Over the past several years, fair trade awareness has grown in the U.S. as more people are seeking out and buying fair trade products. As the movement grows, however, it’s important to dispel some common misconceptions and keep in mind the facts about fair trade. We want to clarify some common myths that circulate about fair trade. Let’s reinforce a unified message and continue to grow the movement in a positive direction. Help us spread the word and debunk these fair trade myths by sharing! The more people know, the better choices they can make.
FACT: FAIR TRADE DESIGNERS WORK TO COMBINE THE TRENDS OF MAINSTREAM FASHION WITH THE SUSTAINABILITY AND INSPIRATION OF HANDCRAFTED TECHNIQUES.
Fair trade designers take great care creating products that will appeal to a broad range of customers. Even a simple product, say a beaded earring, reflects many factors including global color trends, wearability, as well as the level of technique required in the detail of its design. The fair trade movement wants to inspire change in the fashion industry as a whole and part of that is getting it noticed by the mainstream public. In an effort to further the movement, People Tree, an ethical fashion label in UK, partnered with actress Emma Watson to create a trendy, youthful line. Like the organic movement, which started in the 1970s, the fair trade fashion movement has taken time to gain momentum. Fair trade designers create meaningful products they can stand behind, but their products can also stand alone in both quality and design. As demand for the craftsmanship and uniqueness of fair trade products increases, many fair trade brands have been able to partner with big retail stores. As Dilys Williams so aptly says, “Fashion should be about challenging the status quo.” Right now, that status quo is the ubiquitous and exploitative world of fast fashion so perhaps the fact that fair trade fashion is ethical, in other words not status quo, makes it even more fashionable! We are surrounded by fashion, we live in it everyday and it’s part of who we are as individuals, so why not let it express your values.
FACT: FAIR TRADE EXITS TO HELP THE WORLD'S POOREST COMMUNITIES AND REPRESENTS CRAFTS AND FOODS NOT FOUND IN THE U.S.
It is a common misunderstanding that fair trade siphons jobs away from the U.S. to all parts of the world. In reality, fair trade is meant to be a system that aids the poorest of the poor in the world, who happen to live in developing countries for the most part. Let’s face it, a lot of what we consume on a daily basis, whether it’s our coffee or the clothes we wear, is produced in developing countries under unfair conditions. Fair trade is meant to even the scales and offer those who make and grow our goods a fair chance at living a just, healthy and prosperous life. One thing many people may not consider when they argue that fair trade takes away jobs from hard-working Americans is the fact that most fair trade products, in fact, particualrly fair trade foods, are products we cannot grow in the U.S. Consumables like coffee (photo below), chocolate, tea, olive oil, quinoa, bananas, etc. grow in much warmer climates than are found in the U.S. Thus, we will always rely on importing these goods from other countries. This is not a bad thing. Having our morning Cup O’ Joe is a wonderful thing, so why not create respectful relationships with the coffee farmers so that we can sustain the production, quality and environment for many years to come? Similarly, many other fair trade products represent handcrafts that are passed down from generation to generation; traditional crafts that celebrate cultures from around the world. There are generations of weavers, potters, metal-smiths and printers doing crafts that simply have no U.S. counterpart – they are unique to their village or country. Fair trade allows North American consumers to celebrate the long-lasting techniques and artistry of the artisans. While some people may argue that fair trade distracts us from addressing the poverty that exists within our own country (and surely it does exist, if not on the same scale as the developing world), people who fully understand fair trade know that it allows us to eat and buy the things we love without taking advantage of the people who produce them. In addition, as more and more fair trade stores open across the U.S., they provide jobs in their communities. We are proud to be an independent small business contributing to our local economies while the products we carry represent local communities around the world.
FACT: FAIR TRADE PRODUCTS ARE LOVINGLY HANDMADE AND OFTEN ONE-OF-A-KIND PIECES THAT ARE LIKE WORKS OF ART
The fair trade movement needs to reclaim “handmade” and the wealth of skill it implies, coming out of years and years of tradition. Let's take a closer example of favorite fair trade products, for instance our Alpaca Knitwear made in Peru & Bolivia. There’s no doubt of the superb quality, carefully done by hand to create a vibrant, yet functional fashion accessory! Each unique item has its own story and significance, this can be compared with massed produced items. We are proud to offer great quality products. See for yourself!
FACT: FAIR TRADE WORKS AS AN EQUITABLE SYSTEM OF TRADE WHERE ARTISANS GET PAID A FAIR WAGE FOR THEIR LABOR AND ARE TREATED WITH DIGNITY AND RESPECT.
While it does help artisans working in developing countries break the cycle of poverty, fair trade does not rely on handouts. Fair trade began as an alternative form of aid for developing countries where traditional charity was not enough. Fair trade creates self-sufficient, independent organizations that work towards long-term change and positive development. In many ways, fair trade partnerships allow artisans to feel more dignified than if they just received money from a charity organization. Fair trade places a real value on the skills and talents of the artisans, many of whom have been working on their craft for years and learned the skills from their parents or grandparents. Unlike traditional charity, fair trade includes a social premium, on top of a fair wage, which goes to the community as a whole. Each cooperative then decides how to use the money for projects like clean water wells, new workshop facilities, a daycare facility, and other projects that will benefit the entire community. Another advantage of fair trade over traditional charity is the fact that in working towards long-term development, fair trade provides steady, regular employment so that artisans have money coming in consistently. This regular income makes a big difference in the kind of livelihood the artisans can have for themselves and for their families. As fair trade organizations grow their partnerships, they also are able to provide educational resources like skill training, health care, financial planning, and more. These are extremely useful resources that traditional charity usually does not provide, but are crucial for the independent development of artisan communities. We support women in entrepreneurship as a sustainable way to break away from poverty and in many cases from domestic violence.
FACT: THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF FAIR TRADE PRODUCTS RANGING FROM JEWELRY, CLOTHES AND ACCESSORIES TO HOME GOODS, KITCHENWARE AND ART.
When we ask people who shops with us if they are familiar with fair trade, they often only know about coffee, chocolate, tea and other food and produce items. This is no doubt because food items are the most well known, most accessible, and most marketed products. Historically though, coffee only started being fair trade certified in 1988, while handcrafted fair trade products like journals, baskets and jewelry have existed since 1946. The fair trade movement began as a form of direct trade between talented artisans and religious groups who saw a need to create a form of social justice that was more sustainable than charity. Today there are hundreds of groups dedicated to bringing amazing, handcrafted fair trade products to the market. You can trust we partner with organizations and producer partners who are committed to make this a better place for all.
FACT: FAIR TRADE PRODUCTS ARE COMPETITIVELY PRICED COMPARED TO CONVENTIONAL TRADE PRODUCTS.
Fair trade organizations are set up to provide reasonable costs to consumers, while still returning a greater percentage to producers. They achieve this by working directly with producers to cut out middlemen. In conventional trade, there are often several middlemen who handle things like designing, buying, packaging, shipping, U.S. distribution, and marketing. Large companies have different departments or partners to do all of these jobs, whereas fair trade companies handle most, if not all, of these “middlemen steps” themselves. By wearing many hats and working with small producer groups, fair trade companies are able to keep their prices down and still pay fair wages. Buying fair trade products not only ensures that people are paid fairly, but also reflects on the kind of world we want to live in. Does a world where we buy less, choose well, and buy fairly seem like a better world? We think so.
FACT: PRODUCER PARTNERS AND ARTISTS ARE PAID IMMEDIATELY FOR THE PRODUCTS THEY MAKE AND GROW.
In fact, they are often paid a deposit before the goods are even created. Artisans do not rely on a set retail price or sales to receive a fair wage. This means that they are paid whether or not the item sells in a retail store. This provides security and peace of mind — they will always be compensated for their time and talents, no matter what happens when the products reach the hands of consumers. People often wonder what percentage of the price of a fair trade product “goes back” to the artisan. This is really the wrong question to ask, because the artisans do not have to rely on retail stores sending money back to them. Rather, the artisans are paid immediately in full. They receive a fair, mutually-agreed upon wage for their work. Sometimes, artisans even receive partial payment in advance if they are working on a special project or need a small loan. This myth is related to the myth that fair trade is charity. We are asked how much money “goes back” because of the misconception that stores like ours sell products and donate a percentage of sales back to the artisans. Fair trade is not charity, however. It is a system of trade based on respect and trust where people and the planet are considered above profits. We may donate a premium back to artisans for a special program, but only be after they were already paid for the products themselves months prior. It is important to remember that although artisans do not rely on consumers buying fair trade products to receive a wage, customers are a vital component in the cycle of empowerment. The more customers buy, the more quickly we can order more. If we don’t buy a certain item, there is a chance that it will be discontinued. However, this does not mean the artisan who made it will be without a job. Fair trade companies work with artisans to tweak a product until it is desirable to consumers, and they always collaborate on new products so they can continue their (fair) trade partnership for years to come.