Topsham firm is a jewel in the crown of fair trading

PUBLISHED: 01:01 17 January 2008 | UPDATED: 08:46 10 June 2010

AN ethically-run international jewellery business, run out of a Topsham couple's back garden, is helping to lift thousands in India out of poverty. Jeweller Robin Biggar, 60, and his partner Sue Arnold, 59, have lived in Topsham for more than 30 years - b

AN ethically-run international jewellery business, run out of a Topsham couple's back garden, is helping to lift thousands in India out of poverty.Jeweller Robin Biggar, 60, and his partner Sue Arnold, 59, have lived in Topsham for more than 30 years - but seven years ago Robin closed his jewellers for the last time to build a new business.Now, after starting from relatively humble beginnings, they have built their new business into one of the most successful wholesalers of semi-precious jewellery in the country - employing 100 stone cutters and 50 silver smiths in India's Jaipur region.Robin said: "We went to Jaipur and that prompted the start of the business. Working as a wholesaler you don't need to worry about hours of business."It is the best place in the world for stones. We specialise in over 100, and supply 3,000 outlets."Robin regularly travels to India to 'cherry pick' the stones to ensure the highest quality while Sue distributes the jewellery throughout the UK, most of which goes on to be sold all over the world.Robin said that if they placed an order by phone 'they could send us the first thing at the top of the pile'.Sue said: "We made a conscious decision to pay good rates. For one thing we demand the highest quality and you get that by treating people well, after all they are professional craftsmen."We considered China, but there we had no controls over how workers were treated, and in one workshop we saw child labour and people being paid in food."In India we can visit the workshops several times a year to ensure the conditions are good - that is really important to us."The Indians are lovely people, and we have a good working relationship."Robin said that, while the stones were cut in Jaipur, the workers send money back to their relatives, many of the whom would be living on the poverty line in villages in Bengal.Sue added: "It is giving poor people a chance to improve and lift themselves out of subsistence living, by building infrastructure, providing medical care, buying books, schools and sanitation - things we take for granted - so they can take advantage of India's growing economy."They have a similar sense of humour to the British, an appreciation of the absurd. We just show them the skills. One difference is that they do insist on sitting on the floor to work."Robin added: "Even if we bought benches, they would probably cut the legs off and then sit on them!"The couple admit they had considered using the Fair Trade label but, with only a few years to go before they retired, there was little point:"Maybe Fair Trade would be useful in promoting a company just started by business people in their 20s," said Robin."But seeing as we treat our employees well, we thought there was little point." While Sue and Robin don't sell to the public, they estimate their business has grown eight fold in just seven years:"We are showing at the Torquay Fair (from January 13 to 16) and we get more popular every year!" Visit www.torquayfair.co.uk for details.

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