So, early in 2002, whilst I still needed to earn a living and knew nothing about retail, I was keen to get started. I probably should have done a business plan but I felt that, although I knew quite a lot about teaching, I knew nothing about selling so I would need at least two years’ experience before committing to a business plan. Eighteen years on, I still believe alternative trade - putting people and planet before profit - is a good way to help poor and rural producers to earn a reasonable income. It’s also a ray of hope in a world that seems to have become obsessed with the industrialised production of almost everything.
Small is beautiful. Handmade is beautiful. The dignity of fairly paid labour should be universally upheld and you, the customer, are integral to this. Buy fair and you support this, buy unfair and you contribute to the exploitation of the world’s most vulnerable. Your choice!
- Quality, handmade, fair trade jewellery, classic and casual clothing, accessories and household goods.
- To pay a fair, mutually agreed price for all goods from our producer groups in the Global South.
- To use hand loomed cloth and/or hand blocked cloth where possible. To try to source organically grown cotton where possible.
- To use natural materials in clothing such as 100% cotton and cotton/linen mixes.
- To buy from small scale producers in small workshops, supporting rural workers where possible and no factory production (some of the cotton for block print is machine woven but the block printing is hand done).
- At affordable and fair prices.
- Increasing volumes of goods to help more producers.
- To promote and campaign for fair trade.
To maintain WFTO criteria on fair trade:
- To promote and campaign for fair trade.
- Establish long-term trading relationships with producer groups.
- Uphold transparency and accountability, and build trust.
- Not use child labour.
- Pay a living wage plus social premium for health, education and training.
- Use eco-friendly materials and not degrade the environment as far as possible.
- Establish good communications and ideas' exchange with producer groups.
- Ensure workers have a democratic say in how they work.
- Uphold respect for the individual.
My first order was from a group called Artesania Sorata in Bolivia in 2002 and I started by selling at craft fairs, school fairs and other small events. Another two groups followed – Bombolulu in Mombasa, Kenya and Yakkumcraft in Indonesia. I then organised my own events and started a Fair Trade Market in Brighton at the Quaker Meeting House in November and December 2004.
These Fair Trade Markets were popular and it was wonderful that the Quakers were keen to support these so we ran them monthly from April 2005 until 2013.
Setting up the website
Shortly after starting the Fair Trade Market, I applied for and got a grant from UnLtd to set up a website and so Lovethatstuff.co.uk was born.
We have a Producers page on this website so you can check out where our goods come from and who you’re buying from. I have visited all the producer groups and we enjoy very collaborative, long standing partnerships. One of the major problems of mainstream retail is that by focussing on the product rather than the producer, the way the goods are produced is forgotten, the producer is conveniently ignored along with their often exploitative working conditions. By focussing the marketing solely on the product this encourages you, the customer, to ignore whether the means of production is ethical or not. Fair Trade puts people and planet at the forefront of what we do.
Visiting the producers
My first producer visit was in December 2005 and since then I have visited all the producer groups so we can exchange ideas, find out how best we can work together and I can take photos and learn what their strengths are and what some of the difficulties are.
Economics & learning
Business as unusual – some thoughts on economic theories
Whilst I don’t pretend to have a great understanding of economics, the philosophy of the free market appears to encourage a ‘race to the bottom’. Business as usual favours a 'buy low and sell high' market, and as we’ve all seen, often results in exploitation of the poorest while hugely enriching large scale enterprises. Rather than ’trickle down’ working, currently world wealth seems to be ‘gushing up’ with greater concentration of wealth in a smaller number of hands.
Fair trade, on the other hand, favours a more ‘business as unusual’ model where producer and buyer cooperate. It relies on transparency and accountability and in order for this to happen people have to talk to each other. I like this. Fair trade is a flagship, it's a beacon of hope for change and a future we can believe in. Most economic models take the heart out of their paradigm and yet it is arguable that few amongst us behave in a dispassionate way in our lives. So why should we when shopping! In short, I’m very sceptical about who benefits from the idea of ‘homo economicus’ - when we’re deciding what goes in our ‘basket of goods’ we don’t need to leave out all considerations of other people and be totally self-centred. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we’re all inter-connected, and we rely on each other for our health and well being. So why not think about who and what we’re supporting when we spend our money?
Fair trade puts people before profits and in a world riddled with poverty, environmental degradation and conflict we all need to cooperate a lot more than we have been in order to improve life on our wonderful planet.
The great hope is that we can do this and one of the main payoffs is that we’ll all feel a lot happier.
What I’ve learned
I have mostly learned that the human spirit in times of adversity is truly remarkable. I have been incredibly privileged to meet a lot of very talented, brave, bright and resourceful people who I have the most enormous respect and fondness for.
Meeting and emailing the producer groups has helped me understand some of the challenges they face and some of their successes. Lots of people here in the UK have generously volunteered their help, which has been incredibly valuable and inspirational.
Be better at selling and passing on the fair trade message. Refine that business plan! Get better designs, represent the groups better. Focus. And enjoy!