October is well known as breast cancer awareness month, it is lesser known as Fair Trade month. Fair Trade can be supported by:
– Purchasing goods which are designated fair trade products and/or produced by fair trade organizations
– Learning more about Fair Trade and Fair Trade Artisans
In a previous article the Karen Tribe was highlighted as one such group of fair trade jewelry producers. In this article, another fair trade jewelry artisan group the Mien will be featured.
The lu Mien are heavily influenced by Chinese culture and are believed to have originated from southern China. At least a million Mien are still living in China with settlements also found in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. In Thailand the Mien are primarily residing to the north of Chiang Rai or Phavao province.
At the latter half of the 19th century, the lu Mien arrived in Thailand from Laos. Unlike many other tribes, there are no sub-tribal groups within the Mien population. As a result there is little difference in the customary dress and appearance among the group. A woman’s outfit would include a black turban and a red ruff which has the appearance of a boa even though it is sewn into the front part of the tunic’s collar. The woman’s pants are heavily embroidered and are worn underneath a black or dark blue colored tunic that extends to the ankle. The outfit is tied with a wide sash. Women and children also wear silver neck rings with chains of silver ornaments attached that extend down their back.
For the Mien silver jewelry is more than an adornment, it is also a statement of status and wealth. The silver jewelry worn by a young Mien woman helps a suitor to decide on a prospective bride. Skilled silversmiths handcraft silver into intricate chains and petite flowers creating exquisite pieces of handmade silver jewelry that a Mien bride will wear in a heavy cascade down her back.
Many fair trade jewelry retailers support the Mien jewelry artisans and in doing so help maintain the high craft skills of a justly product ethnic culture while also enabling them to earn an income to support their families.