Finding Fair Trade in Madison

As the semester winds down and winter break approaches, holiday shopping is now in full swing.

The National Retail Federation reported that more than 151 million people shopped over Black Friday weekend alone in the United States.

Fortunately, there are a variety of unique ways to share interest in Africa this holiday season, namely through different fair trade opportunities.

Artisan basket weaving in Uganda. Photo by Lauren Parnell Marino.
Artisan basket weaving in Uganda. Photo by Lauren Parnell Marino.

Laura Mobley, UW-Madison alum and marketing manager at Mata Traders, has worked and partnered with many fair trade organizations and says this method of gift-giving is also often more ethical than big-box store alternatives.

“Fair trade commodities create greater equality in the international trading system,” Mobley said.”When you buy a fair trade product, you’re guaranteed that the artisan/producer was paid a fair wage in a safe working environment. That means no sweatshop labor, child labor, or exploitative labor practices.”

Mata Traders, based in Chicago, is a design driven, fair trade fashion brand selling women’s clothing and jewelry made by artisans in India and Nepal in and effort to end global poverty through safe working conditions and fair wages.

Mobley said this and similar fair trade initiatives are accomplished by upholding the nine principles of fair trade, which includes paying producers a fair and living wage, providing safe working conditions, maintaining long-term relationships with the producers, and ensuring there is no child labor.

Fair trade has exploded in recent decades, making it easier than ever to find unique gifts from all over the world. Resources like the Fair Trade Federation website, an association that promotes North American organizations fully committed to fair trade, can provide a starting place. Companies that are Fair Trade Federation members go through a yearly screening/renewal process, in an effort to uphold the principles of fair trade.

Mobley said her recommendations are endless, though a few favorites with an emphasis on Africa-related gifts include:

Greenola Style (brass jewelry from Kenya, Alpaca knitwear/jewelry from Bolivia)

Nkuku (home/kitchen products from India)

Sseko Designs (shoes and accessories from Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia)

Venture Imports (soapstone sculptures/accessories from Kenya)

Raven and Lily (women’s clothing, jewelry, etc from Ethiopia, Pakistan, India, etc)

Pact Apparel (men’s and women’s socks, underwear, leggings)

Krochet Kids (men’s and women’s winter knitwear, clothing, and bags from Uganda and Peru)

Artisan paper making in Uganda. Photo by Lauren Parnell Marino.
Artisan paper making in Uganda. Photo by Lauren Parnell Marino.

And for those who enjoy getting out and physically choosing a holiday treasure, fair trade is reasonably accessible right here Madison! Servv, with locations on State Street and Monroe Street, partners with 60 community-based organizations from 30 countries around the world to offer a variety of artisan goods including decor, dishware, apparel and jewelry. African partners include organizations in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

Change Boutique, located in the heart of Madison’s Willy Street Neighborhood, also works with a variety of Africa-related fair trade vendors to bring fair fashion to Dane County and empower women while doing it.

Finally, though wrapped up for the 2015 holiday season, the annual Fair Trade Holiday Festival in Madison is an opportunity to experience over 40 fair trade vendors all conveniently situated in the Monona Terrace Convention Center. A list of this year’s vendor participants can be found here.

These opportunities are just some of the ways to share interest in Africa over winter break and access unique markets while doing it.

“I’ve worked and partnered with many fair trade companies and organizations and most of them are small-run businesses that work closely with the producer groups and visit the artisans a few times a year,” Mobley concluded. “Instead of purchasing a product that is mass-produced from a big-box store, you are getting a unique, handmade item that is most likely made using localized techniques. You can feel more connected to the person who made the product.”