I was surprised when I was asked to write an article about our fair trade gift shop, Eco4u Boutique. Even though we are the first ‘Fair Trade Global Gift Emporium’ in all of Southern New Jersey, I was taken aback by someone actually caring to hear about it. You may ask yourself why, but I have found that so many people don’t even know what fair trade is.
The story of how our shop came into being is one of evolution. In 2007, my husband and I, along with a dear friend, created a fair trade nonprofit: Womens Future Benefit International Project. We got our pennies together and became a 501(c)3. Our dream, at that moment, was to go overseas to developing countries and be part of fair trade on the creation side. The focus of our nonprofit, as well as our store, is supporting women, children, disabled and orphans. Our mission statement was one of teaching people how to create a sustainable income through artisan crafts.
What people don’t realize is that fair trade has been around for a long time. It’s not a fad, or charity. It is a form of social and economic justice. The core values of fair trade, besides fair wages for work performed, is human dignity and self-support. Our focus on women, children, disabled and orphans is not because it looks nice, but that these are the people who are rejected and discarded by society. They are the ones least able to compete and survive in developing nations.
So, what happened to our nonprofit? Not much, since the economy tanked and no donations were possible to leave New Jersey, let alone go overseas. However, the dream was not forgotten or lost. Even though I didn’t want to go the ‘retail shop’ route, my husband did. For three long years we worked toward opening a fair trade shop in the area. We had a dream of creating a shop that takes the customer to the places these artisan crafts come from. When I say ‘Fair Trade Global Gift Emporium’ I mean it, it’s not just our business’ legal name, but the dream realized.
When our shop opened on November 25, 2013, we had it stuffed with artisan crafts from over 25 countries, and over 75% of our artisans are women. Fair trade is not just food, as some people think, it’s high quality artisan crafts. We are so happy to be able to bring environmentally friendly and traditionally crafted items to American customers. That is the other side of fair trade, making it possible for the artisans to actually sell their products in the global market.
Womens Future Benefit International Project is still alive and working toward it’s goal. It takes time, and unfortunately money, to realize it’s original intent. Our shop is a way to help the average consumer understand what fair trade is, and why they should participate in fair trade.
As I say to our customers, “every purchase you make helps better the world.” The truth is, when you buy fair trade, you are supporting a worker, their families and their communities. You are bringing education, medicine, clean drinking water and more to the producers community. We don’t always feel that we can make a difference in our world, but with fair trade, you can. Shopping fair trade is powerful. The power of your choices as a consumer can make the life of an artisan secure, self-supporting, and most of all, free from exploitation or worse.
We all want to do good in the world and with our lives. We want to know how just one person can make a difference. With fair trade, you can be a hero in someone’s life, just by shopping with a conscience. It’s called ‘ethical consumerism’, and it begins by realizing that you have the power of your shopping to start changing the world for the better.