At the 13th annual Fair Trade Market, hosted by the Beth-El Mennonite Church in Colorado Springs on Saturday, hundreds of shoppers found Christmas gifts that were not only one-of-a-kind products, but also came from ethical sourcing.
Proceeds from the 12 fair trade vendors went toward the Mennonite Disaster Service, a volunteer network of Anabaptist churches that responds to disasters in Canada and the U.S. Clothing made from alpaca fleece, jewelry carved of stone and bags of ground coffee sat on tables inside the church’s main hall. Many of the items came from impoverished parts of Central America and Africa, said Kelley McKinnon, an event organizer.
“(The craftsmen) can make this stuff, but they can’t sell it if there’s nobody to sell it to,” McKinnon said.
Some of the vendors were nationally known, such as the Ten Thousand Villages organization that has a shop in Fort Collins. Others, like the Quilts for New Beginnings — a women’s sewing group that makes blankets for families transitioning out of homelessness — were local, self-employed groups.
“I’m sure that’s how some of the bigger fair trade companies started, with one person, but a lot of these are start-ups,” McKinnon said. “Which is kind of exciting to help them along the way.”
Fair Trade, a movement that started in the 1950s and has since flourished with the onset of social awareness campaigns, aims to empower farmers, workers and fishermen across the globe, according to the Fair Trade Certified website. It gained momentum in the ’90s, when Fair Trade USA founder Paul Rice branded the certification that sought to bring mutually beneficial relationships between people working in traditionally exploitative working conditions and buyers.
Many tout fair trade’s symbiotic relationship as a way to improve income sustainability, promote environmental stewardship, develop community well-being, even reduce human trafficking. But the term has also been exploited in the past, and sometimes criticized as “Western feel-good tokenism.”
But organizers at Saturday’s event said it comes down to simply trying to do good within the community, a pillar of the Mennonite faith that true fair trade aligns with.
“It’s one of the things that Mennonites do,” said Juanita Canzoneri, another organizer.
“There’s community, and then there’s the wider community ... it’s about being neighborly and showing love.”