Port’s Fair Trade for All offers imported goods,insights into economy
FAIR TRADE FOR ALL owner Allen Christian (above) showed a tagua nut, used in Ecuador for ivory-like carvings. Below, taking part in the ribbon-cutting at the Port Washington store were (below) Gail Bennett-Christian, son Yacob, and Allen Christian. Photos by Sam ArendtAs the owners of the new Port Washington store Fair Trade for All, Allen Christian and his wife Gail Bennett-Christian believe their goal is to educate consumers as much as it is to sell products from around the globe.
The store in the Harbor Square building on Grand Avenue opened earlier this month.
“Many people associate fair trade with church work and charity because most people are first exposed to the idea at church fairs,” Christian said.
“What it really is about is creating sustainable economies for indigenous people. However, it doesn’t mean having to pay a higher price for items. It is buying quality products and clothing from working people so they can make a living and raise families in their homelands.”
Christian comes by his global perspective naturally, having been born in Morocco and lived around the world.
He and his wife opened the first Fair Trade for All store in Milwaukee, moving it to Wauwatosa two years ago.
“We found that 50% of our business came in November and December, around Christmas time, and wanted to find another location that would allow us to tap into the tourist trade,” Christian said in explaining the decision to open an outlet in Port.
The couple has a six-month lease on the building.
“We wanted to open the store on a trial basis to see what kind of reception there is here,” Christian said.
The couple works with non-profit organizations like the Fair Trade Federation and SERRV with contacts in developing countries to acquire their stock.
Their shelves are filled with a wide variety of handmade, eco-friendly products — including clothing, jewelry and art — from Nepal, India, South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. Many of the displays include printed explanations of the processes used or the plight of the artisans.
It is difficult for Christian to contain his enthusiasm as he talks about the ivory-like carvings made by artisans from Ecuador using tagua nuts and the clothing made from re-spun silk and reclaimed cotton from India.
The store also carries a selection of organic chocolates, coffees and teas that are equivalent to premium brands. However, the farmers work as a cooperative, earning a living wage that discourages them from growing illicit drugs.
Christian gladly argues on behalf of fair trade with anyone who comes into the store with questions.
“A lot of people falsely associate fair trade with socialism. It is just the opposite,” Christian said.
“It empowers people to support themselves. It also creates local sustaining jobs, so that the people in developing countries are less likely to be satisfied with being a cheap labor force that encourages companies here to outscource their manufacturing jobs.”