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The Renaissance of Fair Trade

August 16, 2014

It’s no longer about just coffee and chocolate.

Fair Trade now means international style, artisan crafted goods, artistic value. For me, it evokes images of hand-hammered silver cufflinks, or woven silk scarves that just feel luxurious next to the skin.

Have a look at the way fair trade shops have begun to market themselves and their wares. Increasingly we’re selling high quality items that suit the tastes of global markets. Why? Because it’s so easy to find them! So many smaller producers and artisans in developing countries have gained the skills to trade internationally. Sometimes they’re assisted by charities to get set up, but the end goal is that they run the business themselves, grow it, and create sustainable income for their families. And then Hey Presto: poverty begins reversing… people can save a bit, send children to school, eat three square meals a day.

Fair Trade producers are making beautiful things. They, like larger scale producers, are researching what people want to buy and producing it. Fair Trade represents high quality and ethical production, maintaining respect for the environment into the bargain.

There’s a massive payoff for those of us with a little disposable income: we get to buy great stuff, which we wanted to buy anyway, and support their efforts.

Fair Trade feels new, but it isn’t. When you think about it, we used to be able to buy goods more or less directly from their producers. Your dinner plates, rather than being mass-produced, were hand fired in a kiln. You bought it from a family in your village, or possibly the next village over. There were few ‘middle men’ and no large corporations. Fair Trade is the same thing: modernised to account for the complexities of a modern and globalised economy. We ensure a fair price for producers and use as few middle people as possible (you need a few to transport goods around the world!). We care about the artistic value and quality of the product, and we celebrate it. Your local famer’s market is the same deal. You buy from the producer, and get fresher produce. Everyone wins.

Perhaps the Fair Trade plates you bought last month weren’t hand made in a kiln, but in a smallish factory owned by a local Co-op. We haven’t gone back to the dark ages, but we can still support producers who have ethical practices, treat their workers well, are environmentally aware, and aim to lift their communities out of poverty.

Fair Trade is becoming the go to commercial movement for quality and hand-made goods, beautiful fusion pieces that transcend cultural boundaries, and a form of expression for artisans who are proud of the goods they produce. It’s also revisiting the days when profit was a thing you used to expand your business and make the lives of your family and your community better through providing employment, purpose and pride.

It’s exciting to be a part of it. I like to think the supporters of Change Merchants are the ‘early adopters’ of a movement, which, within my lifetime, will become the norm in commerce. We’re proud to buy Fair Trade, but it’s also nice when the products we buy are so amazing that they look better than the mass produced stuff. We CAN have both!

There should be an ethical choice, at a reasonable cost, for everything we buy. The only way we’ll make this happen is by voting with our wallets! Go on, buy yourself, your loved one, or even your kris kringle something pretty!

(And feel free to do that at Change Merchants, or another Fair Trade store, I honestly don’t mind. Just check out our stuff first!)

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