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Fair trade helps artisans connect with consumers in global village

At the Festival of Fair Trade on the day after Thanksgiving, no one lines up at 3 a.m. for a big-screen television.

The festival, which will take over the Community Building in downtown Spokane, opens at a civilized 10 a.m.

“The building is filled with such amazing energy,” said Kim Harmson, owner of Kizuri, the fair-trade retail store in the Community Building, 35 W. Main Ave.

“Even if you’re not really shopping, it’s a good place to come to soak up the energy and see things from other parts of the world.”

In addition to Kizuri’s merchandise, seven fair-trade wholesalers will be represented at the festival. Thousands of items will be on sale, from African djembe drums to metalwork made in Haiti to cookware created in Colombia.

Every item you touch possesses a story that will connect you to the people who created these items, people working their way out of poverty and oppression in Nepal, Guatemala, Kenya, Vietnam and other global locations.

You can hold in your hands hats and scarves made by women in Nepal. These products are from Padhma Creations, founded by Kesang Yudron, a graduate of the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota who traveled in 2000 to a border town between Nepal and India.

She learned that women in that region of Nepal are vulnerable to domestic violence and sex trafficking. On the Padhma Creations website, Yudron tells the story of Hasroon, who was covered in gasoline and set on fire over a dowry dispute.

Hasroon now works for Padhma Creations, earns a livable wage and is free from the abusive family. Her health care is covered, because 5 percent of the company’s revenues fund health care benefits for the artisans.

Hold in your hands another item at Kizuri – thin, beaded strands that can be shaped into necklaces or bracelets – and listen to another story.

“These are strung by the Maasai women in Kenya,” Harmson said. “In 1999, there was an incredible drought. The men took the cattle to graze and left the women in the village no food, no water, no means of support.”

But thanks to the Leaky Collection, an artist’s initiative in The Rift Valley Kenya, East Africa, the women began creating jewelry from the one thing plentiful in the parched land: dried grass.

“They string it on elastic and (add) fair trade beads. Now there are more than 1,200 women stringing this grass,” Harmson said.

“They string these in their homes or under trees with their friends. They have gained status in their culture. They are able to provide for their families.”

This is the 27th year for the Festival of Fair Trade in Spokane, started by Ganesh Himal Trading, a Spokane-based fair trade business that began importing items from Nepal in 1984 and now sells wholesale to about 200 stores in the United States and Canada.

The first festival was held in a much smaller space in a different downtown location. It was the 1980s, after all, when the movie “Wall Street” was telling us that greed was good and businesses that connected people globally filled a small, feel-good niche.

The world has changed dramatically in the past three decades. More and more people understand how buying a hat made in Nepal, a necklace strung in East Africa, can change the lives of the women making them.

“Over the last seven or eight years Fair Trade has grown exponentially,” Harmson said. “One of the goals is not about making a lot of money – you just don’t in fair trade – it’s about sharing stories and doing your best for a paradigm shift in the world.”



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