A lot of us these days are trying to “align our purchases with our values.” We seek out locally produced food, artisan-made goods and products that are eco-conscious in one way or another. But, despite our good intentions, it’s just not possible to keep all our purchases green and local. Sometimes we need to buy coffee or bananas. Or we find the perfect gift for a friend but discover it came from half-way around the globe.
With so many imported goods produced in ways that are harmful to workers, their communities and the environment, it may seem like buying anything from overseas betrays our core beliefs. Fortunately, we can still be “conscious consumers” when buying imports: The key is looking for the label: “certified fair trade.”
Getting to know fair trade
Fair trade is about improving the lives of farmers, artisans and other workers in developing nations while protecting their local environment and supporting sustainable community development. Fair trade was set in motion some 60 years ago by Edna Ruth Byler, the founder of Ten Thousand Villages.1 Today, there are numerous non-profits and businesses committed to fair trade values. And consumers can find the fair trade label on products ranging from produce, wine and flowers to handcrafts, accessories and clothing.
Non-profits such as Fair Trade International, Ten Thousand Villages and others work with companies around the world to encourage ethical labor and environmental practices. In exchange for adopting fair trade guidelines, products can receive a label that lets us know they are “certified fair trade.” While certification guidelines aren’t all the same, a fair trade label generally means that:
1. The farmer or artisan was paid fairly for what he or she produced. Fair trade products may be priced higher than similar goods to ensure that workers can receive adequate payment.
2. Some of the premium you pay may be directed to a community worker co-op that will use the money to improve local conditions. Fair trade co-ops fund local schools, health clinics, business training and even organic certification for farmers.
3. Ethical labor and environmental standards were met. Fair trade organizations work to prevent dangerous or unhealthy working conditions as well as abuses such as child labor and slavery. Fair trade guidelines also encourage environmental stewardship, including energy efficiency, waste reduction and elimination of potential toxins. While “fair trade” is not synonymous with “organic,” certifying organizations may ban GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and push for low-spray or no-spray agriculture.
Introducing Blue Sky Boutique
It’s not always easy to find fair trade products in the Delaware River Valley …but they are out there. If it’s fair trade fashion you’re after, you may want to check out one of Flemington, NJ’s newest arrivals, the Blue Sky Boutique. Owner Sue Goodwin says she wants her customers to find “a great mix of affordable clothing and accessories that will help them express their own unique beauty.” Goodwin also strives to offer fashion that’s ethically produced, such as fair trade jewelry and eco-conscious clothing. And, to help support the economic recovery, she also seeks out clothing that’s made in the U.S., produced locally or crafted by independent artisan designers.
Local Revitalization at the Stangl Factory
A long-time Flemington resident, Goodwin also is excited to be part of an effort to revitalize the town’s shopping district. Her boutique is one of several businesses housed in the newly refurbished historic Stangl Factory, located on Mine Street in Flemington. The former pottery factory and shop that once drew crowds from far and wide is now home to a creative community that includes Kissimmee pottery, SOMI, a co-op art gallery, a farmers’ market (on Saturday mornings) and the enticing Blue Fish Grill restaurant.
If you’re local to Flemington, visit Blue Sky Boutique to shop for fair trade jewelry and accessories from Handmade Expressions, Fair Indigo, Ubunto and Global Crafts, as well as “boho chic” clothing from independent and/or socially responsible companies such as Dames, Inc., Ark & Co., Three Dots, Lee Andersen, Cocolove, Testimony Clothing Company, Ethos Organics and Gender Bias.
Blue Sky Boutique is open Wednesdays, 9-6, Thursdays through Saturdays, 11-8 and Sundays, 12:30 to 4:30. For more information, check out their site, www.blueskyboutique.com. Also check out the Stangl Factory at www.stanglfactory.com.
Want more information about fair trade?
- World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), www.wfto.com.
- Ten Thousand Villages, www.tenthousandvillages.com.
- Fair Trade Federation (FTF), www.fairtradefederation.org.
- Fairtrade International (FLO), www.fairtrade.net.
To locate retailers in your area that carry fair trade products: http://www.fairtradefederation.org/find-a-storecafe/.
Have you bought anything labeled fair trade? If so, how did you like the product? What do you think about fair trade?
1 Distressed at the poverty she saw while visiting Puerto Rico, Byler began importing local handcrafts and eventually founded Ten Thousand Villages, generally considered the first fair trade organization.