Extolling 'bigger picture' of trade

Extolling 'bigger picture' of trade

Royal woman to be honored

ROYAL — Whenever Jackie Corlett hears people say fair trade merchandise is too expensive, there's something she would like them to know.

"I say fair trade is not too dear," she said. "Fair trade is the real price. What you pay is too cheap."

A British-born designer who worked in Bangladesh for more than two decades and established a fair trade business there that she now runs from her home in Royal, Corlett, 51, will be honored with the trade and business award at the 12th annual Champaign-Urbana International Humanitarian Awards ceremony Sept. 25.

Her business, Motif, employs artisans who hand-make goods such as bags, jewelry, stationery and accessories based on the model that everyone involved in making things used by others should be ethically employed, work in a safe place and earn a living wage.

Corlett, who was raised in Liverpool, said her love of texture, design and "pulling things together in a three-dimensional way" led her to get an art degree in woven design from Middlesex University.

She first went to work as a textile designer in London for a few months, but a Christian relief and development organization she had kept in touch with for several years, Tearfund, approached her to get involved in Bangladesh, she said.

She had become a Christian during art school and, as a result of her faith journey, saw the kind of work the organization did as something she might want to do herself one day, she said. Tearfund had a group of artisans with great skills who needed to generate more income, Corlett said, and she went to Bangladesh to work with them.

She later returned to Middlesex University for a master's degree in design leadership, then returned to Bangladesh, where she taught designers and established Motif with Bangladeshi partners.

Some of what she taught designers: They can design taking the lives of everyone involved with a product in mind, every step of the way.

"What I did with my designers is taught them that you have the ability to build into the process that these products are going to generate improvement for everybody involved," she said. "The designer has to think in that bigger picture.

Corlett met her American husband, the Rev. Jay Johnson, when he paid a visit to Bangladesh. He was visiting a good friend of hers, Corlett said, and she dropped by.

"I just remember thinking that's the most amazing person I've ever met in my life," she recalled. "He came for my workshop the next day, and we started corresponding in March of 2001, and he came to live in Bangladesh in May 2002."

They were married the following year, she said.

The couple relocated to the United States in 2008, and Corlett currently is a Bible teacher at St. John Lutheran Church in Royal, where her husband is the pastor.

She loves living in Royal and being a part of the community.

"It's so welcoming," she said.

She was so amazed when she heard she was being recognized by the two cities next month, she thought the caller was joking. She later learned one of the families at the church had nominated her.

Corlett said the message she hopes to deliver to consumers is there are people involved in the production of everything they buy, whether it's food from the grocery or a gift for a friend, and to look for fair trade labels on all goods.

"What I'd like people to just think about is who has been involved in the process of getting that item to you," she said.

3 more things to know about Jackie Corlett

1. She was born in Isle of Man, the oldest of four children. Her mom worked as a hair dresser at home, and her dad was a truck driver.

2. Two big influences: William Morris, the artist and designer who led the Arts and Crafts Movement, and Anita Roddick, the human rights activist who founded the Body Shop chain.

3. What she says about her faith, the pulse behind all she does: "I lived in Bangladesh for 20 years and have seen some very hard and awful things, and what I've always seen because of my faith is that there is always hope. And that hope is for people to experience the love of God."

Helping hands

What: Champaign-Urbana International Humanitarian Awards.

When: 5:45 p.m. Sept. 25.

Where: I Hotel & Conference Center, 1900 S. First Street, C.

Tickets: Call 217-403-8830.

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