Fair Trade products are on rise by retailers in Overland Park

06/17/2014 4:16 PM

06/17/2014 4:16 PM

On the streets of Mumbai, desperate single mothers weave baskets to support their family. In an African village, young women suffering from HIV or AIDS carefully bead jewelry. In the Dominican Republic, hopeful coffee farmers join forces to survive after a devastating storm.

Although these people are far away from Overland Park, the struggles, hopes and fears behind each of their stories are embedded throughout more than two dozen stores in the city, with the availability of Fair Trade products.

Whether it’s boutiques selling colorful handmade tapestries or grocery stores selling exotically flavored chocolates, the number of Fair Trade items being sold in Overland Park has grown significantly over the past few years.

One of the reasons behind the rise is the Fair Trade Overland Park Steering Committee, which was established a little more than three years ago. The goal of the board is to raise awareness about the benefits of Fair Trade, encourage businesses to take part and ultimately have Overland Park deemed a Fair Trade Town by Fair Trade Towns USA, a national organization.

Kendra Frink, the manager of Ten Thousand Villages in downtown Overland Park, helped create the steering committee in late 2010 out of a long-time passion for Fair Trade. After all, she said, there are many benefits for businesses to work directly with small farms and artisan groups in developing countries.

“Fair Trade promotes fair wages for workers who wouldn’t normally have a steady job,” she said. “And it’s environmentally responsible because most of the items like handbags and home décor are made out of recycled materials.”

And these days, people are shifting towards an organic lifestyle, curious to know where their food comes from and growing weary of faceless corporations, Frink added.

The increased interest in Fair Trade products doesn’t surprise the steering board members.

“We’re very blessed that in our community there are a lot of informed residents who want to be conscience customers,” said Donna Owens, a member of the board and a former City Council member. “People genuinely want to make a difference.”

To earn the Fair Trade status, Overland Park needs to meet several criteria. The steering committee needs to increase Fair Trade product availability through area retailers; drum up support from the community and local organizations, and have a passage of resolution approved by the city council.

So far, Overland Park meets most of the criteria. There are 24 stores in the city selling Fair Trade products, Frink said. Over the past few years, the committee has held educational booths at various events, passed out brochures around town, and even screened a documentary last year at the Jewish Community Center to promote awareness. Now, the committee just needs to round up more support from area organizations, such as churches and businesses.

“Support from these organizations could be anything from churches serving Fair Trade coffee after services to companies offering Fair Trade food products in their break room,” Frink said.

The committee plans to go to the city council after they get more support from businesses and churches. They are optimistic Overland Park will meet all the requirements by October, which is Fair Trade Month.

But once the city receives its designation, the hard work is not over.

The committee plans to continue encouraging area businesses to sell Fair Trade products and it hopes to do more educating about the topic, especially in schools.

“Every generation has its cause — the negative impacts of smoking and the importance of recycling, for example,” Owens said. “I would love to see students today learning about fair trade in the classroom because it is such a rich lesson. You’re learning about geography, the economy, different cultures and business altogether.”

For more information about the steering committee’s campaign, send inquiries to fairtradeoverlandpark@gmail.com.

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