tops the list in terms of importance. In the Fair Trade Federation's listed principles, respect is specifically called out in terms of cultural identity (see https://www.fairtradefederation.org/fair-trade-federation-principles/#1548272556289-0c1b3685-6f65). Respecting cultural identity is important to each of the artisans and artists I work with around the world, but Lesotho offers a particular example of how it is possible to hold cultural identity as a central political force that demands respect.
Lesotho is an autonomous country completely surrounded by South Africa. It is mostly at a high altitude, rich in natural resources, and a democratic constitutional monarchy, meaning it is ruled by both a Parliament and a King. Lesotho has been home to the Basotho people for well over 40,000 years, and though it was a British colony until 1966 and is heavily influenced by South Africa, it has held and maintained its political independence, and never had apartheid, even accepting as many as 4,000 refugees from South Africa.
Lesotho is a beautiful and fascinating country, but it is its demand to hold its cultural heritage in high regard that I find particularly dignified. This national self-respect leads to self-respect of individual identities within the culture, and holds a wealth of opportunity for creativity.
Julia, one of the artists we work with in Maseru, Lesotho, travels the region with her unique designs and holds her aspirations for economic independence through her creations as a constant goal. Together, along with design support from Bellezza Global Consult, we created paper mache jewelry designs that have become some of the best sellers in our collection. Julia founded MaMaaJ's Fashion, and has added 3 staff to the group since its inception.
I have a profound respect for Julia and the way that she brings both her personal and cultural identity to her creative work and to her life. I believe the call to respect one another is a call to make space for another, to be able to see one another, and to behave with self-respect and respect for each of the cultures in our world. I invite you to be reminded of this call by wearing or gifting a paper mache jewelry or home decor item from our collection. As we honor Julia and her work, we reinforce the importance of respect, for one another, for culture, and for ourselves.