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Supplier Spotlight – Lanka Kade

Fair Trade Noah's Ark from Lanka KadeLanka Kade makes wooden and brightly coloured, fair trade children’s toys and gifts. Their ranges have expanded over the years to include educational toys, play scenes, games, soft toys and bedroom decorations.

Here is a brief summary of the company and its ethos.  Towards the end of the article Diane from Lanka Kade has been kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

The Company

Established in 1994 by Diane and Upul Soysa, all of Lanka Kade’s products are made in Sri Lanka, hence the company name which translates as “Sri Lankan Shop”.

Lanka Kade initially provided an outlet for small businesses in Sri Lanka, but over time, and with the addition of their first employee, Anne, in 1997, Lanka Kade started to design and develop their own range of educational toys and gifts.

Lanka Kade was set up from the start with the intention to be an ethical business. As Diane pointed out to us, Fair Trade was not the driving force behind it initially, but as they learned more about business in general, and ethical business in particular, they found that their core values aligned with those of Fair Trade.

The website www.lankakade.co.uk was set up in 2002 to show the product range and eventually to sell to the trade and the public.

The products

Lanka Kade Pirate ShipLanka Kade’s products are Fair Trade children’s products.  They produce a wide range, which seems to be expanding every year and includes, but is not limited to:

  • Natural wood animals, play scenes and characters
  • Painted wood animals play scenes and characters
  • Building blocks and block puzzles
  • Jigsaws and board games
  • Toys, such as pirate ships and Noah’s Ark
  • Name plaques and letters
  • Bookends
  • Clocks
  • Height Charts
  • Hooks and Handles

The designs are bright and fun, and many of the design elements follow through a variety of products to create a fully themed range such as pirates or butterflies.

The Manufacturers in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka ManufacturersLanka Kade’s producers in Sri Lanka are all independent businesses. Many began as small family businesses, working from home and have expanded as the needs of Lanka Kade have required.

In the true spirit of Fair Trade, Lanka Kade supports its producers in a wide variety of ways:

  • Fair Price
  • Continuity of orders
  • Training and advice in financial planning
  • Interest free business loans
  • Free accounting advice
  • Health and Safety training
  • Support to understand and implement Fair Trade Principles

All of this additional support is designed to create sustainable businesses within Sri Lanka that support the local communities and create long term prospects for employees.

The Environmental Side

As well as being incredibly strong on Fair Trade, Lanka Kade also does a lot of work to ensure that they have minimal environmental impact, both in the UK and Sri Lanka.

Wood

All wooden toys are made from wood from sourced approved by the Sri Lankan Forest Department.  Many wooden products are made from rubber wood from exhausted plantations that are then replanted.

Packaging

The cardboard cartons are in nearly all cases made up from recycled cardboard. They aren’t the prettiest boxes, but they are strong and protect the contents well. We at Hestian always reuse the boxes afterwards as well.

Where possible Lanka Kade also re-use shredded paper as filling to keep box contents safe, and avoid the use of plastic filling where possible.

Q & A with Diane Soysa

Why did you decide to start Lanka Kade?

I was returning to live again in UK after about 5 years away. I wanted to live again in a war free country for a while at least. Upul came back to UK with me and we wanted to keep our connection with Sri Lanka going.

When you started did you know about “Fair Trade”, or was that something that came later?

I knew nothing at all about any type of business, nor did Upul. With all my previous work experience social, teaching, development etc I had my own values and we took it from there. We discovered fair trade as we went along.

The decision to trade fairly was made when we approached a group of men waiting in the hot sun on a street corner . . . We had just been to visit a potential supplier – we sat in our van looking at them for a while and then approached them to find out why they were there. They informed us they were waiting to get paid for work completed more than three months previously!

How often do you, Upul or someone else form the UK visit suppliers in Sri Lanka?

Upul visits more than most – generally 3-6 times a year. I generally visit once a year and the rest of the UK team visit every two or three years depending upon their skills. Every visit is hugely intensive – just ask a member of our team (Anne, Jason, and Steve).

Have you ever felt resistance to Fair Trade practices when finding new suppliers?

Ohhhh YES!

Does this resistance generally come from the workers themselves, the community, business owners, government, or some other source?

Business owners that care only about sales and profit. It really is a huge answer. They always say yes yes yes, but this is where our local knowledge and experience if culture and ability to speak the local language is vital.

How has the recession affected you?

In the same way as every other business, sales are down and with that profits are also down. We have tried more than most to protect our producers – many inflation prices we have absorbed ourselves, we have rejigged our ordering, production, etc etc in attempts to stabilise profitability for producers.

Do you think Fair Trade companies are more or less resilient in times of recession?

Less resilient without a doubt. Fair trade business generally will not risk the ability to pay their suppliers.

What part of your business are you most proud of?

Without a doubt the ability to change the lives of people not through charity but through offering opportunities for self development with a little bit of added support from our team.

Thanks to Diane for answering our questions, and we wish everyone at Lanka Kade, both here in the UK and in Sri Lanka, all the best for the future.

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