Beyond the Jacket

From January 2017, 80% of Páramo production carries the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) First-Buyer Label.

This year, we are celebrating 25 years of ethical partnership with the social enterprise Miquelina, which empowers exploited women and girls affected by Colombia’s civil conflict to take their future into their own hands. With support from the welfare organisation Caritas Germany and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Miquelina’s fair trade production standards have been verified by the WFTO, of which it is now a fully-fledged member. All Páramo products produced at Miquelina from January 2017 will carry the WFTO First-Buyer label. 

Casualties of conflict

According to the UN Refugee Agency, Colombia’s 50-year civil conflict has internally displaced over 7 million people. Over half of them are women and girls, particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and drug abuse. Many have families to support.

“In Colombia, you are forced into prostitution”, says 40-year old Amparo Chambo, who fled to the capital city after her parents were murdered in southern Cauca. “I was alone, I had no money – prostitution was the last resort”. As a young girl, she fell victim to violence, rape and unwanted pregnancies. 

However, for 20 years now, Amparo has been working at “Creaciones Miquelina”, a sewing factory in Bogotá. Miquelina was founded in 1977 by Esther Castaño, Mother Superior of the order “Las Religiosas Adoratrices”, with two secondhand sewing machines and the goal to empower exploited women like Amparo to take control of their lives. Today, the modern factory employs 200 women and trains 550 more each year.

“For the first time in their lives, these women are experiencing respect. Across several conversations we convey to them that they are valuable and capable of taking their future into their own hands: they can get vocational training, earn a living and be free”, says Sister Rosaura, the head of the order.

Aligning social and commercial objectives

During a visit to Colombia in 1992, Nick Brown, founder of Nikwax® waterproofing, met Madre Esther by what he describes as “divine accident”. He was looking for a manufacturer to realise his idea for a new kind of outdoor clothing. Together, they created the first Páramo jacket and the foundation for a strong partnership that successfully aligns long-term social and commercial objectives.

Nick Brown Rosaura PatinoAccording to Sister Rosaura, “Nick has been the best ally. In addition to his business vision, he has an extraordinary social sensitivity that led Miquelina to reach high levels of quality.”

With Páramo’s encouragement, Miquelina registered as a charitable organisation in 1997 and achieved the ISO 9001 quality certification in 2002. Today, the factory is responsible for well over 80% of our production. All factory profits are reinvested in equipment and in social projects. A housing co-operative in a district of Bogotá gives the women the opportunity to buy property at a fair price. The nuns have built a community centre, a virtual library, a kindergarten and a canteen for local schoolchildren. A recently launched satellite project in Pereira City, 200km west of Bogotá, is extending Miquelina’s valuable work in a new location.

Verified by the World Fair Trade Organization

wfto-first-buyer-logoWith support from the welfare organisation Caritas Germany and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Miquelina became a WFTO guaranteed Fair Trade Organization in January 2017. All Páramo products produced at Miquelina will carry the WFTO First-Buyer label.

“I am delighted to welcome Páramo as the first company of the outdoor sector using the Fair Trade First-Buyer-Label on products supplied by Miquelina, which is a guaranteed Fair Trade producer organization in Colombia”, says Rudi Dalvai, President of the WFTO. “In the garment sector, too often there is flagrant violation of human and labour rights in producer countries, which often face significant challenges in terms of sustainable development. The long-lasting partnership between Miquelina and Páramo is an admirable example which shows that economic development and product quality can go hand in hand with human development and social justice”.

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