Shared Earth opened in 1986 in York, a busy tourist city. In 1988 it opened a shop in Leeds, and soon after, shops in Manchester, Bradford, Wakefield and Birmingham.
Promoting environmental awareness was always a key aim, and in the early 90s we published a range of recycled cards and stationery, and started wholesaling. The designs were then transferred to crafts. In 1993 we joined WFTO, and orders were placed with Gospel House, Asha Handicrafts and Mitra Bali, which Shared Earth helped to set up. Wholesale sales flourished and we used the WFTO conferences to find new suppliers, notably in the Marketplace, where smaller producers often displayed their products.
The recessions since the 1990s have all been difficult.
We believe the Fair Trade market is saturated. Products need to sell because they’re excellent products, not because they’re fairly traded. Some FTOs are so concerned about the ‘fair’ that they forget the ‘trade’, doing producers a big disservice. The world is changing. The recent closure of a £4m t/o Buddhist importer has made us change our approach; our strap-line ‘a Fair Trade company’ is now ‘Fair Trade, eco and ethical gifts’. We have taken on four ‘ethical’ non-Fair Trade suppliers recently, with major benefits. New customers have bought from our WFTO suppliers. Sales have increased by over 80%. And the new suppliers learn about Fair Trade; in Bali we are running a workshop next year for ten new producer groups.
How to summarise? After 30 years I have learned so much. The aim of Fair Trade is to make the world a better place, tackling injustice at its roots. Economic relationships are vital, but also the way, as businesses, we relate to our suppliers and customers. Trust and respect are as important as prices and wages. I have made many friendships over the last 30 years and for that I am deeply grateful.