On the road with Kylie Kwong

In the field article written on the 20 May 2011

Photo: Bonnie Savage/OxfamAUS

By Raina Hunter, Media Coordinator, Oxfam Shops

A bit of background…

It’s official: celebrity chef and Oxfam Ambassador Kylie Kwong is designing her first ever tableware range, to be sold exclusively through Oxfam Shop. Fair trade and hand-made, the range includes a soup bowl, a rice bowl and a Chinese teapot and teacup, and is shaping up to be truly gorgeous!

In March this year, Kylie travelled to Vietnam to meet with the folks from Mai Vietnamese Handicrafts, who will be producing her range. One of Oxfam’s key producer partners, Mai is an inspiring example of how fair trade benefits not only workers but the wider community. A passionate advocate of fair trade, Kylie was keen to see it in practice.

It was an intense, whirlwind trip, in which we met some incredible people, saw Kylie’s tableware range coming together, and – of course – enjoyed some delicious food.

This is the first of two blog posts recounting some of our experiences in Hanoi.

Days 1 and 2: Fair trade in full view

Day one was a chance for the Oxfam team to visit Giang Phong, the Mai workshop where the range is being produced, and to meet some of the key staff ahead of Kylie heading out there the following day. Originally set up to help send poor Vietnamese children to school, Mai Vietnamese Handicrafts now employs the mothers and older sisters of these children; most of its artisans are women, in fact. Giang Phong, based in Bat Trang province near Hanoi, is one of 22 groups Mai works with around Vietnam.

All in all, a very productive and unbelievably useful day: we got some great photos and interviews and learned a lot.

On the second day, we accompanied Kylie to Giang Phong to see her range being created first hand. We were taken through every stage of the production process, and met a number of the workers, many of whom have been there many years. After examining the latest samples, Kylie and our product developer Nele explained the changes they were still looking for to the master painter with the help of an interpreter.

Kylie was happy to see how light and bright the workshop is, and how happy the workers seem: fair trade in action! She was also wowed by the intricate hand-painting, and the fact that almost everything in the ceramics factory is done by hand.

Later, the workshop’s owner, Giang, took us to his previous workspace (they’ve been in their current premises since 2009). We were all surprised by how dark and dingy it was compared to the new place. Some of the women described how much things have changed since they began working for Giang, highlighting the importance of developing skills and introducing change gradually when building up fair trade organisations in these developing countries. (While Giang’s workers happily accepted many of the improved conditions brought by the fair trade system, such as better pay, equipment and workplace facilities; time off each day to prepare their lunch, and many more; many of them still refuse to sit in proper chairs, although they sometimes now use stools instead of sitting on the ground – they are just more comfortable that way!)

Watch a video about Kylie’s visit to Vietnam
Sign up for email updates on Kylie’s new range

Read the next instalment, in which Kylie goes fresh-produce shopping on the streets of Hanoi and cooks a thank you lunch for the workers.