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Fair Trade is Fair But Its Not Easy

Posted by Katie Moore on


I think that one of the reasons that many retailers steer away from buying Fair Trade products is because it is so challenging.

Communication with the artisans is like playing a game of telephone

In spite of our very best efforts to be clear, I swear to God, if every single detail is not written out, it is amazed what gets lost in the translation. For example, last year I paid a girl to take the tags that the artisan puts on the jewelry off, and put my tags on.  All she had to do was rip off the original tag, pull out the jewelry, and thread a tag with my logo back onto the necklace.  When I came back an hour later to check on her, I discovered she had left the other tag on and threaded my tag into the hole of the first tag! Ugh.. 


Production is limited.

For most retailers having a very low limit on production is simply not an option for them.  However, as a small business, selling out of farmers markets and festivals, we have the perfect setting for these limited production pieces.  The good thing for our customers is that they won't ever see their necklace walking around on someone else's neck.  The bad part is that sometimes to make one single piece, like our scarf necklace, it takes them a whole day!


You Never Get What You Order.

After about a three month wait, opening the box of jewelry is a bit like Christmas.  Sometimes I order burnt umber and I get mud grey.  Sometimes I order coral and I get yellow!  Boo…Yellow does not sell.  This is really difficult when you pay all the money up front before you ever get the merchandise.  Not only do you not get what you ordered, but then you are stuck with items that don't sell. So I learn to order a lot, and hope for the best. 


Thai Artsians are Not Business Negotiators.

As I navigate the business world, trying to get the best price for our products, I sit with Kung, one of our artisans in Chiang Mai and I say, "Kung, what if I buy 50 of one piece, can I have a discount?" She lovingly gives me a side hug and says "OK, 5 THB off for you." (This is like $.6). I smile inside knowing this little charade we are doing is pointless, so I take a deep breath and I pay what they ask for, knowing that I can't really leverage quantity for a better price because they just don't do business like that.  On the flip side, they are so honest that if their cost goes down, our price improves without every having to ask.


Overall, I love Fair Trade and the impact it makes on the lives of the Artsians and their families, but doing big business is extremely challenging at every turn.  For advise, information or just assistance with starting your own fair trade business, I'd be happy to help.  


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