Skip to main content

Everything Is Better When It’s Fair: The Fair Trade Movement Is Abuzz in Chicagoland

Oct 01, 2010 ● By Megy Karydes

The holiday season is just beginning, but some artisans around the world are already working on designs for next year’s season. Many of them are producing for fair trade companies in the U.S., creating everything from jewelry and apparel to gifts and home accessories. “Fair trade is a worldwide movement aimed toward reducing poverty by providing farmers and artisans in developing countries a fair wage for their work,” says Nancy Jones, executive director of Chicago Fair Trade. Originating with handicrafts as early as the 1940s and ’50s, fair trade products began to include agricultural commodities such as coffee and tea by the 1980s and now include dried fruits, cocoa, sugar, rice, spices, nuts and most recently, wine.

As a movement, fair trade aims not only to pay fair wages, but also to contribute to sustainable development by providing market access to otherwise marginalized producers, giving them  better trading conditions and connecting them with customers. Fair trade practices may include supplying producers in lesser developed countries with financial and technical assistance, while respecting their cultural identity.

Because women comprise the majority of those who live in poverty, it is no surprise that they are a strong force in the fair trade movement. It yields public accountability and seeks to educate consumers about making responsible choices a part of their regular shopping habits. Beyond those primary purposes, fair trade standards seek to ensure environmental sustainability.

Local Initiatives with Global Goals

The fair trade movement is abuzz in Chicagoland, with the help of nonprofit organizations like Chicago Fair Trade, and importers, online stores and retailers in places like Evanston, Lake Forest, Long Grove and Park Ridge, that carry fair trade items in their shops. Events celebrating October as Fair Trade Month, or World Fair Trade Day, in May, also help promote the message about fair trade products in our local communities.

Chicago Fair Trade has been working with area businesses, faith-based groups and fair trade activists to encourage more residents and businesses to support fair trade and to identify where in Chicagoland fair trade certified products are currently offered. The intended goal is to make Chicago a fair trade city—and then to expand the reach of that goal to the northern suburban communities.

“As the Chicagoland area continues to grow and be known as a global mecca, we want to offer more than a choice of good ethnic restaurants and cultural exchanges,” Jones adds. “We want to be recognized as a strong fair trade community and show other countries that we want relationships built on mutual fairness and respect. These are the building blocks of authentic global partnership.”

Investing in a Better World

Ten Thousand Villages, in Evanston, has been promoting fair trade for more than a decade and has seen its number of customers and supporters grow through the years as more consumers demand social and economic accountability in the products they buy. “Everybody who is trying to make a change in the world is on the same page,” explains Community Outreach Manager Susanne Donoghue.

“Many things in this world are not fair. Through [fair trade], we are trying to make . . . things more fair for everyone,” Donoghue continues. “Fair trade is changing the status of women within their own families. They are being paid for what they do, and being paid fairly. We need to ask what the products we are using cost, in terms of resources and the lives of the people who make them. It’s the good neighbor approach.”

Despite the economic situation in the U.S., growing consumer demand in our local communities has prompted the opening of new fair trade shops during the last 24 months, including The Mustard Seed, in Lake Forest, and Global Handmade Hope, in Park Ridge. Lake Forest resident Jackie Renwick opened The Mustard Seed when she realized she could help improve the lives of others by providing an outlet for women in lesser developed countries to produce income for their families. Today, she partners with artisans and cooperatives, selling products from more than 30 countries and educating the community through outreach and special programs at her store. Most of the artisans are women working at home or in small groups, and many are widows supporting their children.

“Nothing begins to change shopping habits more than learning and sharing the stories of our artisans,” Renwick says. “When you buy a fair trade product for yourself or as a gift, you are giving more than once. It starts a wonderful ripple effect that keeps growing.”

For those who want to become more involved in the movement locally, October—designated Fair Trade month by TransFair USA—is rife with possibilities. Ten Thousand Villages will host a number of activities throughout the week of October 11, including a book signing, women’s spa night and a fashion show featuring MarketPlace Handwork of India fashions and jewelry. Chicago Fair Trade will sponsor educational events, including GlobalFest, on October 14, an annual event spotlighting artisans and producers.

Donoghue  sums up the importance of fair trade in our modern world: “We all have to change how we think and how we buy. When you buy fair trade products, you are investing in a better world for other people and for yourself.”

Megy Karydes, the owner of World Shoppe, a fair trade importing company, is active in the fair trade movement nationally and locally in the Chicagoland area. For more information on what is being done to promote fair trade throughout the greater Chicagoland area or to find more fair trade shops and cafés, visit To learn how to make your community a fair trade town, visit


Want to See More?

Visit these retailers who carry fair trade products:
Ten Thousand Villages, Evanston;
Earth & Spirit, Long Grove;
The Mustard Seed, Lake Forest;
Global Handmade Hope, Park Ridge;

Local Wholesalers

Retailers interested in offering fair trade products can contact these sources:
• MarketPlace Handwork of India – apparel and women’s accessories from India;
• Mata Traders – apparel and women’s accessories from India;
• MayaWorks – baby gifts and accessories, gifts and jewelry from Guatemala;
• Mayu – alpaca wool scarves from Peru;
• World Shoppe – jewelry, women’s accessories and greeting cards from Pakistan and South Africa;
• WorldFinds – jewelry, women’s accessories and holiday ornaments from India, Indonesia and Nepal;

Fair trade Coffee, Wholesale and Retail

Charmers Café (coffee shop)
1500 W. Jarvis Avenue (Rogers Park)
Chicago 60626

Casteel Coffee (coffee shop/wholesaler)
2924 Central Street, Evanston 60201

Metropolis Coffee (coffee shop/wholesaler)
1039 W. Granville Avenue (Rogers Park)
Chicago 60660

Roasters (to receive fresh, roasted fair-trade coffee in the Chicago area)
Chicago Coffee Confederation; email [email protected] or visit

Whole Foods Market and many other local grocery stores carry fair trade brands (retail)

According to the Fair Trade Federation (FTF), fair trade means an equitable and fair partnership between retail/wholesale marketers in North America and Europe and producers in Asia, Africa and Latin America and other parts of the world.

FTF criteria for membership are:
•    Paying a fair wage in the local context
•    Offering employees opportunities for advancement
•    Providing equal employment opportunities for all people, particularly the most disadvantaged
•    Engaging in environmentally sustainable practices
•    Being open to public accountability
•    Building long-term trade relationships
•    Providing healthy and safe working conditions within the local context
•    Providing financial and technical assistance to producers whenever possible

For more information, visit