A group of women wander through a new Northland boutique filled with jewelry, baskets, decorations, food stuff and other gift items. They are taking advantage of an opportunity to make a purchase that can become a double gift this holiday season.
These moms, on break during their Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) meeting, are taking a shopping opportunity at the Many Hands Fair Trade Shop in Historic Downtown Liberty. As they select painted handbags, hand-sewn children’s toys, and wooden trinkets, they know the items purchased will help provide a better way of life for someone in another country.
Each item comes with a story, one of an artisan, who through a worldwide network of organizations is able to improve their quality of life with every purchase.
The fair trade movement has been around for decades, but it’s on the rise thanks to a growing interest in hand-made items and responsible consumer buying.
The goal of Fair Trade is to give people living in economically disadvantaged countries around the world the opportunity to sell their products at a price which will allow them to earn a living wage. World Fair Trade Organization has 10 standards it uses when working with trade groups. These standards include making sure people are not discriminated against, no child labor is used and sustainable environmental practices are used.
The Northland shop joins longtime stores, like Ten Thousand Villages in downtown Overland Park, in the growing fair trade movement. It’s particularly popular during the holiday season with those looking for meaningful gifts to put under the tree.
The Many Hands Fair Trade Shop in Historic Downtown Liberty started with a trip Gwen Phillips took to visit family last Christmas. Her niece took her to a store in Tennessee that sold exclusively hand-made fair trade items.
“I just fell in love with it. I loved the way they did things and the way they had things set up. I loved the whole idea of fair trade,” Phillips said.
At the downtown Overland Park Ten Thousand Villages, which is open year round, many of the employees and volunteers manning the shop work on educating about fair trade as much as selling the goods the store offers. The store is one of about 70 similar stores all over the country.
The national headquarters of Ten Thousand Villages is in Pennsylvania. It is a non-denominational interfaith organization with roots in the Mennonite church. Although Ten Thousand Villages is celebrating its 70th year as an organization in 2016, the local store started with the effort of several local churches about 16 years ago. It is associated with Ten Thousand Villages but operates with its own local nonprofit designation and local board.
The executive director and manager of the store, Kendra Frink, says many people who walk into the store are not aware of their exact purpose.
“A good part of our mission is to tell the artisans’ stories. Fair trade coffee is the main agricultural commodity that people know. What people might not be aware of are the handicrafts, jewelry and all the other kinds of things we have in the store,” Frink said.
The stories of the artisans are posted throughout the store.
Phillips, who is the children’s pastor at Second Baptist Church in Liberty, came back and talked to the staff at the church about converting an unused storefront the church owned into a shop that could be used to sell fair trade items as a ministry of the church.
They told her to go for it.
Phillips’ husband helped her hang new ceiling tiles in the shop. Three volunteers painted the interior, and they were open by spring for the weekly farmer’s market in downtown Liberty. Phillips put out a sign to attract customers, and every Saturday from May to October, the shop opened during the farmer’s market. They have stayed open during the fall because of the popularity of the store.
Phillips said the ministry is for the people who make the products.
“I feel like it’s really important that we can give some respect and dignity to these artisans,” Phillips said. “I have great respect for artisans who are so gifted and talented, and I really hurt for those who don’t get a fair price for what they do just because they are from another country or live in an impoverished area where people are taking advantage of them.”
The store, which has been opened on Saturdays, will open once more, this Saturday, then will close until spring.
Frink says she sees a growing interest in fair trade products because of a general push throughout the retail world from buyers who are interested in knowing where the products they buy are coming from. Customers also want to find something unique, especially at the holiday season, that can tell a story.
“The reason a lot of people come here for gifts is that they want to give something that has a story behind it,” Frink said. “That’s true of any product in our store. They all have a story behind them. For most, we can actually print out the story to give with that gift. It makes it that much more meaningful for people who come here.”
At Worlds Window in Brookside, fair trade items are sold alongside other retail products from around the world.
Store owner Jan Buerge opened the store 32 years ago in Westport. At first, she exclusively sold items that would be considered fair trade. With her background as a Mennonite, she was familiar with the products. The Mennonite church was instrumental in starting the organization that became Ten Thousand Villages. Since Worlds Window, 332 W. 63rd St., is a small business, she found through the years that she had to diversify in order to be sustainable.
“We are committed to running this as our own business,” Buerge said.
“What we try to do it is to buy interesting things that will be a part of the interesting mix that is Worlds Window but we try to buy from fair trade or companies that have eco-friendly and sustainable practices.”
The growing interest in the story behind the product is matched by the growing number of available products in the market. Sara Swartzendruber is the marketing and communications manager for Serrv International. It’s one of the many organizations that wholesale fair trade products to stores, like Many Hands and Ten Thousand Villages.
Serrv works with about 55 fair trade organizations in 25 countries. Each of these organizations has standards that include long-term relationships with the artisans. Education and sustainability efforts embrace 10 principles, which include no child labor, environmentally friendly practices and fair pay for work. They are certified by organizations like the World Fair Trade Organization that operates out of Amsterdam and the Fair Trade Federation that operates in the United States.
Swartzendruber says the organization has seen a wave of people wanting to be more conscious about where their purchases are coming from, which benefits organizations that have been promoting these kinds of items for a long time.
“I feel like what we do is make sure the person who made the item you purchase has been treated respectfully and makes a fair wage and can send their kids to school,” Swartzendruber said. “It’s easy to overlook that, and if you are more mindful with your purchasing you can make a big difference.”
Fair trade items are also showing up in for-profit stores specializing in items from around the world. While it is fairly easy to find local fair trade items online, the brick and mortar stores may be more difficult to identify. Swartzendruber recommends customers look in stores and shops that have a kind of “conscious consumerism” outlook.
“Fair trade fits in with that whole mindset of better for the world and better for the planet,” Swartzendruber said.
Since one of the fair trade principles is to promote fair trade as a practice, stores that sell the product are generally supportive of all retail growth. The local Ten Thousand Villages organization encouraged Overland Park to become a “Fair Trade Town” by forming a fair trade steering committee in 2010 to promote fair trade products in the area.
“I now see fair trade products in stores all the time,” Frink said. “That’s what we want to see. We don’t view it as competition. We want to promote fair trade. We want it to be available.”
If you go
▪ Many Hands Fair Trade Shop
20 N. Leonard, Liberty
Open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Dec. 17.
▪ Ten Thousand Villages
7947 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park
Open Monday to Wednesday and Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
Fair Trade principles
1. Opportunities for disadvantaged producers: supports marginalized small producers in order to enable them to move toward economic self-sufficiency
2. Transparency and accountability: Organizations are accountable and provide good communication.
3. Fair trade practices: Organizations do not maximize profit at the expense of producers and maintains long-term relationships with trading partners.
4. Fair payment: A mutually agreed upon price which is appropriate in the local context.
5. No child labor or forced labor: Organizations adhere to the U.N. Convention of Rights of the Child
6. No discrimination, gender equity, freedom of association: Organizations have a clear policy to ensure equality to women and will allow workers to form and join trade unions.
7. Good working conditions: Workers have a safe and healthy working environment
8. Capacity building: Organizations help build the business skills of their members.
9. Promote fair trade: The organizations are committed to promoting the ideals of fair trade.
10. Respect for the Environment: Maximize the use of raw materials from sustainably manges sources and buying locally, when possible.
— World Fair Trade Organization