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Goods vs. Goodness

Local fair trade stores give back

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For anyone who's hazy on how fair trade stores break old business models—and change things at the local level—one way is through cooperating rather than competing with one another.

When Baksheesh store owner Candi Smucker was interviewed for this article, she made plugs for all five fair trade retail stores in Sonoma and Napa counties: Kindred in Santa Rosa, One World in Healdsburg and One Planet in Petaluma, as well as the two Baksheesh stores Smucker owns with her husband in Sonoma and St. Helena. "California doesn't have its fair share [of fair trade retail outlets]," says Smucker. "There should be hundreds more."

But it takes a unique person to do it. Running a fair trade business requires sacrifice and transparency, according to Madeline Kreider Carlson of the Fair Trade Federation, an organization of fair trade businesses in the United States and Canada. "Our business model includes a lot of sharing of information and practices that are unique and striking," says Kreider Carlson. "These practices don't always make sense from the MBA perspective, but they make human sense when you're dealing with producers who are truly marginalized."

The fair trade movement grew out of a desire to help the poor, when Edna Ruth Byler, a Mennonite volunteer in Puerto Rico, noticed in 1946 that the impoverished women she met there made beautiful lace by hand. Seeing a way to help, Byler took some of their lace, sold it and gave the money to the lace makers. She then picked up more lace and began selling it out of her car trunk. Over the next 30 years Byler continued, spearheading a nonprofit that opened the first fair trade shop in 1958.

The difference between shopping at a fair trade store and buying fair-trade chocolate at Safeway is big, from the perspective of business commitment. Supply chain items such as chocolates and coffee are fair-trade certified by quantitative analysis; businesses pay a minimum fair-trade price and agree to a premium they're supposed to give back to the cooperative. A business like Starbucks can get do-gooder points by offering a token amount of fair-trade coffee while retaining corporate values.

The fair-trade business culture, on the other hand, seeks to "create positive change for the poorest of the poor," according to the Fair Trade Federation mission statement. Fair trade businesses also bridge go-local values with global social justice values, according to Kreider Carlson.

Over 15 years, Baksheesh has donated to local nonprofits and created 10 full-time jobs in Napa and Sonoma. "The artisans benefit, the community benefits, and customers get to shop for beautiful handmade items at reasonable process," says Smucker.

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