Starting an Independent Fair Trade Store

August 06, 2015 Cazzie Reyes Spotlight 
Slave Free Lifestyle, Empowerment, Forced Labor

Opened in July 2002, a group of green and social justice-conscious friends started Global Village, an independent fair trade certified store in Peoria, Illinois. Below, Global Village President Nancy Long shares her insights on the process of building and maintaining a fair trade shop.

What were you doing before Global Village?

I had a day job. I’m a counselor by career, but I’ve also been a peace activist all my adult life. I was looking for something that wasn’t so negative because when you’re a peace activist or a feminine activist, you really have to call things like they are, and there’s a lot of negativity to that task. And I was getting tired of all of this being complaining and negative and kept reading about what activists could do to make the world a better place, and one idea was to start a fair trade store in your community. And my kids and I had visited some fair trade shops in our travels and kind of knew what they were like.

How did you get started?

I woke up one morning, and the city council in Peoria had decided to tear down a bunch of old houses in my neighborhood to build a grocery store development, and I thought: what could redeem this situation? Maybe a fair trade store! So, then I started talking to friends about it, and we just kind of built on each other’s enthusiasm and started talking to and doing research with people who had done similar stores in our community but were closed now. It took us a couple of years to put together a corporation not-for-profit because that’s what we wanted. And then, we started spreading out and asking people to help. We had garage sales to raise money so that we’d have money to help buy products.

In what ways did you advertise or begin selling?

At first we used other people’s stores and booths in little ceramic shops where other artists had booths. Then, an opportunity for this particular building opened up, and we decided to take the plunge and just open with what we had. So, we have this little place that’s now kind of crowded, but at first it wasn’t. Then, we started working on getting volunteers to cover the schedule, making a schedule and figuring out all the pieces that that would take. We got a lot of free publicity because we were different, and that was very helpful for us; we steadily grew for the first nine years. The amazing thing is that people continued to come; mostly our new volunteers would shop, or shoppers would become volunteers.

Where does your inventory come from?

The way that we’re doing it –being an independent fair trade store– we have 85% or more product that is certified fair trade. For us that means that the organization that we buy from belongs to the Fair Trade Federation or can otherwise prove [fair practices]. For instance, [artisans can be verified] by someone that we send to Haiti or that’s going to Haiti. We educate them about what to look for, how to examine it and then we review what they learned about the group. So we do a little bit of independent, but mostly we buy from wholesalers who have chosen to participate in the Fair Trade Federation screening system.

I was able to go to Colombia one time, and I did meet a gentleman who was making jewelry for his own family, and we did certify him. Other people from Global Village have traveled to Haiti and Guatemala and were able to do the same thing, but we don’t do it a lot.

What are some of the things you look for on these visits?

One of the principles of fair trade is sustainability but another one is planned growth. There should be an indication that that community is going to benefit more and more.

How do you stay connected to the wider fair trade movement?

Fair trade is evolving, and when we first got into the movement, we were fortunate to find a group that had been importing coffee: roasting it, grinding it, selling it since they were the very first people to import. We actually got their help, and we joined their network of independent stores. The Fair Trade Federation has also developed in the last few years. It’s a strong little group that does organizing work for fair trade stores, so that kind of puts the bigger groups like Ten Thousand Villages and the independent stores on a more equal footing. It’s made everybody important, and it serviced the need of people talking to other people and other communities who are like themselves. They’ve also been trying to develop fair rules for operating because this movement is still pretty young as movements go. It’s been really energizing for us and also educational.

From time to time, different groups have gotten together; independent stores have gone on a meeting together in Rockford that is countrywide. Right now, the Fair Trade Federation has an annual conference; if it’s not too far away, we’ll send representatives to that. And through that, we get invited to the Windy City trade show which is a general trade show for gift stores and other places. They’re changing as well. At least a quarter of their suppliers are fair trade, so there’s a lot of interest in fair trade just from the general public and store owners. They realize that the quality is good. That it’s an interesting product. Again, that feel good part is there.

We have partners in the community. For instance, the nature center store is partly fair trade, and partly they focus on recycling…They’re a natural connection. There’s a natural connection between the people who care about the earth and those who care about other people.

The Fair Trade Federation has some online chat groups. They have trainings that you can sign up for, and you commit to six weeks of two hours a night each week where you are teaching each other what you know…We problem solve together.

What's your hope for the fair trade movement as whole and Global Village?

Ideally, I would phase this out because everybody else would be carrying all fair trade stuff too. I don’t know that that’s going to happen. We would all be just delighted if we could go to Walmart or any place else and know that what we were buying didn’t hurt somebody. On a more realistic note, we want to keep the place open and continue to have the support from the community that we need to do that.

Would you consider opening an independent fair trade store? Here are six key tips to get you started.

Topics: Slave Free Lifestyle, Empowerment, Forced Labor

About the Author

Cazzie Reyes

Cazzie Reyes graduated from Bradley University with a Bachelor's degree in International Studies and a minor in Women's Studies. 

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