New East Ferry store first of its kind in town
A new store in Jamestown is offering products with a purpose. The purpose? To ensure that artisans in impoverished countries receive reasonable compensation for their efforts.
Fair Trade Winds at East Ferry is the sixth store of its kind owned by Paul and Lois Culler of Fairfax, Va. The retail stores only sell fair traded items. The first store was opened by the Cullers in May 2000 in Bar Harbor, Maine, and since then the couple has expanded to Stony Brook, N.Y., Springfield, Ohio, and Seattle, as well as their hometown of Fairfax.
The local Fair Trade Winds store is managed by Reva Greenstein and her fiancée Bruce Di- Gennaro. The couple, who have been friends their entire lives, moved to Jamestown a year ago. They will get married on the island next month.
Greenstein met Lois Culler 25 years ago when the two were living in northern Virginia. Both women were working at the library at George Washington University and became friends. They stayed in touch over the years, and in 2009 the Cullers asked Greenstein to manage their Fairfax store.
“At that point I was reluctant,” Greenstein said. “I was a single mom and I wasn’t sure how I would do it. I wasn’t sure about health benefits and I had a secure job in education. I’m the type of person who has to process things.”
Last year Greenstein left her secure job and moved to Rhode Island to be with DiGennaro. That’s when the search for a location began.
DiGennaro was living in Newport, and at first Greenstein considered siting a Fair Trade Winds on Aquidneck Island. But after the couple moved to Jamestown, they began to see the possibilities of living and working in the same community.
“The space was available and it just seemed like a really good opportunity,” DiGennaro said. “It took about a year in the making, but once Paul made the decision to sign the lease, it was off to the races.”
DiGennaro said that Fair Trade Winds is a family-owned business. The Jamestown store is the only one in the small chain that is not managed by a member of the Culler family.
Greenstein said at this point, the Cullers do not make a profit off the East Ferry location.
“They do this because they want to help the world,” she said. “They are also helping family members with opportunities to have jobs, as well as giving us a chance.”
The wall hangings made in Haiti from recycled oil drums have already proven popular among the store’s customers, said Greenstein. There are also bowls, candleholders and bottle openers made in India from recycled bicycle chains.
Other fair-trade items sold at the downtown location include clay pots from Columbia that are safe for the oven, and Brazilian belts made from the tabs on aluminum cans.
According to Greenstein, shoppers will find a variety of exotic handmade items from all corners of the globe. Prices range anywhere from $5 to $100.
Proceeds from Fair Trade Wind products don’t only benefit the owners and managers, said Di- Gennaro. As an example of the shop’s charity, a portion of the money earned from selling Colombian bags made from mosquito netting is used to combat malaria in third world countries.
The concept of fair trade goes back to the 1940s when churches and nongovernmental organizations began to commercialize goods. Current practices were conceived in Europe in the 1960s, and at that time it was considered to be a political gesture against imperialism. In 1968, the slogan “Trade Not Aid” was adopted by the United Nations in an effort to emphasize fair-trade relations with developing countries.
The current social movement helps to ensure better trading conditions for producers in developing countries. It also promotes sustainability. Higher prices are sought for exporters, and there is a focus on social and environmental issues as well.
Paul Culler is a board member of the Fair Trade Federation, a North American organization of importers, retailers and café owners fully committed to the principles and practices of fair trade. He said the organization’s goal is to see that producers are paid fairly. The group also makes sure there are no child laborers and men and women and treated equally. Toward that end, members pledge to uphold nine fair trade principles: create opportunities for marginalized producers, develop transparent relationships, build capacity, pay promptly, support safe working conditions, ensure the rights of children, cultivate environmental stewardship, and respect cultural identity.
“Conceptually fair trade was conceived of as a way to help disadvantaged communities around the world to market their goods, services and skills,” DiGennaro said. “The work of artists and artisans are among the few things they have to offer for sale. Our store is kind of a marketplace for them to bring their goods to the market in a way that is fair to them and promotes social justice.”