Identity heft: Look for this logo to ensure fair trade status.
'Fair trade' takes the exploitation out of holiday purchases
By Patricia Lynn Henley
From warm scarves to intricately woven baskets, colorfully glazed ceramic bowls to delightfully dangling earrings, stone statues to shell-covered clutch purses, it's possible to find a lovingly handcrafted item for someone on your gift list while simultaneously fighting poverty and working for the greater global good. Just shop at a fair trade store.
"When I hear about sweat shops and child labor, it really affects me. I can't sleep at night when I read about those things happening around the world," says Lien Cibulka, co-owner of the Kindred Fair Trade Handcrafts store in Santa Rosa.
The traditional capitalistic "free trade" approach is based on clout, hard bargaining and, often, making money or getting a good buy at someone else's expense. With fair trade, also known as alternative trade, every step of the process, from distant artisan or coffee or cocoa farmer to final retail sale, is based on economic and social justice. Workers in developing countries create a range of products, and all receive a fair, living wage in their communities.
The usual free trade approach is to pay upon delivery, leaving poverty-stricken craft workers scrambling to find adequate materials or even survive while they complete an order. Under the fair trade process, artisans are given a 50 percent deposit, which helps them get the resources needed to create their products.
When an item reaches a consumer, fair trade retailers can explain where the piece came from and, often, who made it.
"That's why we called our store Kindred, because we're all connected," Cibulka explains. "People can enjoy knowing they bought a beautiful craft, but they can also connect to the people who made that craft."
Fair trade retailers, wholesalers and networks establish long-term relationships with artisan communities, giving the poorest people in the poorest countries a way to make a decent living. The artisans are, by their local standards, well-paid and well-treated, conditions that allow them to produce their best possible work.
All of that comes to consumers in the form of reasonably priced handcrafted gift items. Fortunately, the North Bay offers a number of opportunities to purchase fairly traded products.
Kindred is filled with everything from Nicaraguan pottery to Peruvian gourd boxes, Tibetan jewelry and Vietnamese ceramic tableware, and more. Alpaca scarves and hats have been popular in the last few weeks, Cibulka says, as have gourd baskets and boxes. She and her husband moved to Santa Rosa in 2000, and opened the store in 2002. "We have always wanted to do good things on a global scale," she explains.
In this case, the good works come in the form of shelf after shelf of unique products. They even carry No Sweat Sneakers made by union-organized Indonesian workers. Each pair comes with a description of workers' earnings and benefits, banishing any idea that sweatshop conditions (think: Nike) are necessary to create good athletic shoes. Like all fair trade retail stores, Kindred is a great place to discover something beautiful and unique to give a friend or family member—or yourself. 605 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707.579.1459. www.kindredhandcrafts.com.
Baksheesh is a treasure trove in two locations of fairly traded goods from around the globe. The Sonoma store was founded nine years ago by Brian and Candi Smucker, who both quit corporate jobs to get involved in fair trade. "We believe in peace and justice, and we wanted to work on that full-time," Brian explains. They joined with partner Annette Periera to open a Healdsburg store in 2003, and are looking to open a third North Bay location.
One of their most popular gift items, Brian says, is a tabletop hot mat, or trivet, made out of tightly hand-rolled coils of newspapers by craft workers in the Philippines. "They're great for stocking stuffers or hostess gifts," Brian notes. The stores also offer the ultimate in recycling: bright and colorful elephant dung paper and journals from Sri Lanka.
A quick walk around reveals baskets made of kaisa grass, palm leaf and other handwoven materials, ranging from a delicate four inches wide to huge hampers. Boxes are crafted from paper, wood and soapstone. The stores also stock distinctive nativity sets year-round, and there's a wide range of jewelry, tableware, world-music CDs, musical instruments, home furnishings, purses, sarongs from Bali, silk scarves from India and more. Come and browse. It's great fun. Two locations: 423 First St. W., Sonoma, 707.939.2847; and 106-B Matheson St., Healdsburg, 707.473.0880. www.vom.com/baksheesh.
World of Good brings fair trade items straight to buyers, even folks who aren't necessarily shopping for gift items. Instead of opening a retail store, World of Good sets up fair trade displays in other retail outlets, such as supermarkets and bookstores. While picking up produce or the latest thriller, consumers can learn about fair trade items and choose among a variety of products.
"We try to carry three main categories," explains World of Good spokeswoman Amy Schilling. "Recycled products, natural materials like hemp and what we call sequins [jewelry and sparkling items]." The products featured on a particular in-store display vary over time. "Our product rotates," Schilling says. "We refresh it quite frequently, and it will vary from store to store."
The company has a special event scheduled, its annual Shop the Fair Trade Warehouse Sale, slated for Saturday, Dec. 9. "It's really fun because we basically have boxes from floor to ceiling," Schilling says. "Usually, the public isn't allowed in the warehouse." The event is a fundraiser, with 50 percent of all sales going to the nonprofit World of Good Development Organization. Last year's warehouse sale paid for 20 projects worldwide, such as a water-pump system for women artisans in Kenya. The Dec. 9 event runs from 10am to 6pm at the company's warehouse, 1380 Tenth St., Berkeley. 510.528.8400. www.worldofgood.com.
North Bay retail locations featuring World of Good kiosks include select Whole Foods' stores (340 Third St., San Rafael; 414 Miller Ave., Mill Valley; 1181 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa). Other Marin outlets include Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera; Elephant Pharmacy, 909 Grand Ave., San Rafael; Mollie Stone's, 270 Bon Air Shopping Center, Greenbrae; and Mazvita, 69 Bolinas Ave., Ste. B, Fairfax. In Napa County, go to Copperfield's Books, 3900-A Bel Aire Plaza, Napa; and Sunshine Foods Market, 1115 Main St., St. Helena. In Sonoma County, there's Lauren's Hallmark, 10 Raley's Towne Center, Rohnert Park; Santa Rosa Community Market, 1899 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa; and Copperfield's Books, 2316 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa.
There are a couple of other, unique fair trade options. Based in San Rafael, Pachamama: A World of Artisans (415.454.5692; www.pachamamaworld.com) sets up home parties to sell fairly traded handcrafts from around the world. It also hosts an online retail store and provide tours to artisan communities worldwide.
Mayadevi Imports (415.462.5464; www.mayadeviimports.com) is a wholesale operation in Novato, featuring embroidered cushions, covers, bags, silk and wool shawls, wall hangings, dolls and more from women's collectives and traditional artisans in India.
The Berkeley-based Global Exchange operates fair trade stores in San Francisco, Berkeley and Portland, Ore., but also sells online at www.globalexchange.org. And to learn more about fair trade in general or identify specific wholesale or retail outlets, visit the Fair Trade Federation at www.fairtradefederation.org.
This holiday season, go forth and consume in peace and contentment, knowing your purchases are helping others.
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