Kim Baldwin has been working with non-profit, mission driven educational organizations since 1990. She joined the One Fair World team in 2011 to support its non-profit mission “to transform lives of artisans in developing countries by providing a marketplace for their products, paying them fair wages, and increasing local awareness of the importance of fair trade.” She resides in Salem, Oregon with her husband, and enjoys spending time with her grown children and 4-year-old granddaughter.
GE: For the past decade, you’ve been the manager of One Fair World, a nonprofit, fair trade store in Salem, Oregon. Could you tell us a bit about your background and the background of One Fair World?
KB: I started working in nonprofits about 25 years ago. I did a lot of development, staff management, building things—especially at the Gilbert House Children’s Museum where I worked for 15 years. Then I just needed to do something different for a while. I came across this position at One Fair World and figured it was a great transition from working 70 hours a week to something a little more 9-5.
The mission of this store, of course, appealed to me greatly. The basic mission is to alleviate poverty in marginalized countries, or areas of countries, with a poorer economy. We do this by giving artisans there an opportunity to earn a fair living and a better way of life by providing this marketplace here in the United States.
The history of this store goes back to a wonderful group of ladies. Most of them worked for the Oregon Department of Human Services in social justice venues, such as family services. They were big fans of a fair trade store in Dallas, Oregon that was carrying Ten Thousand Villages* items. When that store closed, these ladies decided that a Ten Thousand Villages store needed to stay in our local area.
They started One Fair World, which was then Ten Thousand Villages, Salem branch, in 2002. They worked hard, put a local board of directors together, and refurbished the place we’re in now. Of these ladies, some are still on our board of directors today. We’re very lucky that they had this vision. The store went fully independent and changed its name to One Fair World a few years later, but still has a good working relationship with Ten Thousand Villages.
GE: Could you tell us more about the “fair trade” concept (not to be confused with “free trade”), since that’s at the heart of your store’s mission?
KB: The concept of fair trade has roots heavily in the Mennonite community. It started back in the 1940s with a woman who saw that artisans doing needlepoint work in South America lived in severe poverty. They were not getting paid fairly for what they did. So she began selling their items, and from that emerged what is now Ten Thousand Villages. SERRV* took on a similar approach.
The whole idea behind fair trade, the principles of fair trade are (1) making sure that people are being paid a fair wage, (2) that their communities are being built, (3) that there’s no child labor, slave labor, or human trafficking, (4) that cultural identity is respected and encouraged, (5) sustainability for the environmental resources in the area, (6) healthcare, (7) education—these are all important aspects of fair trade. It’s about treating people as we would want to be treated, and giving them the opportunity to share their talents with us through their beautiful artistry, or their agricultural products, as the case may be. We want them to have an opportunity to be recognized for this work and to earn a fair life, just like us.
GE: The theme of this issue is community. What is the role of One Fair World in the local Salem, Oregon community, and what role does your store play in connecting your local community to global communities?
KB: In our little niche of downtown Salem, we’ve become known as the only store that’s a nonprofit, that brings in items from all over the world, that serves the community like this. We’re a strong part of downtown, a thriving part.
We’re a place people can come to volunteer. People who want to help alleviate poverty in the greater world, but don’t have the resources to travel to foreign countries, can come be part of a community that helps others get out of oppression. We only have two paid staff members: myself and our assistant manager Desta Sirrine who works two days a week. It’s really a labor of volunteers in our community, from the beginnings of the store all the way till now. Even through COVID, as difficult as it has been to have volunteers in the store, we’re finding our way back and allowing our volunteers remain part of who we are and what we do.
Bringing the global community here has also been very important. We even have products in the store that have been designed by refugees in resettlement programs. Many refugees come to the United States seeking asylum from war-torn countries. They need to learn English. They need to learn a skill, or need the opportunity to share a skill they already have. One of our vendors, Prosperity Candles, gives them the opportunity to go through a mini-MBA program. They learn every aspect of the company, while also learning English, how to apply for jobs, and how to do finances and budgets in a new culture. That’s similar to what Catholic Community Services and others are doing in Salem for refugee resettlement.
GE: As I understand it, one of the emphases of One Fair World is not just on the products, but also on telling the stories of the people who made them. How important is storytelling for your mission?
KB: That is actually the key piece of our mission. Storytelling is where it is at for fair trade. That’s how people learn why this product that they hold in their hands is so important to other people, why it means so much to them that someone would buy this product. We hear the stories of recycled tires being collected in the dumps of Nepal and being made into beautiful handbags by paraplegics in wheelchairs. You hear about people in South Africa going through a similar business program to create the beautiful spices, jars, and labels that we have in the store. You hear about people in Cambodia collecting grasses from farmland that they don’t want to put chemicals on. They pull the grasses out, which are so strong that they then weave them into baskets and purses.
Women rescued from sex-trafficking are the creators of many of our products. Gender equality is one of the principles of fair trade. Women in many countries have been subjected to things that are horrific, but they still need to be wage-earners for their families. Fair trade addresses that.
These stories help us understand why fair trade is important, why you should buy something from us rather than a big box store where the product may have been created in a sweatshop. With fair trade you know that the creators are being paid up front, they’re being paid a good portion of the money. As a nonprofit, what we make on top of the price we pay for products just keeps us flat. We pay for rent, insurance, lights, phone—all the things it takes to run a business. But we’re not here to make a bunch of money. We’re here to alleviate poverty and create opportunity.
*Editor’s note: Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit organization, is one of the oldest and largest importers/retailers of fair trade goods in the United States. SERRV International is another nonprofit, fair trade importer/retailer.