What is Fair Trade?

IMG_8662Deep in the heart of Haiti a woman sits on a wooden stool in her home as she watches her two children play. As she sits, she tightly rolls strips of cereal boxes into beads. When the children notice her watching, they run to her, covered in dirt and sweat, asking if it is time for dinner. The Haitian woman thinks back to a time when their stomachs were left empty, but not now; for the beads she was rolling she’ll make into a statement piece necklace. Then, through a fair trade company, she will sell it to be worn down an American high-fashion runway. She is a jeweler. She is a designer. She is an artist and a business woman. With dignity, she changed her circumstances of poverty to circumstances of hope. She provided for her children food, a house, and a sustainable future.


This business transaction is a part of fair trade. Fair trade is a growing industry that fulfills our culture’s materialistic needs while offering people in impoverished situations a steady income. It is empowering individuals out of poverty; and unlike charity, fair trade is a long term solution that changes the lives of generations to come.

Gretchen Huijskens, co-founder of fair trade company, Trades of Hope, defines fair trade as, “a set of principles to help to ensure that workers [called artisans] are getting proper compensation in a safe working environment.” These workers create products from jewelry to clothing to home décor and more. If there is a demand for something in developed countries, fair trade companies offer people in the impoverished, developing world opportunities to create it!

“We feel that purchasing fair trade products is the perfect way to merge sustainable development and our desire for fashion. This is the answer to ending poverty around the world,” says Huijskens. “More and more high-end designers such as Donna Karan and Chan Luu are purchasing fair trade products to add to their lines. This is truly the wave of the future.”


Not to mention fair trade draws in the “green” crowd. A lot of fair trade products are made of recycled items. Jewelry beads made of rolled magazine pages and cereal boxes was one of the first recycled fair trade products to make it big. In Haiti, artisans are using recycled oil barrels to make tin home décor or statement medallions. In Nepal, scarves are being woven from scrap pieces of silk from the floors of factories which otherwise would have been discarded. Even in the United States women coming out of rehab are making lip balms out of lavender and vanilla.

Not only are our materialistic needs being met, but now people around the world who were once in desperate situations are now providing for themselves and their families by earning a steady income. As opposed to a one-time donation, short term missions, and charity (which all come to an end), fair trade is job creation. This job creation is a dignified way to empower people out of poverty. Just like you and me, many people in third world countries don’t want charity, they want an opportunity to provide for themselves and their family. Also, through her experience in fair trade, Huijskens has seen that women who earn a steady income use it to take care of her children’s needs before their own.


As an adoptive mother to a daughter from Haiti, Huijskens says, “While adoption has its place, many of today’s ‘orphans’ are not actually orphans, but merely children whose parents don’t have the money to take care of them. My daughter has a living birth mother. Fair trade emphasizes the importance of keeping families together.”


Also, when a woman in a third world country continually earns the money to give her child an education, fair trade not only changes her life, but also that of her children and her children’s children. It is a multi-generational, long term solution to end poverty.

To see fair trade products first-hand, go to Huijskens’ fair trade company, Trades of Hope, at http://www.tradesofhope.com.


One thought on “What is Fair Trade?

  1. Awesome writing and very needed look into why sustainability matters! You know I think you’re just the best. 🙂

    (and goodness, does that logo look good. Mmm….mmm…lemonade is my favorite).

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