High in the in the Guanacaste Mountain range of Costa Rica is Women of the Cloud Forest, a Fair Trade project dedicated to offering opportunities to the women of rural Costa Rica and their families. There are about 50 women in the project who hand-embroider bags and jewelry decorated with the variety of beautiful seeds found wild in the rainforest.
The women who participate in the project live across the Monteverde region - from “downtown” Santa Elena to two hours away in Cabezeras. Women of the Cloud Forest operates a small Arts Center where women gather together to take free classes in embroidery and produce rainforest seed jewelry.
The classes are offered in a communal setting, where the women who range in skill level from beginner to expert, can all learn from each other.
From birds to butterflies, frogs to insects, the women produce color accurate reproductions of North and Central American species. Each design is lovingly “painted” using single strands of embroidery thread.
After the women have finished decorating the bags, they are then sent to their talented seamstress, who puts the finishing touches on them, including the zippers, straps and pockets. Over 200 custom crafted designs by the women are then shipped and sold throughout the US.
The Women of the Cloud Forest project also offers Teacher’s Packets, do-it-yourself kits for teaching small classes of about 30 people to make their own rainforest seed bracelets and jewelry, as well as information about the different types of seeds.
They also provide consignment style fundraising opportunities, perfect for schools, churches, environmental groups and other non-profit organizations who are looking for an easy way to raise funds while also raising awareness about fair trade and conservation issues.
Along with the great opportunities for the women of rural Costa Rica, the Women of the Cloud Forest project also empowers other locals with ways to earn income as a result of the group’s efforts:
Misiel Alvarado is a seed collector. Besides organic vegetable and coffee farming, Misiel is able supplement his income by collecting various types of seeds for the project. The cosecha or the harvest of the seeds starts in March at the end of the dry season. The seeds are then washed and drilled preparing them for jewelry-making.
I was lucky enough to spend some time with co-founders Amy and Michael Sobkowiak, and they are wonderful people with a great drive to help the people of the Monteverde region. They have some amazing stories of how the people they help have thrived.
To learn more about the Women of the Cloud Forest, their projects and their skillfully-crafted products at: