Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fair Trade Event

This event took place on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at Arcadia (Btwn 21 & 22 st. and 8th Ave.) and was hosted by the NYC Fair Trade Coalition.

It was a great event that united fair trade companies with consumers.

About the NYC Fair Trade Coalition: NYCFTC is an all volunteer grassroots organization educating consumers on fair trade and promoting fair trade businesses in NYC. They support and promote discussion around issues of Fair Trade with speaking engagements and events. The event also served as a kick-off for their new "Look Book," which describes the businesses in the coalition. They are currently in the process of mapping stores that sell fair trade products in NYC.  You can visit their facebook page here


About Arcadia: I have included quite a long description of the store because I found their ideas and values incredible noble and important. You can read the rest of their description on their website.  

After many years of running other people’s businesses, learning how different types of businesses functioned (or didn’t) and realizing that I would never be truly happy working for someone else, I decided to go out my own….“Simple is beautiful” was my response to the complicated, difficult, hectic lives many New Yorkers, myself included, live on a day to day basis. I look for clean lines, functionality, beautiful design, unique product, at reasonable prices that are ethically made. I aim for a broad enough selection that most people can find exactly what they need while still maintaining a sense of continuity throughout the store.

"...While the highest ethical conduct may not always pay off financially, it always pays off in far more important ways."
...I had the tag line “simple is beautiful” set in my head, but was rather lost on what to actually call the store….Thankfully, my best friend immediately suggested Arcadia, from James Joyce’s “Ulysses” which he was reading at the time. I immediately loved it; it is graphically balanced, begins with an A (important for phone and web listings), and most importantly, the Oxford English Dictionary definition of Arcadia is “a simple, pastoral way of life. Heaven on Earth”. Clearly, it was meant to be. 
Arcadia’s core values We strive to offer our customers a peaceful, pleasant shopping experience where our customers will find helpful, friendly employees who are attentive, informative and knowledgeable about the products we offer. It is important to us that everyone feels welcome and comfortable at Arcadia, regardless of their budgetary constraints or interest in purchasing anything at all. We aim to be patient, helpful, respectful and polite to everyone, and hope for the same from our customers.
Arcadia focuses as much as possible on fairly traded products made throughout the world, so that our customers’ interest in supporting indigenous populations and their cultures can be achieved. We also try to limit our impact on the environment in the following ways;
  1. We recycle as much of the packaging materials we receive from our suppliers as possible by reusing them for our own shipments, as padding for gift packaging, offering free packaging materials to customers who can use them, and paying for recycling of our own garbage. We also regularly lobby our suppliers for greener packaging solutions, referring companies to each other so they can share information on reducing their packaging. We routinely ask customers who already have shopping bags if they would like to skip a bag for their purchase at Arcadia, although we happily supply shopping bags for all purchases regardless of size.
  2. Arcadia uses 100% wind energy for electricity, through the Con Edison Green Solutions program. Our track lights are a special infrared variety that reduces their energy usage approximately 20%. We also use LED and fluorescent lighting where ever feasible. The entire façade of the store uses double paned, insulated UV glass, specifically designed to reduce heat transfer as well as noise, which reduces our need for air conditioning in the summertime and insulates us so well from the cold in winter that we rarely run the heat in the winter. Our electronic thermostat is programmed to keep the store at a mild 73 degrees all day during the summer, at 74 during the winter, shuts off automatically when the store closes at 10PM, turning on in the morning just in time for opening. Because natural gas dryers are more efficient than electric dryers, we use gas for our dryer, which along with our washer is EnergyStar rated. We also try to run our appliances with larger, therefore more efficient, loads later in the evenings when energy demand is lower.
  3. We have resisted the retail trend towards plastic coated, heavy shopping bags. While we understand that many customers reuse such bags, they are non-recyclable due to the multiple layers and materials involved. Our paper bags are made of 30% post consumer waste and are recyclable with other paper products. We offer plastic bags (saved from my grocery shopping at Gristedes) only during heavy rainstorms as needed to protect our customers’ purchases from the elements. Our gift boxes are made from 100% recycled paper and are recyclable, as are our tissue papers and heavy craft paper. The fancy gift wrap, while not made of recycled papers, are recyclable. We are currently investigating switching suppliers for our jewelry boxes to a Rhode Island based company which uses 100% recycled materials to replace our current suppliers which are based in China and are mostly non-recycled and only partly recyclable.


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About: Ahkun means 'thank you' in Khmer (Cambodian). We work with entrepreneurs who have received microloans to further their skills and build better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. We connect them to the global marketplace---creating sustainable businesses and closing the gap between microfinance lenders and borrowers, consumers and producers.

Fair Trade Spirits

:  FAIR. announces the rise of transparent and sustainable ethics in ultra premium spirits. By associating the best French distillers to local cooperatives in the third world, FAIR. aims at bringing to the consumers the finest spirits possible produced from fair-trade ingredients. We believe in showcasing in the most transparent way all the human capital that goes into making unique ultra premium spirits.
In 2009 the Fair Trade Spirits Company launched FAIR. Quinoa, the first Quinoa-based Vodka but also the first fairtrade certified™ vodka in the world. FAIR. Quinoa has been awarded twice last year as one of the best Vodka in the world. In 2010 they completed the line with FAIR. Goji made from the legendary, sacred Goji berry fruit. FAIR. Goji is the first Goji Berry Liqueur and is fairtrade certified™. FAIR. offers the latest sources of inspiration for fresh, healthy and generous cocktails.

Global Goods
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About: Global Goods Partners is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering women, alleviating poverty and promoting social justice. We partner with community based organizations in marginalized regions of Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East, creating access to the U.S. market for our partners’ handcrafted products and providing technical assistance to build sustainable livelihoods.


The models sported apparel
from multiple vendors.
About: We are a fair trade fashion company that collaborates with innovative artisans from developing countries to create unique handmade accessories and apparel.

Kono (Google Translate English Version)
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About: Kono Business is a business concept that aims to tailor marginalized women in Sierra Leone produce scarves and handbags designed by Danish designers.

Of Rags
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About: Of Rags is a fair trade fashion cooperative for sustainable community development. 40% of the profits from each sale directly support public health and education initiatives. The remaining proceeds are used to grow the company to achieve the greatest impact.

Tompkins Point Apparel
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About: TOMPKINS POINT APPAREL is a unique brand dedicated to ensuring that every person who plays a role in producing our clothing has a better life because of our business. To do this, our clothes are certified fair trade and organic and we donate 25% of our profits directly to the people who make our products. We're proud of our shirts and what they represent, and we'd love for you to take the time to learn more about us.

Via Nativa
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About: After seeing the talent and abundance of artisan crafts in Nicaragua, and understanding that it is not only an art but very much a livelihood, Alessandra Plasa and Vanesa Natale started a fair trade and environmentally friendly business. Alessandra now runs the business with a focus on sustainable wood jewelry among other accessories and works directly with artisans and women owned co-ops in Nicaragua.


Questions for Consideration
The following commentary is a combination of my own ideas and those expressed to me by other attendees of the event. 

1. How useful and reliable can third party certifiers (like Transfair) be for verifying and marketing the fair trade fashion industry?

Overall: Very helpful. 
Despite varying criteria for these certifiers, they are helpful in educating consumers about products and in starting a discussion. Jay, the owner of Arcadia, told me that third party, and even second party, certifiers are better than nothing and mean that we're moving in the right direction. We have seen these certifiers pop up in many industries, and they were also a topic for discussion at the SPN Panel on Green Consumerism and the Slow Fashion Meetup
NYC FTC is in the process of creating an online database for stores that sell fair trade products, and their own seal of approval. This event was a show case for their new "Look Book," a collaboration by the sellers of NYC FTC to raise awareness about their products. 

2. Will people be willing to spend more for fair trade products with our current mindset of extreme materialism?
Fair trade products do, sometimes, cost more than others. As described in The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and The Trust Cost of Food by the Sierra Club, some of the products we buy are impossible cheap, meaning that the real cost is not put on us but on other countries, cultures, and the environment.

3. How [much] can pressure from social media and potential publicity from Corporate Social Responsibility campaigns help grow the Fair Trade industry?
Overal: Immensely
Social media, and the internet in general, provide a vital information source for discovering supply chains and then spreading the information about irresponsible practices.  Sustainability and fair trade practices are now being used as marketing tools by companies, and are slowly being demanded by the customer and employees.
I have found a general shift between businesses and organizations to a middle ground. Businesses are using fair trade standards to create positive change, and organizations use a business model to increase revenue. I imagine that this will now become a growing trend, in which companies move to look more at the triple bottom line. Most of the companies represented at the event have a large charitable component to them. Of Rags has a very interesting situation in which they have both company and 501c3 status to work in both sectors.

4. How can the fair trade and slow fashion industries combine to increase purchase of sustainable clothing items?
Both the fair trade and slow fashion industries are working to reduce our overly consumeristic mentality and increase our appreciation of materials and where they come from. They are similar movements, although focusing on slightly different areas. They both represent ideas that are crucial to developing a sustainable culture and civilization.

5. In a time when consumers are growing further and further from the source of their purchases and where they go once they are thrown out, how can be we bring people back to look at all levels of the supply chain?
Both the slow fashion and fair trade industries are working to increase awareness of the supply chain. Websites like and third party certifiers are also working toward this end. Our current mentality of materialism is a relatively recent development but will take time to move away from. Increased awareness about where all of our things come from and go once they are disposed of will help customers "vote with their dollar" for responsible items.

6. How is the U.S. doing in relation to the rest of the world on the mission of Fair Trade? How do different cultures react to the concept?
I heard mixed opinions on this topic. Some say that the U.S. is behind the EU in terms of awareness of fair trade and the source of products. Others say we are keeping up. I believe we are behind. America's mentality has always been freedom and materialism. The freedom aspect gives many the excuse to say that they will buy which ever products please them (in a slightly entitled way often). The materialism aspect can be easily seen in the ideal of the American Dream - owning a home [and competing against our neighbors for "more stuff"]. Cultures that have more of a history of slowing down, such as Italians with their ideal of Dolce Vita, are, in my opinion, more receptive to these fair trade and slow fashion movements.

I will repeat one of my favorite quotations from the documentary "The Economics of Happiness": 
"You cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet."
It is essential to keep this in mind when moving toward a more sustainable culture.

Now it's your turn to weigh in: What do you think about the questions above and the fair trade movement? Do you have any favorite fair trade stores?

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