Nathan Zhang owns the charity shop of Chinese handicrafts and used books, clothes and other items. Zou Hong / China Daily
It looks exactly like other handicraft shops in a traditional Chinese hutong, or alley, except that each item has a story.
The city’s first-of-its kind charity shop, owned by Nathan Zhang, sells Chinese handicrafts along with used books, clothes and other items.
The concept is that proceeds from what is sold are donated to help rural women in China.
“Many NGOs produce their own stuff but don’t have a place to sell it,” said Zhang, who returned to Beijing in 2008 after working in Canada for nearly a decade in the telecommunications sector.
“A rural women’s group tried to open a little shop but only sold two things. When they put their products in my shop, everything sold out.”
Located in Wudaoying Hutong in Dongcheng district, Brand Nu’s walls are lined with handicrafts from a number of different nongovernmental organization supported projects aimed at benefiting women across the country through economic empowerment and cultural education.
There are hand-embroidered purses from Ningxia province, tiny animal dolls from Shandong, woven sandals from Guizhou and tailored jackets from Sichuan.
The other half of the space is filled with almost mint condition clothes that have been donated from the Beijing community.
The jackets, dresses, tops and pants sell for around 30 yuan ($4.40) each.
Zhang is also working with a local Scottish designer to create a clothing line made from the fabric of second-hand garments.
Most of the funds Brand Nu generates are funneled directly to the Beijing Cultural Development Center for Rural Women. The NGO offers a number of programs for impoverished women, including literacy classes, support networks and mental health education.
Zhang is collecting books and raising money to help the NGO build a library near Beijing.
He plans on expanding his product line soon as well, engaging more disadvantaged women to make sweaters, soaps and other items that he can sell in Beijing to help raise their socioeconomic status in the countryside.
Yet with aspirations come worries. Right now Zhang is operating on a shoestring budget and looking for work on the side to support both his business and his family.
But the cause is important and his business hopefully sustainable.
“It is a big risk,” he said. “I don’t have any income. But this little shop gives me the space to do my thing and to help people. I am not worried.”
“I wanted to do something meaningful,” said Zhang. “If you can help one woman, you can help an entire family.”
Ethical trade fair hits Beijing
By Jenelle Whittaker (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-12 10:06
|Customers check what’s on sale at the trade fair on Saturday. [Jenelle Whittaker / for China Daily ]Related video: A “Brand Nu” page for charity|
Beijing’s first ethical trade fair, held on Saturday, had all the right ingredients: a charismatic guest speaker, good venue, extensive publicity and a driven and passionate founder.
The event, held at Argo Greek Restaurant in Wudaoying hutong and hosted by brandnu, a Beijing-based store and artisan network, aimed to promote sustainable livelihoods for rural Chinese women.
“I want to give rural Chinese women a better opportunity to be more independent by offering support, resources and better access to urban markets,” brandnu founder Nathan Zhang said.
“By offering rural Chinese women a platform to sell their products, they are benefiting directly.”
The ethical trade fair showcased contemporary artisan goods and handmade crafts, including jewelry, purses and shawls.
“Every business here is doing great things,” Natalie Lee from Taiwan said. “The more people who know about these products, the better.”
Guest speaker at the event Wu Qing, a renowned professor and active supporter of women’s rights, spoke to a packed room of Chinese and expats about the difficulties Chinese women face.
According to Professor Wu Qing, China has the highest suicide rate among rural women in the world.
“They marry into male households and lose social ties, find it difficult to express and articulate their opinion and have easy access to strong pesticides.
“If I want to change China, I need to change rural China and I need to change rural women,” Professor Wu Qing said.
Wu is a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, also known as “Asia’s Nobel Prize”. She called on men to be reeducated in gender roles because it “takes two to tango.” She has served since 1984 as a deputy to the Beijing Haidan district people’s congress, focusing on the rule of law and transparency in government.
Brandnu’s Nathan Zhang thanked Professor Wu Qing for her inspiration and sparking the concept of brandnu, after being introduced to her by his Canadian wife.
Through brandnu, Zhang aims to connect Chinese rural urban women, socially conscious designers and entrepreneurs, and the expat community.
“With the help of designers and entrepreneurs, we redesign the traditional handicrafts into more mature products in order to sell and promote among more customers. Better sales mean we can redesign the rural livelihoods,” Zhang said.
The ethical fair trade marks brandnu’s one-year anniversary. In that short time, brandnu has helped build two rural libraries in partnership with Dulwich British School and has hosted an exhibition of works by artists from the Beijing Huiling Community for people with learning disabilities.
Zhang plans to hold the event every year but understands China has a long way to go until ethical trade is mainstream.
“In China, there is a mindset that charity only happens after natural disasters. However, I think we can provide help or love to the needy in our normal daily life.”
This view was shared by NGO representatives at the ethical trade fair on Saturday.
“It’s hard to promote fair trade in China. People care too much about the price of goods,” iFair Fair Trade Center’s Wen Wen Chen said.
“Our goal is for Chinese to know about fair trade. It’s hard to buy fair trade products in China. If we cooperate with other social enterprises, we can empower (rural workers).”