‘Tis the Fair Trade Season

“Have you started your holiday shopping?” is an unfair question on a number of levels, so I won’t ask it here. But even in November, many of us have considered whether or not we’ll be buying gifts for family and friends in the next few months…and those of us who linger over that question may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by the options spread before us.

Shopping venues seem to increase exponentially each year, as online stores become more pervasive. Many of us now purchase some gifts through the internet, as well as at local, brick-and-mortar shops. Many online stores are, of course, internet versions of our physical retail options. Whether you shop at Target.com or the Super Target 15 minutes from your house may be based on any number of factors, but the ultimate destination for your money spent on those products remains the same. Other online stores are entities unto themselves, with no physical storefront and little “track record” for consumers to access. Wherever you’re shopping, it can be hard to know exactly who you’re buying from, or how to make purchases with responsible consumption and economic empowerment in mind.

Are you considering stepping outside the “big box stores” while buying gifts for your loved ones this year? Maybe you’d like to support local artisans, small and family businesses, or sustainably produced goods. Perhaps you’re looking for ecologically responsible materials, fair trade business practices, or locally sourced gifts (remembering that what “local” means can be subjective). I wondered (as I wandered), and did some window-shopping around the internet, seeking options in this vein. I’d like to share just a few of my findings with you:

  • Global Girlfriend is one of my favorite websites with a multitude of these “alternative” gift options. There, you can purchase women-made, fair trade gifts of jewelry, bags, food, and more — or make targeted donations to fund a wide variety of amazing projects.
  • Novica, run in association with National Geographic, has an online marketplace for home decor, jewelry, and art. Get to know the people behind the production of the gifts you buy, and learn how they retain selling power over their own products. Novica reports it has given over 46 million dollars to global artisans. You can also empower artists through this organization by participating in their microcredit loan initiative (with loans issued at 0% interest).
  • Fair Trade USA is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization that also has an online shop. Their mission statement eloquently describes their desire to create and promote “a day when Fair Trade products are readily available in stores across the country, when U.S. consumers can choose a ‘Fair Trade Lifestyle’ and shop responsibly in every product category.” To this end, they sell fair trade certified coffee, tea, bags, cups, body care products, t-shirts, and more through their website.
  • Community-minded businesses can be found locally, of course, but they can also be found online. Beekman 1802 is just one example. Inspired by life on a family farm in Sharon Springs, NY, 25% of the profits from their “Mortgage-Lifter” tomato sauces are donated to help struggling American farmers.
  • If you’re part of a faith community, check with your denomination. Many mission organizations sell products to support their ministry. American Baptist Women’s Ministries has compiled a short list of possibilities available here (American Baptist-related organizations, as well as others).

No Fair Trade marketplace in your area? Consider starting your own. For several years, there was a volunteer-run fair trade holiday gift fair held each year at my local church. At other times, congregant organizers have set up a small table selling fair trade chocolates and coffees after services once or twice a month. No matter your denomination, the Presbyterian Mission website has many good ideas and links to resources.

What are your favorite sustainable and fair trade gifts to give during the holiday season?

This post is the first in an ongoing series, through the year, on economic empowerment in your own backyard. Purchasing fair trade and through alternative markets can have both local and global impact.

This blog post has been contributed by Jennette Selig, blogger at snackreligious.blogspot.com. Jenny lives in New York City and attends Judson Memorial Church in Washington Square Park. Having been raised by two American Baptist ministers, she enjoys a good potluck as much as any fine dining experience. When not taking pictures of snack foods or her toddler, she works as an audiobook narrator and postpartum doula.

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