Fair trade store has new home
Worldgoods opens doors, gives exposure to poor artisans
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
GREEN BAY -- The checkout counter is from the basement of St. Norbert Abbey.
Jewelry items are displayed in what was once a school trophy case.
Clear plastic shelves near the front of the store were used at Ben Franklin and H.C. Prange.
Customers will not find new retail shelves at Worldgoods Fair Trade, and owners Baptiste and Miranda Paul wouldn't have it any other way.
"We had all these retail catalogs," said Miranda. "Economically, we couldn't afford it, but more importantly, from an environmental standpoint, we wanted to recycle or reuse displays."
Environmentalism is one of the principles of fair trade. Worldgoods, a member of the U.S. Fair Trade Federation and Co-op America, helps disadvantaged artisans and families raise their standard of living through the sale of fair trade products. Fair trade focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries. Worldgoods store, which was moved three weeks ago from the Pauls' home to its new location at 1228 East Mason St. in Green Bay, features items from approximately 20 different countries.
Beyond selling products, the Pauls educate people about the value of fair trade. They visit classrooms, speak at religious and community meetings, attend and host awareness events, and publish a monthly e-newsletter.
"We are out there," said Miranda. "Baptiste and I have done 75 presentations in the past year. By sharing the stories of the people of Sudan, Uganda and Gambia, we are teaching them why this is important, especially in the faith community. They are realizing that what they purchase is not separate from what they believe."
Worldgoods was among 27 vendors at the recent U.S. Fair Trade Conference in Austin, Texas, and the only one to market items from Gambia, West Africa. Miranda taught in Gambia through a college exchange program and has made multiple artisan trips to the country.
"We found ourselves sharing business advice at the conference," she said. "Everyone wanted to know about Gambia. Some people think that we should protect that we are the only one in Gambia, but the whole spirit of this is to help them find enough business to be self-sufficient."
There are many communities in Africa ready to engage in fair trade, but they need assistance, she added. Peace Corps volunteers are sometimes able to help with connections.
"The artisans don't want you to come in to tell them what to do," said Miranda. "They want you to guide them. They may need help with bookkeeping. People can help them modify a product or find new products that meet trends in the United States. Some new communities have become involved in fair trade this year, but the growth is slow. I would like to found a West African fair trade organization."
More fair trade items are being sold at major retailers. While Miranda supports fair trade growth, she remains cautious about the chain stores.
"I hope the big retailers are not seeing a trend and capitalizing on it," she said. "It's important to make sure they adhere to the strict standards that we do to keep the bar high."
Miranda will be returning to Gambia next month and she hopes to bring a large supply of donated shoes with her. Worldgoods is collecting new or gently used tennis, walking and dress shoes for boys and girls of all ages. The children need shoes for school. Many of the young people play soccer barefoot in the streets where there is broken glass and garbage. Others wear flip flops held together by duct tape. Shoe donations are being accepted at the store through May 12.
Earth Day activities
In celebration of Earth Day, Worldgoods is holding its grand opening from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 22. A new store name will be unveiled on this day, and free organic treats will be served, including coffee, teas, chocolate, almonds and pecans. Drawings will be held for Earth Day T-shirts, and at 5 p.m., people are invited to shape a Bolga basket.
"They are large natural grass baskets made in Ghana," said Miranda. "They arrive flat. We will have a large wash tub for shaping them. Everyone who participates will receive $5 off their basket. Once the basket is placed in water, it only takes a minute to shape it. A lot of people use the baskets at farmers markets."
A ribbon cutting ceremony with Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt and Jeff Mirkes, executive director of Downtown Green Bay, is scheduled for 4 p.m.
"I've requested an eco-friendly ribbon from the Chamber of Commerce," said Miranda. "They usually use a synthetic ribbon. In the spirit of Earth Day and fair trade, I thought that a biodegradable ribbon is appropriate."
For more information on Worldgoods and fair trade, visit www.worldgoodsfairtrade.com.