Seattle's Child

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fair trade shopping

Casita International on Capitol Hill. (Courtesy of Casita International)

A fair trade holiday season in Seattle

How families can help change the world by how they shop.

You’re tired of shopping for gifts at big-box stores and online retailers. Sure, it can be convenient, but you want your dollars to go to something better than generic items made in conditions that may be exploitative to workers, harmful to the environment, and lining the pockets of corporate business owners. 

Thanks to a few shops in Seattle, this holiday season, you can purchase fair trade items while simultaneously supporting local business.

Some stores that sell fair trade products primarily stock items that look like souvenirs from travels around the world (which is awesome if this is your style), while others sell fairly traded items that have been produced specifically for our local market. For example, at Fair Trade Winds, you can find ornaments featuring iconic Seattle locations, and at Hands of the World, you can purchase a wall hanging made out of recycled oil drums in the shape of the kraken. Fair Trade Winds manager Emily Lynn notes that they “try to evoke practicality and relatability” to their current location. 

Cynthia Hope, owner of Hands of the World, highlights that fair trade producers have evolved over time to meet the needs of both the producer and the consumer.

So whether you’re looking for something like solid-colored scarves and mittens, or a traditionally made handbag made from materials and patterns not typically used in our region, there’s something for everyone at stores that sell fairly traded products. 

Why shop fair trade?

Producers go through a rigorous international process to receive fair trade status. According to Fair Trade Certified, producers that meet the standards ensure safe working conditions, environmental protection, sustainable livelihoods and community development funds. 

Hope notes that “employing people really has a huge impact on their lives.” 

“Most people don’t want handouts,” she said. “They want to work, [but] they have limited access to markets. That’s one of the great things about fair trade. It will use indigenous products handmade by local people, and it provides the markets to get the product to the consumer in a fair and equitable way.”

Shopping fair trade is a win-win-win: fair working conditions for the producer, care for the environment and beautiful products for consumers. 

A few holiday gift ideas

  • Stocking stuffers: Over the past few years, my favorite holiday gifts to give are items for stockings. I make an annual visit to a local fair trade store and find small treasures such as candles, spices, lotion, dish towels or nonperishable food items. All of the products are beautiful and practical, and all are made by artisans or employees who work in fair trade working conditions. Lynn notes that “shoppers can feel confident that the products are actually made by hand, made by mostly women.” For me, this knowledge makes shopping for these items a joy rather than merely a task to complete.
  • Host gifts: Though holiday events may still be a bit limited this year, you may find yourself in need of a host gift or two. Many stores have items that make great gifts, such as specialty food items, cookbooks, kitchen wares or other small household items — items perfect for your holiday hosts. 
  • Gifts for children and babies: Over the years, I’ve found gifts for my nieces and nephews, such as books, colored pencils and coin purses. Some shops carry a variety of items for babies and kids, including decor and clothing. And an added bonus of gifting fair trade items to the little ones in your life? Providing them with an opportunity to learn about how the items are produced and where the items come from. 

Make it fair trade, and make it unique

Joe Myers, co-owner of Casita International on Capitol Hill, a boutique featuring both locally made and fairly traded products, explains why the store carries fair trade products: “We thought it was the right thing to do,” he said, also noting that “everyone has the same stuff from China. We wanted to have something different.”

Fair trade items are often unique, unlike items you’d find from big brands. If you’re searching for something unusual and eclectic, then you can look around at local fair trade stores.

Some other considerations for shopping this year

  • If you like the idea of shopping local and fair trade this holiday season, but prefer online shopping, no worries. Some of our local shops offer online shopping and delivery. 
  • Hate gift wrapping? Some shops provide complimentary gift wrap for purchased items.
  • Worried about receiving purchased items in time for the holidays? Stores such as Fair Trade Winds order well in advance (sometimes as much as a year ahead), and try to stock many things for last-minute shoppers. 
  • Do you love the idea of fair trade gifts but aren’t sure what to get for that specific person? Consider a gift certificate for a fair trade shop.  

This holiday season, you can step out of line at the big-box retailers, and check out how you can give beautiful items to your loved ones while supporting ethically produced items from communities around the world.

Seattle shops selling fair trade items

Fair Trade Winds: Located in the heart of Ballard.

Ten Thousand Villages: Located in the Roosevelt neighborhood.

Casita International: On Capitol Hill. (Some items are fair trade, and many are locally produced.)

Hands of the World: At Pike Place Market. (Some items are fair trade.)

More ideas:

Shop local, shop small: How to support Seattle businesses, find great gifts

These Seattle art studios help kids make handmade gifts with heart

Tips on scoring great bargains, gently used

About the Author

Ellie White

Ellie had the privilege of growing up in our beautiful Pacific Northwest. She currently lives in the Green Lake neighborhood with her husband and twin toddlers.