by Kirby Lindsay
Take a deeper look within Far East Handicrafts, in West Fremont, and witness a myriad activities going on in what appears to be a small, albeit full, retail shop. Certainly, Kirk Richmond, one of the partners in the business (with Barbara Novak), always is busy at some activity, and sometimes it even has a direct connection to his retail store.
Far East Handicrafts sells imported craft items from Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia. Richmond and Novak work directly with the families, crafts people and few small businesses that make the items. These relationships have been built over a couple of decades. Richmond not only knows where the items he sells were made - and with what materials – but he also works with these ‘manufacturers’ to design items specifically to appeal to American consumers.
What Is Fair Trade?
Additionally, Richmond recently launched a web site to better market his goods and in time, hopefully, advertise those of other small crafts persons and manufacturers around Seattle. The site, iShopFairTrade.com, promotes Fair Trade practices by aiding consumers in finding these businesses.
“It really comes out of ethics,” Richmond explained about the fair trade concept. He mentions transparency – “the guy who made it knows who made it,” – and the ability to depend upon who, where and what ingredients went into any particular product. Fair trade could become normal trade, as Richmond described it, “if everyone takes a little instant to read the label and know the contents,” he said, and became “a conscientious purchaser.”
While Far East Handicrafts is a Fair Trade Company, and a member of the Fair Trade Federation, Richmond isn’t looking to create another level of certifications and registrations, but gather together a community of businesses that share ethical standards. Companies like Theo Chocolate, Lighthouse Roasters and Mishu boutique – small businesses that operate transparently and have direct contact with the sources of their products. Richmond explained, he wants to give shoppers a place to find businesses “to sell products you can trust.”
The Impacts of Fair Trade
“Fremont does seem to be something of an oasis for Fair Trade,” Richmond allowed. His definition of fair trade does blend seamlessly with other campaigns popular here – promoting ‘buy local’ and ‘support for Independent Retailers.’ They are “encouraging the good guys to do business,” as Richmond pointed out, and putting your money where your heart is to support businesses, and their worthwhile enterprises.
For an excellent example of spending mindfully would be another project Richmond, and Novak, took on while running Far East – supporting the Shree Mahankal Primary School in rural Nepal. As Richmond recently explained, “we wanted to visit something not on the trails,” when they went on a buying trip to Nepal in 1998. A friend took them to see his extremely poor and remote village.
“We wanted to help,” Richmond explained, so he and Novak pooled the money they had set aside for additional touring, and purchased school supplies. “It is just flat amazing what you can buy with $300,” Richmond recalled, “It took 7 people to carry in the stuff.” Notebooks, pencils and soccer balls made a huge difference, as have school buildings (and toilets) they’ve built through the Stephen R. Novak Foundation (named in honor of Novak’s late son.) “What you invest in kids,” Richmond mused, “it counts to the future.”
Shopping with ethical, caring business can help advance ideals we all believe in – in Seattle or Nepal. Richmond hopes iShopFairTrade.com can help consumers make better, more informed decisions, as to where to spend – and who they want to support.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.