PhotographyJeroen Van Loon
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An incredibly labour-intensive crop to grow, vanilla is the second most expensive spice, after saffron.
The concept of fair trade is an odd one. It is reasonable to expect everyone to deal in fair trade. Why do otherwise?
This painstaking and costly process leads many cosmetics companies to use synthetic vanilla in their products as vanillin molecules can be easily and cheaply reproduced in laboratories.
It takes several months to produce vanilla absolute, which is the thick, sweet-smelling brown substance that is extracted from the beans.The vanilla beans are harvested after eight-to-nine months and are boiled in water for three minutes. Over the next four months, they are dried slowly in the sun for around two hours per day, then covered in blankets and taken in at night to stimulate the chemical process which causes vanillin crystals to develop.
Ndali beans are very unusual in that a high proportion develop iridescent vanillin crystals on their surface - this is like the champagne of vanilla, only more rare. To achieve this they have to be nurtured, harvested and cured using exceptional methods, which Ndali, understandably, keep secret.
Once the beans are ready, they journey to France where they are transformed into the Fair Trade vanilla for use in beautiful skin and haircare products.
Agnès, from the Lush Buying team, was closely involved in sourcing the Ndali beans. She says: “We wanted to work on producing our own vanilla absolute for a long time as it is an amazingly beautiful ingredient which we are passionate about.This is the result of a long journey which involved finding the right vanilla producer and ensuring that the quality of their beans was high enough as well as finding people to work with to produce our absolute. The Fair Trade vanilla beans create a beautiful vanilla absolute and by using this ingredient we also support the hard work of the Fair Trade vanilla growers in Uganda.” Fair enough?
As Lulu says: “We focused on the Fair Trade market because it was the only thing that made sense to me: isn’t it natural to want to work with happy people, and find the most harmonious working relationship with your suppliers?”
Sourcing Fair Trade ingredients allows farmers to receive a fair price for their hard work and customers to receive a high quality ingredient. It's should be as simple as that. Yet the administration fees charged by certifying bodies and a market saturated with cheap, alternatives makes it all the more difficult for Fair Trade producers to earn a living.
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