Two Spokane women's ventures assure
successful flow in the global fair-trade chain
Two women who have been friends for more than 25 years represent two parts of the global chain of fair trade—from the earth to producers, wholesalers, retailers to consumers and back to the earth.
Kim Harmson and Denise Attwood display products.
Denise Attwood, co-owner of Ganesh Himal Trading, is a wholesaler who has built a business with $1.5 million yearly in fair trade retail sales. The business connects cottage industries and development projects for Tibetan refugees and women in Nepal with 250 retailers around the United States.
Kim Harmson, owner of Kizuri, a fair trade retail outlet in the Community Building at 35 W. Main has the shop that had roots in the nonprofit Global Folk Art and now sells items from 40 cultures. Kizuri has grown from a business of $155,000 in 2008 to $253,778 in 2011.
This growth has allowed the store to work with more artisan groups, double its inventory, hire part-time employees and make more than $21,000 in donations to nonprofits both locally and globally.
Both experienced growth through the economic downturn. They operate outside the traditional business model.
At a recent Spokane City Forum at First Presbyterian Church, they invited people to become consumers of fair trade products. Purchases cycle back through the retail-wholesale chain to producers whose lives and communities improve as they educate their children, gain access to medical care and provide food, shelter and clothing for their families.
Beyond that, Denise and Kim said producers catch an entrepreneurial spirit and use savings to invite others, usually women, to earn a living by producing traditional and nontraditional products.
Denise and Kim see fair trade as a “win-win strategy to create micro-enterprise locally and abroad.”
Interested in cultures and people, Denise and her husband Ric Conner traveled in Nepal after earning degrees in environmental studies 28 years ago. They bought sweaters from Tibetan refugees. After a month of trekking, they told the refugees how much they liked the sweaters.
The refugees, who had no access to assistance, asked them to help develop a market so they could earn enough money to send their children to school. “We’re not business people,” they told the refugees, but they decided to spend $400 to buy sweaters and ship them home. When they returned, Denise’s parents suggested they rent the Civic Theater and tell their story. They did, and the sweaters sold out.
After returning to Nepal to buy more sweaters, they went to social justice events in the United States, telling about the people, the products and the need for just trade.
Eventually they started Ganesh Himal Trading, through which they now work with 14 producer groups that support more than 1,000 producers in Nepal.
On visits, they see producers’ children educated and making choices that once were impossible.
Knowing the producers, retailers and consumers, Denise and Ric seek to strengthen any weak link in the fair trade chain.
Like Kim, they educate consumers to pay attention to choices they make so they can influence what happens in the world.
Kim said, “Spokane has much to be proud of in fair trade, having had its first fair trade store in the 1990s. It started with items left after a Jubilee International Marketplace sale at First Presbyterian.
The Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane started Global Folk Art in a house near 5th and Washington. It moved several times before locating in the Community Building.
“When our children were growing up, they volunteered there in grade school,” said Kim, who left teaching to be an educational consultant. Her new role included working part time eight years with Ganesh Himal as customer service representative, relating with fair trade stores across the country.
When she learned Global Folk Art was closing, she wanted to keep fair trade in town, so she opened a for-profit store, Kizuri, which means “Good!” in Swahili.
Despite having no business background, she sought community collaboration and found financial backers for the store.
Committed to the local community, Kim holds benefit nights for nonprofits who arrange programs in the lobby, giving 15 percent of the evening’s purchases to them. It also gives 7.5 percent of its funds to the Community Building Foundation, which empowers local organizations to help the community experience justice, vibrancy and sustainability.
What is fair trade? According to the World Fair Trade Organization, it is “a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions and security rights for marginalized producers and workers.”
Fair trade makes justice in world trade possible, they said.It challenges conventional trade practices and proves “a successful business can put people first.”
In the October forum, Denise and Kim showed slides illustrating nine principles of the North American Fair Trade Federation:
1) Create opportunities for economically and socially marginalized producers to alleviate their poverty and provide sustainable development. The Association for Craft Producers helped a Nepali woman repair her loom so she could weave items for them to sell. Now she organizes 60 weavers so they can earn a living.
2) Build community: One Nepali weaver earned enough to send her daughter to a university where she earned a master’s in social work. She decided the best social work was to help her mother help women build their weaving businesses and control their earnings.
3) Develop transparent and accountable relationships that are open, fair, consistent and respectful. Ganesh Himal helped a paper company that employed 4,000 families develop new products when they lost a contract.
4) Build producers’ capacity and independence so they can develop their businesses, be their own bosses and employ others. Without access to loans, a women’s weaving workshop couldn’t repair the building they leased. Ganesh Himal helped raise $5,000 to transform the workshop.
5) Ensure the rights of children to security, education and play.
“Children need health and education because they will one day run the world,” said Kim, telling of 283,000 children enslaved by Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry. “Fair trade chocolate does not use child slaves.”
6) Pay people promptly.
“We send producers $50,000 to $80,000 every two months before products are sent. It’s business based on trust. The goods always arrive,” Denise said.
7) Support safe, empowering working conditions. A Tibetan refugee family created a profit-sharing workshop for tailors. When the owners’ daughter graduated from college, she set up a shelter teaching girls and women to knit so they could leave prostitution and escape domestic abuse.
8) Respect people’s cultural identity and celebrate cultural diversity, while seeking positive and equitable change.
9) Cultivate environmental stewardship and promote sustainable practices. One producer saw old inner tubes burning across the street and decided to make purses with them. Ganesh Himal’s sale of them has recycled 1,500 tubes.
“Everyone can help,” Kim said. “Think of the power of consumers. How we spend our money is a decision about how the world and people’s lives here and elsewhere will be. We suggest that people shop fair trade first and ask their retailers to stock fair trade items.”
“If people direct five percent of purchases to fair trade, it will have a major impact,” Denise said.
The U.S. Fair Trade Federation’s 250 wholesale and retail members do $100 million in non-food retail sales. Worldwide, $6 billion is spent on fair trade, up 12 percent in 2011 over 2010 and 27 percent over 2009 sales.
Copyright © November 2012 - The Fig Tree