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Working for Kind Fair Trade This Month

Bombolulu Jewelry, Bombshell Jewelry, War Scrap Jewelry, any of these brand names ring a bell? How about a nice Kantha Throw Blanket?

If the answer was “Yes,” then chances are the reader has visited the HumanKind Fair Trade shop over on Monterey Street in SLO recently.

Those brands are the product of artisans from diverse regions of the world banded together in collectives and nonprofits to sell through the Fair Trade Federation, with their goods eventually ending up on the shelves of places like SLO’s nonprofit run shop. During the month of October HumanKind is showcasing those products – made in Kenya, Cambodia, Laos, and Bangladesh respectively –  along with sustainably sourced chocolates and other goods with a more human backstory than the public is used to.

“We’re doing the kick off event with Art After Dark [Oct.6],” explained the non-profit retail store’s manager, LynAnne Wiest, after noting that the month is traditionally set aside by the larger global entities dedicated to fair trade principles. “We’re going to have more signs up about the people that create the goods, and their stories.”

Mainly though, the details will be online, primarily through their Facebook account and other social media, Facebook.com/HumanKindFairTrade and HumanKindSLO.org.

To pull a high school essay move, Webster’s defines Fair Trade, as a “movement whose goal is to help producers in developing countries to get a fair price for their products so as to reduce poverty, provide for the ethical treatment of workers and farmers, and promote environmentally sustainable practices.”

In real world terms that means providing alternative means of employment for survivors of sex trafficking, or simply giving another means of income to women who felt they had no other choice, as in the case of the Bangladeshi blankets made from recycled saris.

In Laos and Cambodia the metal that U.S. bombers rained from the sky from 1964-1973 is being sold back, along with the brass from mortar shell casings, in the form of jewelry. Int the case of Laotian War Scrap Jewelry, the money that HumanKind pays to their wholesale suppliers goes to a charity that splits funds between the artisan themselves and and ongoing efforts to de-mine the countryside for agriculture and development.

Unlike traditional retail, Wiest said, “we have the ability to set our prices starting with what the artists believe is a fair price for their work.”

That gets stepped up through perhaps one or two middleman organizations and the retail markup that the store itself needs to keep going.

“The question I get asked the most,” she said, “is ‘Where does the profit go if it doesn’t go to a store owner?’ And we basically keep that in store for expansion.”

The growth of the retail shop two years ago into the space vacated by the Ascendo Coffee Shop next door – which moved into a larger space two doors down – was funded by the shop’s rainy day fund.

“As a store we’re sustainable right now,” said Wiest. “There’s been a lot of change and growth since we started [in July 2009], more volunteers and staff than when they started the Board certainly.”

Aside from the Art After Dark event in October, the next big happening with HumanKind will be taking part in the Nov. 4, Day of the Dead Celebration in the Mission Plaza. There they’ll feature Mexican and Peruvian products.

– Story and Photos by Camas Frank

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