Irish Shop Focuses on Fair Trade with Bolivian Alpaca Products

As the world wakes up to the ethical and environmental damage being done by throwaway fashion, most of us are looking for basic items that go the distance, something Anna Marie Whelan of Castle Street independent fair trade shop Andina Cork has been offering her customers for eleven years.
For the average jaded consumer, the choice between an organic and a conventional cotton t-shirt on a shop floor might seem like a relatively insignificant one. Somewhere in the world however, for someone you've never met, your decision could be life altering, meaning better working conditions and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world.

This is the ethos behind local ethical clothing store, Andina, which focuses on buying and selling items that allow those eking out a living in other countries to have more control over their lives.


In the winter, owner, Anna Marie Whelan sells products made from alpaca wool, created by Bolivian women prisoners. “They send me two boxes of stuff in September, and what I don’t sell, I send back. We get hand knits in from Ecuador and 10 years ago, I started working with the clothing line Braintree,” she said.

Indeed the philosophy behind Andina and Braintree mirror of each other, both seeking to provide beautiful, timeless fashion whilst caring for the environment.

Sydney company Braintree has been championing eco-fibres since their humble beginnings in the mid 1990s and its ranges for women and men are made from sustainable fibres such as hemp, bamboo and organic cotton. The clothing line only works with suppliers who agree to a code of conduct, meaning their workers have safe conditions, a living wage and are free from harassment.

“Over the past 10 years, Braintree has just continued to develop the company and its fibres. It first started with hemp before mixing hemp with wool and then they moved onto bamboo,” says Anna Marie, explaining that clothing can be made out of bamboo fibres. In fact, the bamboo plant is an ideal crop to use in clothing as it matures fast and like hemp, needs no herbicides or pesticides. The fabric is also strong and a great insulator, keeping the wearer cool in summer and warm during winter.

It’s the supply of such quality products that has seen Andina continue to forge ahead in Cork, with a growing customer base.Anna Marie, a self-confessed 'honourary Cork woman', originally from Co Clare, set up the store 11 years ago. “I grew up in retail as my father has a shop in a small village. I’ve always thought there has to be fairness in the world and I believe the success of Andina is because we passionately believe in what we are doing.

“Our mission is positive, it’s about fairness for everybody. If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. However, if you teach him to fish then you feed him for life. I believe in trade, but fair trade. I believe in good quality but I don’t believe in ripping people off,” she said.

Anna Marie added: “We have a good customer base with people from all walks of life coming into the store- au pairs, Spanish and the Irish. We are surviving in a really tough recession, because when someone buys something that is good quality, it washes well, wears well and holds.

“Once you start wearing natural fibres, it is very hard to go back. You do pay a bit more, but the upside is you get something that looks good and lasts 10 times longer. It just feels amazing to wear. The quality of my products is key to my success.”

Anna Marie added that along with a loyal customer base, keeping afloat during the recession is also down to hard work. “I like what I do, I love my job. However, I do work long days. It’s a little bit harder work because it’s fair trade, but it’s all worth it,” she smiled.

For more information drop into the shop at 9A Castle Street Cork City Centre or see ‘Andina Cork’ on Facebook.