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Marketing for fair trade involves sharing stories

by Mary Stamp

For Sarah Calvin, marketing for Ganesh Himal Trading Co., in Spokane means sharing ideas of fair trade and stories of fair trade producers to inspire people to make conscientious choices about what they buy.

Despite the global economic crisis, she said Ganesh Himal is doing well.

“It’s significant that fair trade continues to grow and we are selling to more new stores,” she said. 

“In this economy, people are more conscientious about how they are spending their money.  The economic trauma has shifted people’s consciousness, so people are more interested in buying fair-trade products,” Sarah added.

Ganesh Himal’s annual Thanksgiving Weekend Festival of Fair Trade brings attention to fair trade, giving attendees the opportunity to talk directly with fair-trade importers and offering handcrafts from around the world from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Friday through Sunday, Nov. 25 to 27, in the lobby of the Community Building at 35 W. Main.

This holiday sale features products available through Inland Northwest fair-trade businesses, including items from Guatemala, Chile, Mexico and around the globe through Moonflower Enterprises, Conosur Imports, Singing Shaman Traders, Corazon Scarves and Kizuri, plus shoes from Spain sold by Katie Frankhauser.

Sarah said the local vendors who are participating are members of the Fair Trade Federation and follow its fair-trade criteria as they work directly in long-term partnerships with artisans.

“This year’s festival will feature handcrafted clothing, jewelry, housewares, pottery and more from around the world—made in sweatshop-free environments. Purchases of these products support artisan cooperatives, small farmers and sustainable economic development in some of the world’s lowest-income regions,” said Sarah.

People who don’t need to buy things can donate to projects, such as the Baseri Clinic in Nepal, the girl child education fund in Nepal or a girls’ orphanage in Chile.

Ganesh Himal Trading, which started the festival, has been importing fairly traded products since 1984.

Sarah came to Whitworth from Los Angeles.  She said that a Jan Term trip to Guatemala with Ron Frase in 1989 inspired her global interest and planted seeds for her interest in fair trade.

After completing her degree at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, she lived there 13 years, working for nonprofits, with developmentally disabled children and as a courier traveling to Asia for the Asian Reporter, Sarah visited Thailand, Laos, Burma, Vietnam and Indonesia.

She decided to start her own import business, Indras Imports, choosing the name based on a Hindu story about the Indras net and interconnectivity.  The Indras net is a net in the sky that stretches to eternity.  At every cross-section, there is a jewel, she explained.  If one jewel is changed, the change is seen in all the jewels.

She said that, like Hinduism, Buddhism emphasizes the idea of interdependence.

Introduced to Buddhism in Asia, she said it has also influenced her interest in fair trade.  She went on several trips to Burma, Thailand and Laos studying Buddhism in monasteries and participating in retreats.  In Spokane, she has taken some classes with Buddhist nuns from the Sravasti Abbey near Newport.

“Fair trade acknowledges the interdependence of people and the environment everywhere,” she said.  “That awareness contributes to people becoming conscientious consumers.”

Seven years ago, she began to work as an apprentice with Ric Connor and Denise Atwood, owners of Ganesh Himal and found her niche as part of a team doing creative marketing of fair trade and fair-trade products, and educating people by sharing stories of producers.

“I bring stories of producers to the forefront,” she said.

“I have also learned the importance of the organic growth of a business, growing in a slow, sustainable way, rather than making quick expansion,” she said.

Sarah particularly values the opportunity to work in partnership with producers in Nepal and elsewhere to help them produce products with their own cultural and aesthetic sense, while being sensitive to what products will sell in the United States.

“They send us incredible designs, and we work with them to create a product that will sell in our market,” Sarah said.

While working in a women’s co-op in Nepal before coming to Ganesh Himal, she helped design a wide-strapped messenger bag with local artisans.  Ganesh Himal still sells it.

“Fair trade is playing a strong role in the global economy as people become aware of globalization and problems associated with it,” she said. 

“Many good things are coming out of the economic and environmental turmoil,” she said. “People are becoming more selective about what they buy, more concerned about the inequities of the global economy, and more sensitive to how products are made and where products come from.”

For information, call 448-6561 or visit