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Sunday, 14 May 2017

Meet Fair Trade and Traditional Wooden Toy Brand Lanka Kade



I came across Lanka Kade when searching for traditional wooden toys for my nephews and goddaughter. In the age of technology that we live in, I think it's wonderful that retro wooden toys have made such a comeback and it's great to see kids being creative and playing with educational toys that don't require batteries or technical aids. 
Aside from being traditionally led, Lanka Kade are also a toy company that do good, aiding small artisans and businesses in Sri Lanka to flourish into independent businesses.  Their Fair Trade range of toys and bedroom decor are great for eco-conscious parents and those who want to bring creative playtime back into their homes.

I was lucky enough to speak with Millie recently, who gave me the Lanka Kade low down. From their roots and ethos to their major achievements, including the Lanka Kade Educational Foundation.

Q. Tell us a bit about Lanka Kade

Fair trade toy company Lanka Kade was founded in 1994 when husband and wife team, Upul and Diane, returned to the UK having met in Sri Lanka whilst working for the Red Cross. They did not want to lose contact with the country and the people they both love, therefore they set up a small import business to maintain links with Sri Lanka. The name Lanka Kade translates to ‘The Sri Lankan Shop’.

Twenty years on, Lanka Kade is an established business based in the heart of the UK specialising in the design, craft and supply of fair trade wooden toys and gifts for children. Our distinctive range of educational toys offers both bright, bold colours and natural wood finishes.  
Q. What makes the toys different?

Our director Diane was, prior to Sri Lanka, a school teacher. Drawing on this experience, Diane was able to envisage the educational elements that were to be part of every Lanka Kade toy and gift. Once our experienced designer Anne joined the team, there was no stopping the creativity! Anne has designed Lanka Kade products (with help from the team!) to inspire learning through play which develop language, picture, shape and colour recognition skills to name a few. We have worked hard to set high standards for quality handcrafted toys. This, along with our bright colours and natural wood finishes are popular with parents and children alike!

We include artisan stories on our packaging to share our connection with Sri Lanka and promote our artisans, showing the difference purchasing Lanka Kade makes. When you purchase a Lanka Kade product you also directly support our educational foundation which provides books and daily milk drinks to several rural schools in Sri Lanka.
Q. As a fair trade company you obviously care about fair working practices. But how important was that to Diane and Upul when they started in 1994?

Whilst in Sri Lanka in 1994, Diane and Upul met some local workers outside of a toy factory, only to discover they were ex-employees of the factory, chasing payment for work completed three months earlier. So incensed at this injustice, they decided there and then that they would only buy from people who cared about their workforce.

This was the defining moment for the business and the catalyst which established our fair trade business ethic.

We have direct trading relationships with our producers, Upul travels to Sri Lanka regularly, working with our artisans to ensure fair trade working practices are met and maintained. Our commitment to our producers supports their growth and development, whilst ensuring their employees have a sense of job satisfaction and that their employment is valued. The producer groups offer their staff good rates of pay, equal opportunities and a safe working environment in coherence with the 10 Principles of Fair Trade.

At Lanka Kade, we comply with the internationally accepted 10 Principles of Fair Trade and we have been a proud and active member of BAFTS (The British Association of Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers) since 2001, with our Director Diane chairing the board for a couple of years.

Q. Tell us more about the Lanka Kade Educational Foundation

The educational foundation provides several disadvantaged rural schools in Sri Lanka with books and daily milk to ensure that all students are better equipped for learning.

For some children attending school, the cup of milk provided by the foundation is the only sustenance they will receive during the day. Since the programme was introduced, teachers have reported much improved concentration and contribution from the children. In 2016 alone, we provided 40,934 daily milk drinks to 211 students. 
Many children in Sri Lanka attend school unable to fully participate as their parents cannot afford to buy exercise books and they are not supplied by the Government. In schools supported by the foundation, books and pencils are provided to ensure all children have equal access to education; we provided 4771 school books in 2016.

The book donations and milk programmes have inspirited a big increase in admissions, with more children than ever attending school! Exam results are improving, whilst the Public Health Inspector has praised the impact that both programmes have had on the health of the children.

Q. What has been Lanka Kade's biggest achievement that you’re most proud of?

As we have evolved over the last twenty years our ethos has remained the same; to build long-term, sustainable trading partnerships that provide stability and protect local skills. We encourage our producer’s independence and growth at every level and offer interest-free loans, training and independent financial support to help them grow into independent businesses.

Our director Upul comments “Seeing our producer groups flourish over the years into the healthy, independent businesses they are today has been inspiring to see and a privilege to be a part of. The ten groups we work with have given employment to over 180 local people and allowed them to provide for themselves and their families with pride. We are most proud of the independence our producers now demonstrate having seized the opportunities we offered over the years and look forward to working with more groups in the future.’



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