Nov 10, 2012

Registered again with WFTO

Prepared for the next two years

Yes, with the help of Friedi from Germany conducting an independent assessment for Mary & Martha, WFTO have granted our certificate for the next two years.  We give thanks for a very fast and smooth question and response process operated by WFTO Asia and Central.  And thank you Friedi -an angel in the right place at the right time

We're tired, stretched and exhilarated by all that has happened this year.  Business is up just over 50% on last year; it means our artisans have had their best year ever! Hannah from New York has helped us with photography and product designs.  In the summer, when we were most busy, Laura and Chris stepped in at just the right time.  Charis has been in and out of UB each time giving great ideas for new products and supporting production organisation.  Gunhild has worked on colours and household textiles and Helen has supported our shop; events and our staff.  We're blessed with many other volunteers and supporters.

We've bought our shop - and have a huge loan of course - but it gives us stability for the future in a very unstable rental market.

Currently we're working on an e-Shop with a web designer in Mongolia and seriously hope to have it operational in first quarter 2013.  We continue to receive orders from customers from all over the work who have visited our shop and are seeking more products - what an encouragement!


Sep 4, 2012


Dear Mary and Martha

I have bought many things in your shop on my work visits to UB. On a recent trip I bought one of your camels and I thought you might like to see that he is now enjoying a new life in Thailand - as you can see from the photo!

Genghis in Thailand
When we play golf we have money on several things. One of them is on bunkers. If someone goes in a bunker they have the 'camel' until someone else goes in one, and the person holding the camel at the end has to pay the other players. Until recently we just used to remember who had the camel but then I found this one in your shop and he is now kept in Thailand  for all our matches here. He quickly attracted the name Genghis and is proud of it as you can see in the photo. I think he likes it in Thailand. (The caddies love him and are always reluctant to pass him on to the next player!).

Thank you Richard for brightening our day!
We'd love to hear about how well travelled our products are - Genghis seems to have found a real mini Gobi!

Jul 26, 2012

Pickpocketing Problems in Central Ulaanbaatar

I am sure this is a subject raised / reported to embassies every summer in Ulaanbaatar.  Pickpocketing along the main Peace Avenue, particularly between the Central Post Office  and the State Department Store, starts in earnest about June each year and continues into September.  We operate shop near the State Department Store and near the Gobi Cashmere Shop on Peace right in the pickpocketing heartland.

This year the pickpockets are more organised, mainly teenage boys and girls often dressed in similar ways to tourists, with a minder pushing them into action.  Whilst we know people should be responsible for looking after their own property, we do remind shoppers all the time about the pickpockets and their techniques – primarily one person walking in front of the target and slowing them down whilst 3 others push and steal from behind or simply working people’s bags when a bag is on the target’s back.

If challenged, the pickpockets immediately threaten people, sometimes pulling knives.  I have been threatened when stopping pickpocketing taking place and my staff have also received threats.  We have people talking to us daily, many traumertised, about what they have lost and the threats received.  We have discussed reporting the events to the police but our staff have said this will be a waste of time and that the links they perceive between pickpockets and authorities will only cause us and our staff more problems and threats.  Our staff, whilst recognising the pickpockets, are unwilling to put themselves in danger by identifying them.

In previous years after fairly high level official complaints, we think by embassies, both uniformed and plain clothed police have been put on the area in Peace Avenue, immediately moving the pickpockets away from the most crowded areas of town.  No action has taken place this year to deter the pickpockets. It affects tourism, business and the reputation of Mongolia, but seems of little importance since the mining boom has started.

We should note that foreigners and Mongolians alike are targets but the Mongolians seems to be more street wise.  Further Mongolians see foreigners being pickpocketed but will not intervene because of the threats and violence used by the pickpockets.

May 27, 2012

First Media Recognition - WFTD

We are grateful to the UB Post newspaper who were the first to recognise and publish information about World Fair Trade Day in Mongolia.

May 15, 2012

Post WFTD - Looking Back

Mary and Martha Celebrations

We celebrated WFTD by extending it to 3 days, giving a sense of before , now and after.  We were well publicised to the Expatriate community through Mongolian Buuz, the British Business Group and IWAM (International Women's Association of Mongolia).  We had a small mention online by the UB Post.  We 're grateful for all the support we received.

We broke out the summer uniforms only to have the temperature drop to below zero and for snow to fall for quite a long part of the day.
Far warmer down below in the Basement Shop
During the day the daughter of one of our artisans dressed in Traditional Kazakh clothes and demonstrated Kazakh Embroidering for may interested customers.
And at the end of the three day celebrations more than USD 3000 worth of products had been sold to very happy customers.

We just wish our motto could become a reality -


May 10, 2012

Start of the Celebrations WFTD

World Fair Trade Day 12th May.

May 11, 12, 13 - come browse our shop, learn more about Fair Trade in Mongolia and the activities of Mary & Martha.

AND the more you buy the more you support our Artisans as we reorder to replace stock.

AND the more you buy the more opportunity you have of winning one of our Hand Crafted gifts - 1 voucher for every 10,000 MNT spent.

AND this weekend is going to be cold in the countryside so why not head for the cosy Mary
& Martha Basement

AND tell your friends in other countries that we export all over.  Check out:

Thank you for supporting Mary & Martha

SEE YOU IN THE BASEMENT, next to Cafe Amsterdam.

May 9, 2012

World Fair Trade Day 2012

Fair Trade will be celebrated on 12 May 2012 in diverse places and cultures across the globe. Various events are organized in more than 70 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and Pacific Rim. Leading the celebration are members of the World Fair Trade Organizations (WFTO) that have pioneered Fair Trade for more than five decades.

The World Fair Trade Day is an initiative of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) that takes place on 12 May 2012. It is a worldwide festival of events celebrating Fair Trade as a tangible contribution to the fight against poverty, climate change and the economic crisis that has the greatest impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations. A third of the world’s population lives on less than two dollars a day. The global crisis confirms the need for a fair and sustainable economy locally and globally. Trade must benefit the most vulnerable and deliver sustainable livelihoods by developing opportunities for small and disadvantaged producers. Millions of producers and traders, business and policy makers, supporting organizations and volunteers have contributed to the substantial growth of Fair Trade.

Fair Trade makes a change. Fair Trade Organizations are pioneers and change makers.
Fair Trade producers, their organizations, local and international marketing organizations, exporters, importers, wholesalers, retailers, volunteers and citizens will celebrate Fair Trade in diverse events worldwide. On the frontlines are women, indigenous peoples, artisans, farmers and workers, who give testimony of the benefit of Fair Trade in their lives, a good reason to go out and celebrate World Fair Trade Day. … Full statement can be found at

Mongolia, Mary & Martha and Fair Trade. 
Mary & Martha Mongolia is the only Fair Trade Registered organisation in Mongolia. M+M became a member of WFTO in January 2011 after demonstrating 3 year’s of business following the 10 Fair Trade Principles (See  M+M focuses on helping Mongolian citizens develop they micro and small businesses into larger sustainable businesses. The focus is on high quality Hand Crafted products in Silk, Felt, Embroidered Materials, Leather, Hand Knitted products in exotic yarns, Yak and Camel Yarn direct from the Herders, a wide range of Jewellery as well as Recycled Materials.  M+M works with over 120 artisans represented by 21 Cooperatives, NGO Projects, Companies and Individuals from over 7 Aimags in Mongolia.
Mary & Martha form long term relationships with artisans, developing their business skills, improving their product design and showing them more effective ways of making their products. M+M sells Artisan’s products in UB and exports to over 9 countries around the world.  M+M give orders to artisans all year round and buy all products on delivery – our artisans do not have to wait for products to sell before they are paid as is the normal practice for most shops in Mongolia.  Artisans working with M+M for more than 4 years have seen their businesses grow at least ten fold and all have seen their life situations change positively.
Currently M+M are supporting the UN initiative of 2012 “International Year of Cooperatives” – representing Cooperatives from Arkhangai, Tov and Selenge Aimags.

Feb 13, 2012

Published by WFTO in early January 2012

Mary & Martha Mongolia
04 January 2012
(We're welcoming 2012 with inspiring stories from our members who shared to us their experiences building Fair Trade in a challenging environment. -WFTO Team)

Mongolia has a low population but geographically is vast.  It can take up to 5 days and nights to drive across the open steppe from East to West.  While Mongolia has one of the world’s fastest growing economies, based on huge mining resources, this is giving only short term employment.  More and more goods are available but prices are getting higher and higher. Cap that with high unemployment rates and we see a country moving to a two-track system of wealth, with most families struggling to survive.
The Mary and Martha story starts in about 2006.  Having headed up an NGO in Mongolia ( for several years we realized two things;
  1. NGOs were doing a great job of developing hand craft skills in people who most needed employment and a living wage.
  2. Most of these people, after an initial flourish of orders from foreigners linked to the projects, found themselves with the same products their trainers had taught thousands to make and no markets.
Our model was to set up a “Social Enterprise” company that would follow Fair Trade Principles, to be a bridge for artisans to sell products and to develop their businesses.  The bridge would be via a local shop run by Mary & Martha and via exports, preferably through but not limited to Fair Trade shops around the world. 
jan-mm-mongolia.gifWe wanted to develop a shop that people would seek out on their travels - staffed by locals (with a heart for those in or near to poverty) speaking English to support our customers; to have intimate knowledge about the products, the artisans and the country in general.
We went with the company route so that we would not be reliant on donor funds. We and our artisans would need to survive in the tough market place based on the quality of our products, NOT on sales through customer sympathy for those in poverty.
Mary & Martha was started in April 2007, working from our apartment with 4 artisans producing felt slippers, hand-knits, fridge magnets and a some embroidery. For the first nine months, people shopped by invitation only and we worked hard with artisans on how to produce quality products on time. We then rented a small area in a local supermarket as a ‘window’ for about nine months, and finally, we had a BREAKTHROUGH moment when we were offered a sub-basement in the centre of the capital (Ulaanbaatar). This was summer 2009.  No windows, no front door, and a fight for signage outside, we rely on our landlord opening their shop so customers can get to us.
But M+M is really about the Artisans. We offer several services to our Artisans:
  • M+M gives artisans advances up to 50% of Order Value
  • Interest-free Loans are given to help investment in raw materials and equipment
  • One-on-one Business Training is offered by the M+M owners
  • Expertise is offered in relation to Quality Assurance and Production Issues
  • Product Design and Modification to Add Value is offered
Having been in business for 3 years we started the application process to join WFTO in early 2010.  This was the next stage of the dream we had in the beginning. To be recognized as following Fair Trade principles. It was a great process for us to walk through – a walk through all the 10 Fair Trade principles to determine if we were indeed on the right track. Our Artisans are all independent, and they are not required to sell solely to Mary & Martha. We believe they need this freedom to develop their own new markets and to sell through outlets other than ours. We aim to support, not to control.
 The independent artisans of M&M Mongolia
                                                                Photo: M&M
However, acting as a bridge and gaining WFTO membership based on our independent Artisans was a challenge.  We work through relationship, trust, dialogue and close friendship knowing and being a part of the lives of our Artisans.  This takes time.  Understanding the Principles and how they play out in reality for us and the Artisans takes time.  In January 2011, we were delighted to receive our WFTO Certificate and while increases in Exports have been very low, we believe the membership has attracted a lot more discerning shoppers to our UB shop – sales are up about 45% in country. WFTO Membership was our SECOND BREAKTHROUGH. 
The key is that knowing our Artisans receive a Fair Price for their products (and we don’t ask for volume discounts), when our business goes up so does theirs.  Indeed, Artisans who have partnered with M+M since 2007 have seen their businesses grow at least 10 fold.
From day one, we have worked very closely with the local tax, and health and social welfare authorities. They are starting to understand our model and to appreciate the concept of a Fair Trade Social Enterprise Company.  We are ethical and transparent, and that is gaining recognition as we are asked advice on how the underlying tax systems and laws could be changed to increase small businesses in Mongolia. 
We are now working with about 25 cooperatives, companies or individuals, and we believe more than 140 people have part or full time employment making products for M+M alone.  The Mary & Martha Story is only just getting started!
To learn more about M+M visit website and blog
(Bill Manley, Mary & Martha Mongolia)