'It's the right way to shop' say owners of Ipswich Fairtrade store
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
This week marked the start of another Fairtrade Fortnight – an annual two-week period that aims to celebrate the farmers and workers who grow and manufacture food and products across the world, as well as promote the practice of fair trade itself.
Running until Sunday, March 6, this year’s theme is ‘Choose The World You Want’.
According to the Fairtrade website, the ongoing Covid pandemic has shown us more than ever how interconnected we are globally – and it’s this interconnection that is at the heart of the Fairtrade message.
“You are part of the Fairtrade movement, and you have the power to drive long-term change, not only with your shopping choices but with your support in spreading the message,” reads its website.
A shop in Ipswich has been helping hammer home that message for more than 30 years.
Meet Margaret Fish and Anne Durnford of The Fair Trade Shop.
The two have decades’ worth of experience working in the Fairtrade sector, and have been helping the people of Ipswich become more ethical in how they shop and consume thanks to their passion for creating a fairer world.
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“We were set up 30 years ago as a non-profit making company by a group of Traidcraft reps who would sell from their homes, at ladies groups, markets, and churches,” explains Anne.
Traidcraft is one of the UK’s longest-running Fairtrade organisations, and for over 40 years has been buying and selling Fairtrade products both nationwide and across the world.
“They were the ones who pooled their resources, and it was their stock that filled the shop initially. Margaret and I weren’t reps but we’ve been involved from the start. I’ve been rota coordinator from the beginning and Margaret is the company secretary.”
As the popularity of Fairtrade grew over the years, things started to get bigger for the group, and they began looking for a more permanent premises to work from.
The team first set up shop in a room at Christ Church on Tacket Street, operating a few hours a day over five years.
“They generously didn’t charge us rent, so we could build up some capital and move into our first shop on Orwell Road in 1996.
“It was a lovely area to start with – the Co-op was still open, Suffolk County Council were just up the road and footfall was great. We did really well for the first few years. At the time, there was a limited supply, but Fairtrade did have a higher profile in the press than it does now. Our shop was initially was all Traidcraft - but we now have over 30 different suppliers.”
However, Anne, Margaret and co began looking for a new location – and it wasn’t long before their prayers were answered. On one fateful day, a customer came in and alerted Anne and Margaret about a soon-to-be vacant shop on Upper Brook Street, and the rest is history.
“We’ve been here ever since – we've now got a bigger shop, and with all that extra space we were able to pay a part-time manager to oversee everything.”
Last summer was The Fair Trade Shop’s 30th anniversary – and over the years they have helped improve the lives of those across the globe by not only stocking and selling Fairtrade goods, but by also raising awareness through various promotional talks to societies and groups.
But what is that these two love about Fairtrade so much, and why do they feel it’s so important?
“I’ve just always known it’s the right way to shop. It’s a part of me, and always has been. We can make a difference to people's lives and their communities by making available products in our shop produced by farmers and artisans who need our support, and that is my motivation,” says Margaret.
“Fairtrade itself is still a bit niche, as it’s slightly more expensive, but that’s because the growers and producers are getting paid a fair price. We’re not profiting from sales – it all goes towards improving working conditions, a fair working wage and no child labour,” adds Anne.
For many, the term ‘Fairtrade’ conjurers up images of bananas, coffee, and sugar being sold in supermarkets – but its scope goes far beyond that nowadays.
As you make your way through the shop – which is staffed by a team of volunteers – everywhere you turn you’re met with something eye-catching, unique, and with a fascinating backstory.
“It used to virtually all be food, but it now extends to crafts, textiles, homewares such as rugs and cushions, bags, cards, jewellery, toys, and even incense,” says Anne.
A lot of goods are also made from recycled and reused materials, too. Think old saris being given a second lease of life, bowls made from old keys, and decorative pots and baskets carefully crafted from recycled newspapers that have been dyed and hand-rolled by a social enterprise in Sri Lanka.
“We currently have jewellery in stock that’s crafted by a women’s cooperative in Mexico. They’re beautifully-made with mosaics on silver, and the women who make them are able to provide for their families and children so they can have an education. Most of them are single mothers, and they’re all paid a guaranteed price for everything that’s bought. It’s changed their lives considerably. We also have candles and soap made by the Dalit people in India - the lowest and poorest in the caste system.”
Over the past five years, the shop has also set up a refill station within, allowing customers to fill containers with laundry gel, washing up liquid, handwash, and body wash in a bid to also make Fairtrade more eco-friendly.
“We source all of our stock from companies that are members of The British Association for Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers, who check everything back to source. You have to jump through a lot of hoops to join the association, but we can safely trust that everything is ethically produced – that means good working conditions, no child labour, and no forced or slave labour.”
Margaret herself has seen first-hand how important Fairtrade is – and how much lives can be improved by making a few simple swaps in your shop.
“Traidcraft does tours where you can meet the people behind Fairtrade, and I had a wonderful time when I went to Costa Rica in 2019. I saw where coffee, sugar, cocoa and pineapple all come from.”
She admits that meeting the farmers and producers face-to-face really helps put a human element on all of the work they do. “Hearing these stories makes it all worthwhile, and seeing up close what a difference Fairtrade makes to their lives. They’ve since been able to buy machinery that makes their farming more efficient – it’s so heart-warming and wonderful to see,” she says.
“It’s great because once you’ve seen it, you can come back and share the story. We’ve since been to several meetings and spoken about Fairtrade, spreading the word about what a difference it makes.”
At a time when climate change and Covid are ravaging developing countries especially, buying Fairtrade is arguably more important than ever.
“Climate change is having a hugely negative impact when it comes to growing tea and coffee, due to the seasons not being as predictable as they once were. The biggest places suffering from this are Africa, India, and South America – all the places we work closely with.
“They’ve also been affected by the pandemic. We buy a lot of things from Nepal, and for the past two years it’s been difficult for them to keep producing and transporting their goods. It’s been a real nightmare, and I’m surprised we’ve received as much as we have, when you think what they’ve had to contend with,” explains Margaret.
To help raise awareness year, The Fair Trade Shop is working along the Ipswich Fairtrade Steering Group, who are handing out vouchers to students in local schools, who can redeem them in the shop for a free bar of chocolate.
“If you can try and encourage young people to think and shop more ethically, that’s a great start,” says Margaret.
But how else can you help?
“One of the best things you can is to increase the demand for Fairtrade goods, not just in shops like ours, but in supermarkets. The more Fairtrade that people buy, the more it encourages the supermarkets to stock up. If the demand is there, the supply will certainly increase,” explains Anne.
To find out more about Fairtrade, visit fairtrade.org.uk
How your shopping helps others
Five pence from the sale of every packet of full-length India fragrance sticks by Greater Goods Incense is donated to charity and goes towards improving working conditions and decent wages in India. It also goes towards a sponsored savings scheme, a bicycle scheme, medical insurance and maternity leave, and an advance on wages if needed.
The Fair Trade Shop sells beautifully intricate handmade bowls crafted from recycled keys. These are sourced from Traidcraft, which works with Fairtrade handicraft marketing organisation Noah’s Ark. Most of the artisans they work with and support are women in India who work from home so they can care for their children. The group was established to help prevent exporters taking advantage of crafters and their products, as well as help them build and establish their own workshops. It also provides regular employment to 300 people, alongside education and medical treatment for the artisans and their dependents.
All of the shop’s Namaste rugs come from GoodWeave licenced suppliers, or those working towards GoodWeave accreditation. GoodWeave is a charity that seeks to end child labour in the rug weaving industry, alongside providing education for weavers. It works in countries such as India and Nepal.