This interview with Wauwatosa business owner, Gail Bennett, is first in a series on values marketing and Milwaukee businesses whose business model, identity, and/or practices are grounded in a sense of social responsibility or associated strongly with a particular value or values.
Gail Bennett opened Fair Trade for All in a Wauwatosa storefront (8730 W. North Avenue) in 2006 with her husband Allen Christian. The two met in Asia in the 1990s, where their experiences and observations moved them to want to help those who couldn’t support themselves because of religious persecution, other forms of injustice, or impoverished conditions. When they moved back to Milwaukee with their son, Yacob, they learned about the Fair Trade movement from Gail’s mom, Alice Foley, a long-time peace activist.
The family fills their specialty store with gifts, clothing, jewelry, home décor items, coffee, and chocolate all hand-crafted by small producer groups or individual artisans who are paid a living wage for their labor under safe working conditions. They purchase most of their shop’s goods from members of the Fair Trade Federation, which is their way of also supporting local and regional businesses. Their products that come from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia, Bolivia, Mexico, Nepal, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, or Uganda arrive via businesses from Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Illinois who work directly with the artisans and producer groups.
How important is the concept of fair trade to your customers?
90% of our customers shop here because they want to make a difference with their dollar through shopping fair trade, but we think that the products sell themselves! Those who stop in just because they are curious about our shop become fair trade fans because of the uniqueness of the handcrafted items from 40 countries around the globe.
Can you give us a definition of fair trade?
Fair trade is a sustainable way of doing business that helps producers earn a living wage. This helps them to afford basic needs such as food, shelter, clean water, education and medical care. This living wage also helps producers avoid adverse circumstances such as human trafficking, forced child labor, or other forms of slavery.
Are there other values your business promotes along with fair trade?
Yes. We educate on the importance of fighting human trafficking through using our spending dollars locally and fairly.
What role or how much does values marketing play in your overall promotions strategy?
I would say 100%.
What are some examples of how you include your store’s values in your marketing efforts?
- “Socially responsible, eco-friendly gifts, clothing, jewelry, décor.”
- “Use your dollars to make a difference.”
- “We believe that if we change the way we spend we can make the world a better place.”
- “We aim to advocate on behalf of those who cannot advocate for themselves.”
Is creating awareness for the value of fair trade part of what you do?
How do you accomplish that?
- We ask every customer who comes into our shop if they understand what fair trade is.
- We put up little signs around the shop explaining how fair trade helps.
- We set up booths at local festivals to sell fair trade items and educate people about fair trade.
It seem that “Fair Trade,” “Buy Local,” and “Buy Green” are three different but related value-based buying messages. How do these overlap, how does it affect your store, and how do you negotiate the differences?
This is a great point. We can differentiate, but all three are important and related to sustainability:
- Fair Trade = Fair to producer, family, environment, and consumer.
- Local = Locally owned and operated; not part of a national chain.
- Green = Environmentally friendly ways of producing an item.
They can all overlap because they are all related to sustainability. Fair trade means that one is taking extra consideration to make sure producers are paid and treated fairly. Fair trade is also the opposite of mass production and sweatshop or slave labor. Generally speaking, fair trade honors the small farmers and producer groups in developing countries to help them survive in a world where big seems better. By paying a fair wage to smaller producers it helps their local economies stay sustainable. Producing on a smaller scale also allows for less environmental degradation. Many of the handcrafts in our shop are made with eco-friendly or recycled materials because one of the principles of Fair trade is to cultivate environmental stewardship. The majority of fair trade shops are locally owned, so by choosing to shop in a fair trade store, one is not only helping artisans in developing countries, but also investing in their own local economy, because at least 62 cents or more of every dollar spent in a local business stays in the local community. Choosing to shop local, green, and fair when we can just makes sense.
Where can we learn more about fair trade?
By visiting these websites one can spend hours and hours learning from the wealth of resources posted here. These organizations are really wonderful and help watch over the fair trade movement as it grows in the U.S.
- Fair Trade Resource Network
- Fair Trade Federation
- Fair Trade USA
- Global Exchange
- SERRV International
- Ten Thousand Villages