By Diana Le, Fair Trade Edmonton Member
COVID-19 has challenged small Fair Trade businesses to innovate and reinvent themselves. At Fair Trade Edmonton, we wanted to show our support for local Fair Trade establishments by producing a series of interviews to highlight the wonderful people and businesses in our community.
I was thrilled to interview Roberta Taylor, the manager at Village Goods! Not only did we have a great conversation about all things Fair Trade, but I got to learn more about the evolution of Village Goods as a company.
Village goods is a locally owned and operated non-profit society where Roberta has been the manager for the past 10 years. Until recently, Village Goods was part of the Ten Thousand Villages organization. I was saddened to learn that Ten Thousand Villages ended operations in June of this year. With Village Goods re-emerging as an independent entity, Roberta was faced with the challenge of finding new Fair Trade vendors while still staying true to the original Village Goods essence that the Edmonton community has grown to know and love. Despite changes in the company and pressures imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Village Goods has impressively diversified their Fair Trade products and vendors, and increased their online presence! Below are a few other highlights from my conversation with Roberta.
How does your store support Fair Trade?
Everything sold in our store is Fair Trade or Direct Trade with the exception of printed books. Although we aren’t able to carry every Fair Trade item that comes our way, it is important for us to find other ways to support our community. For example, we’ve been running local weekend pop-ups to support and increase awareness surrounding local businesses and artisans in the community.
Why do you think supporting fair trade is important?
There is a human being behind every single product. As soon as you become aware of this, you start thinking and consuming very differently. When people are aware that there is a human cost to producing something very cheaply – this often shifts their perspective.
No one person can change the world, but I try to make sure that wherever possible, my interactions and purchases are made with others in mind. I think everyone is deserving of dignity and good things. In 2019, I spent a few days in Kolkata for a Fair Trade workshop which really highlighted that these artisans and workers just want basic things like an education for their kids and food on the table. I remember talking to some artisans about what happens if they don’t get enough orders. One woman said that her husband would have to go back to work in the city and that they wouldn’t get to see him for months. The other reality was that without enough orders, this family might not have the resources to feed their kids. In these communities, the difference between enough and not quite enough is very consequential.
When we take care of people there is a ripple effect on other good causes. For example, if you can’t feed your children, you can’t worry about the environment or any other social issues because of course you’re just worried about putting food on the table. But when your basics are stabilized and met, then you are empowered to do other positive things in your community.
Are there any current issues you see happening with COVID-19 and Fairtrade?
Artisans have very much been impacted by COVID-19. For example one of our knitwear suppliers in Nepal was unable to supply our entire order because the country was shut down for several weeks. Although some artisans were able to work on their craft at home, they had difficulty getting materials like yarn for mittens. We’ve really seen the ripple effects of the pandemic on the supply chain and on families. As much as this pandemic has been hurting us in North America, the situation has been much more difficult for communities in developing nations.
Despite the challenges, the resilience and agility of the artisans we work with has been impressive! For example some artisans have shifted to making face masks or setting up shop at home. People are adapting.
Do you have any call to actions for the community?
People are quite overwhelmed when they first learn about Fair Trade and the importance of supporting it. I always recommend that people change one thing at time, whether it’s the coffee, tea, or chocolate that you buy. When you are comfortable with the first thing, then change one more thing!
Obviously this is a very difficult time for people but if you are so lucky to have disposable income, take those dollars and put them back into your community! Whether it’s Fair Trade or a local business, it makes an enormous difference. We’ve already lost so many amazing businesses so it’s important, I think, for us to look around at businesses that we’re passionate about and consider how we can show up for them while they are still around. For us specifically, whether it’s purchasing coffee or greeting cards, every bit means so much to our business and the artisans that we partner with. The small things make all the difference.
Although Village Goods hires a few staff members, they rely heavily on volunteers to operate their business. They are currently looking for volunteer sales associates! For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Diana Le, Interview with: Roberta Taylor