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What Is Fair Trade Really?

“That’s not fair!” Most young children will say this frequently throughout their early years. And if you’re a parent, teacher, or have ever been a caregiver of kids, I bet you can even hear that exact whiny pitch that children feel is required for the complaint to be taken seriously. You also know by now that what’s “fair” to children is very subjective and based on what they want or what they see others receiving. 

Adults, too, throw this word “fair” around a lot, and the truth is that it often means different things to different people.  One way it’s most often used is by combining it with “trade.” You’ve probably heard of “fair trade,” but if you are like I was just a few short years ago, you may not understand what fair trade really is, or isn’t. With it being National Fair Trade month, now is a perfect time to gain better understanding of all the good in those two short words and why fair trade is so important to so many.

An Artisan in Uganda crafts a necklace using paper beads.

So, What Is Fair Trade?

My first understanding of fair trade was a very simplistic one, likely the case for many. Fair trade = fair wages. However, now I know that it is so much more! Fair trade is a movement, a community, and an idea built on shared principles or values. These foundational principles offer a greater understanding of what fair trade really is. As a member of the Fair Trade Federation, Noonday Collection is fully committed to these principles in every way, and even our mission statement reflects them. At Noonday, we are building a flourishing world, where women are empowered, children are cherished, people have jobs, and we are connected.

The Fair Trade Federation Principles

Connection is at very heart of the fair trade movement. Fair trade is even MORE than a set of standards; it is a world-wide community built on relationships. At Noonday, building long-term relationships with Artisan Businesses is key because we can have more impact TOGETHER. It’s through meaningful relationships with Artisan Businesses and by using the principles of fair trade that Noonday empowers these businesses to grow sustainably and to impact their communities.

A Closer Look at Fair Trade in Action

In June 2019, on a sunny rooftop with a breathtaking view of Lake Atitlán, I met Cristobal and saw first-hand how Noonday Collection develops Artisan Businesses through collaborative design. Cristobal is the owner of a business that specializes in hand-beaded jewelry. What impressed me most about Cristobal was his great love for the people of his community and his desire and hope for a brighter future for Guatemala. Not only is he owner and manager of the business, who employs mainly women from his community, Cristobal is a very talented designer and bead worker himself. The styles that his Artisans create are designed collaboratively with Cristobal and Noonday’s design team. The result of combining his unique perspective, passion, and experience with the design team’s knowledge of fashion and style are sparkling accessories that marry modern style with traditional techniques. Noonday’s collaboration with Cristobal is just one example of how we are better together!

Cristobal pointing to one of his designs that I proudly wore to his workshop. The Crux Earrings, my favorite earrings, are also from Cristobal’s workshop.

Stepping inside an Artisan workshop is the best way to get a complete picture of how fair trade benefits many. This is one reason why Noonday sends Ambassadors all over the world to meet Artisan Business Partners! If we could travel the world together, I would show you more pillars of fair trade in action. I would show you how Noonday provided training to a group of Artisans in Ethiopia, enabling them to create a jewelry workshop and to be able to grow to offer jobs to even more women (capacity building) or how Noonday provided sewing school and responsible financing to a group of women in Rwanda who were once struggling to provide for their families but are now proud business owners. I’d love the chance to take you to visit an Artisan Business Partner in rural Vietnam so you could see the fruits of a long-term relationship: expansion of the workshop’s capacity and collaboration between Artisans in different villages.

The Whimsy Charm Necklace is an example of the collaboration of Artisans from multiple workshops.

What Fair Trade Is Not

If you’ve read this far you already know so much more about fair trade than I did when I became an Ambassador! I became an Ambassador to work out my passion for strengthening families and preventing orphans, which, as it turns out, are two wonderful by-products of fair trade! In the three years since I said “yes” to this amazing opportunity, I’ve learned so much that has helped me be a more responsible consumer. Since most of this learning has come through answering the questions of guests at Trunk Shows, I thought I’d share those questions and my responses with you. 

The most often asked question is some variation of how much the Artisans are paid. I think this is a great question, and one I think we should always ask ourselves as we strive to improve the world with our purchases. Many know that fair trade has to do with fair wages, but many don’t fully understand what a fair wage is. A “fair wage” means that Artisan Businesses are paid fairly for their products and, therefore, the workers, or Artisans, are paid a living wage, one that enables them to cover the basic needs such as food, shelter, education, and healthcare for their families. Because economies and the costs of living differ in every community, living wages also vary widely.

Fair trade doesn’t mean all workers around the world are paid the same. This is a good place to remember, as I often have to remind my children, that “fair” doesn’t mean everyone gets the exact same, but rather, that everyone gets what he/she needs to be successful. Living wages are mutually agreed upon through open communication between Artisan Entrepreneurs and the Artisans they employ, ensuring that pricing is transparent and meets the needs of the Artisans. Noonday Collection collaborates with Artisan Businesses to set prices that allow them to grow sustainably while paying fair wages. This process is designed to increase Artisans’ incomes, ensure sustainable livelihoods, and empower communities.

Another question I frequently hear from Trunk Show guests involves the relationship and effects of shopping fair trade on our economy here in America. I have great news! Shopping American fair trade companies, such as Noonday Collection, boosts our economy! Fair trade doesn’t take anything away from American workers because fair trade seeks to improve the lives of those in developing countries who frequently lack alternative sources of income. Most fair trade products come from cultures and traditions which are not available through North American production or do not have alternatives available in North America. And, Noonday Collection’s direct sales business model offers a HUGE economic stimulus as it has CREATED over 2000 small Ambassador businesses thus far in communities all across America!

Meet Marla Yates

Marla Yates is not only an Ambassador but also co-owns a franchise with her husband, Tim, in the Houston area. When not homeschooling their four kids or running two businesses, Marla can be found volunteering for Love Without Boundaries or reading. Her favorite style consists of graphic tees and paper beads.