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SANTA CRUZ – Hundreds of fair trade certified products created in small communities throughout the world will be available at a new store Friday for shoppers looking to support an alternative to the mainstream economy.
“In buying fair trade, your purchasing power is used to transform the lives of the poor,” said Nathan George, who founded Trade as One with his wife Cath, nearly five years ago as an online venture aimed at creating a revenue stream for impoverished people who would otherwise have little chance of reaching the U.S. market.
The fair trade mission includes raising awareness about how consumers can improve the lives of people living in poverty throughout the world simply by changing how they shop for everyday goods. It is part of a growing international movement.
“We don’t want to sell more things,” George says on a YouTube video about the company, “Everybody has enough things. We want to sell products that actually tell stories of lives that have been changed and bring meaning to people.”
Although on Wednesday, Trade as One staffers were still surrounded by stacks of boxes in their 800-square-foot store on Ingalls Street, they promised to be open for shoppers on Black Friday. The store will be open Friday through Sunday until Dec. 10 when it opens daily through Christmas.
It is the first retail venture for the Santa Cruz company that generated more than $1 million last year in online sales. Up to now, sales have been generated largely from conducting presentations at church- and synagogue-sponsored events.
The Santa Cruz store will feature about 500 items including everyday foods such as coffee and olive oil to jewelry and messenger bags. Producers, mostly women who were previously enslaved or forced to work in the sex trade, are in dozens of countries including Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco Cambodia Thailand, India, Guatemala and Peru.
“It’s important for us to not compete head-on with companies like Target but to get people who understand the stories behind the product, to inspire them,” George said. Although awareness of the fair trade movement is nearing 80 percent in Europe, in the U.S. it is lagging, according to George.
About 71 percent of U.S. consumers have heard the term “fair trade,” according to the Washington D.C.-based Fair Trade Federation. While 88 percent consider themselves to be conscious consumers, however, only 6 percent could name a fair trade organization unaided and less than 10 percent had purchased an item from a fair trade organization, according to the Federation’s trend report published in 2009.
Coffee has been the pillar of fair trade certified sales with sales of nearly 65 million pounds in 2006. Overall, however, the amounts of imported certified commodities have been consistently increasing; fair trade organization sales averaged $517,384 in 2007, up from $499,893 in 2006, according to the federation.
Santa Cruz, where coffee shops have been offering fair trade coffees for years, is probably savvier about fair trade products than many communities. Several local stores already offer fair trade goods. Earlier this year, Harbor High trustees voted to get school uniforms from fair trade origins, a Rising International Fair Trade Craft Sale was held earlier this month and Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport is co-hosting next month the annual Domestic Fair Trade Association meeting of the Boston-based Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.
Fair trade organizations face stiff market competition and the recession. “FTOs remain concerned that market saturation and increased competition from conventional retailers will adversely affect sales,” according to the report.
Historically, fair trade has involved ethnic crafts or the kinds of products people might by as souvenirs when traveling in a foreign country, “but it has to move out of that kind of niche and provide things people are using every day,” George said.
Last year, Trade as One saw the average transaction value of online purchases drop, however, people made more, smaller purchases. “We’re hoping the retail store in Santa Cruz is a strong platform for growth next year,” George says. “It’s a tough economy for sure. We don’t have great ambitions for stratospheric growth. For me it’s much more of a case of do well and grow through our own cash flow.”
TRADE AS ONE
WHAT: A privately held online and retail company that sells only fair trade certified products. Currently, the company sells about 500 products from dozens of countries and is largely focused on education about sustainable economies.
HEADQUARTERS: 332 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz
BACKGROUND: Founded in 2006
LEADERSHIP: Nathan George, founder and chief executive officer.
INFORMATION: 429-1900; http://www.tradeasone.com.
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Starting Dec. 10, the store will be open daily through Christmas.
FINANCIALS: Online revenues have topped $1 million