Is TAMMACHAT a charity?

We’re often asked if TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles is a charity. And if not, why not? Our answer is that we are a social enterprise: a venture that uses market-based strategies to achieve a social purpose, whose bottom line is to benefit people and the planet rather than to maximize profit.

The artisan groups that create our products are also social enterprises. They provide more than income to their participants. Many were formed in the era of empowering women through self‑help groups. They often provide environmental awareness through training in natural dyes and composting methods, numeracy skills and micro-credit, consciousness raising and Tleadership opportunities.

A village-based Eri silk rearing and weaving group in Central Thailand

From the beginning, the weaving groups with whom we partner have told us that to continue their work they need to expand their sales, especially into markets they otherwise could not access. They want trade, not aid. Our chance meeting with the first artisan group led us to understand their achievements and barriers, which in turn prompted us to create a fair trade business to help them achieve their goals.

A "train-the-trainer" workshop with Prae Pan Group in NE Thailand

By paying fair prices, shouldering the cost (and risk) of credit and applying our skill sets to their marketing problems, we are empowering women to sustain their families, communities and environments. Just as important to us, is the fact that we are assisting women to continue their beautiful weaving traditions. We view our work as a passion project; our passion drives us on, in spite of the challenging economic realities that we, too, face in the marketplace.

A weaver at the Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre in Laos

At the same time, we recognize the value of charitable giving – both to mitigate disasters and to give those in need a hand up. Understandably, we make donations to organizations that share our values and inspire our generosity. These include:
  • Books for kids in Laos:
    We support the work of Big Brother Mouse, a vibrant book publishing venture in Laos that brings highly illustrated books to children to make literacy fun. For each textile we sell, we donate a book to a child in Laos through this project. More about Big Brother Mouse in our blog post of Jan. 4, 2012.
  • Flood relief to help women in Thailand:
    Following this year’s devastating floods in Thailand (the worst in 50 years), we decided to donate 10% of our sales from our November 2011 shows to help women affected by the floods. This donation went to Homenet Thailand (now known as Foundation for Labour and Employment Promotion), which supports home-based women workers and others in the informal sector. (More on this in a coming blog post.)
  • Alice Housing silent auction and other fundraising events:
    We regularly donate a handwoven textile to the annual fundraising event to support abused women and children in Alice Housing, a transition house in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We also support various other organizations in our community with similar donations.
  • Assisting displaced peoples from Burma:
    Many displaced peoples – whose villages have been destroyed by the Burmese Army – suffer from inadequate housing during the cold weather months. This year we realized that we could use our checked luggage allowance to address this need. With help from neighbours and friends in Nova Scotia, we gathered donations of blankets and warm clothing. These went in early December to those in need, including many children, through a relief organization, the Displaced Persons Response Network, we met that works in the borderlands of Burma and Thailand.
We continue to be introduced to additional organizations that do charitable work here. Even though Thailand is a “newly industrialized country,” needs persist here in many sectors. It seems that each organization we meet is involved with an income generation project to help people, particularly women, earn money for their families. We’ll be meeting soon with several of these groups to see if we can work together. One of the many barriers is an understanding of which products sell in different markets (especially niche markets). At the very least, we will share with them our experiences of building markets in Canada, the US and the UK for handcrafted textiles.

Ellen and Alleson