Stepping inside Sandie Doles’s store is like walking into a circus of color and delight. From floor to ceiling, bright toys, decorative fabrics, and imaginative handmade crafts cover every surface of Arcobaleno Trade. A metal holly wreath sits on a table near the door. Samples of the shop’s chocolate bars tantalize the mouth, while coffee entices the nose. Finally, the eyes rest on a final object of clever ingenuity: a gallon-sized tin can for jalape±os that has been cleverly redesigned as a functional watering can. While browsing through the display of products made in more than 22 countries-including Kenya, Haiti, Rwanda, Bolivia, and Tunisia-it is easy to forget that Doles’s store is only slightly larger than a Volkswagen bus.
Aside from the size comparison, the iconic vehicle of the 1960s is an apt metaphor for the store. More than just a business, Doles sees Arcobaleno as a vehicle for transformation and change. As the bumper sticker on her car reads: “Make your purchase make a difference.” By opening Santa Barbara’s first store featuring fair-trade certified goods, Doles hopes to give consumers the chance to buy ethically made products from sustainable sources. The end result is a win-win situation: reasonably priced, well-made gifts for area shoppers that are produced using environmentally sound methods by people who are paid fairly. As Doles said, “If you can buy fair trade, why wouldn’t you?”
In case the fair trade buzzword is still new to you, here’s a brief education. The “fair” in fair trade refers to the just business practices, sustainable environmental standards, and equitable wages that are necessary for an organization to gain official fair-trade certification by the Fair Trade Federation. According to an article in The Conscious Consumer, fair trade works with “disadvantaged artisans and farmers to build their businesses and market their wares directly to consumers in developed regions.” Instead of relying on relief agencies or aid, impoverished producers can improve their lives through trade. (For more information, visit the Fair Trade Federation Web site at fairtradefederation.org.) To know whether something is truly fair trade, Doles suggested asking the store-owner or looking for the official “fair trade certified” logo on the product.
Many fair-trade products are made by cooperative women’s groups or by other groups of marginalized people. Coffee and cocoa farming have been a large target for fair-trade conversion because they are such exploitive industries, according to Doles. Fair trade also gives people a chance to enter the global economy. “If [a product] is fair-trade certified and made by indigenous people, then it gives them the opportunity to have a [decent] life. They can have long-term relationships with the people who are buying the product and have a reliable source of income,” said Doles.
So kick off this year’s holiday shopping spree as a conscious consumer and go fair trade. To help, here’s a brief listing of some businesses that have taken the fair trade plunge:
Selling a variety of art, clothing, and housewares, there are endless gift possibilities here. Choose something by how it looks, what it does, or for its story. Take the greeting cards made by head-of-household orphans. Children collect paper from the trash, turn the paper into pulp, and then make new greeting cards. The cards give the orphans a source of income to support their families. Or buy the peace-silk scarves, made from the cocoons of silkworms that have been allowed to hatch. (Most silkworms are killed in the silk-making process.) From scarves to cards, Doles describes her store’s merchandise as “high-quality handmade stuff.” Located at 7 West Haley Street; call 963-2726.
Isla Vista Co-Op
With fair-trade coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, and more, the I.V. Co-Op is the best place to stock up on holiday baking supplies and gifts all in one place. Store Manager Melissa Cohen listed at least 15 different products that were fair-trade certified, including all of the store’s coffee products. In December, the Co-Op will also feature an assortment of fair-trade gift baskets. The baskets, along with chocolate, are Cohen’s top two recommendations for holiday gifts. She also encouraged shoppers to construct their own personalized fair-trade gift baskets, using baskets found at thrift stores. These could include hand-knit socks and mittens, a tote bag, yerba mate, cookies, a§a- juice, cacao nibs, dried cranberries, and more. “For someone who cares about sustainability, it’s the best way to go,” said Cohen. Located at 6575 Seville Road, Isla Vista; call 968-1401.
Red Star Coffee
Technically, these guys are coffee wholesalers, but Daniel Randall, managing partner and roastmaster, said it is possible for the average Joe to buy a not-so-average cup of joe from the company’s online store. Randall recommends the dark roast Organic Fair Trade Italian Roast as the best gift grind. (It’s what he brought to Thanksgiving.) Randall promotes fair-trade (and organic) coffee because “it’s good for you and better for the planet and for the farmers.” And, as a 15-year veteran of the coffee industry, Randall sees it as an investment in the future. “If farmers can’t afford to grow coffee, they’ll tear it out and grow another crop.” To keep the beans growing and the java flowing, Randall votes fair trade. Visit redstarcoffee.com; call 683-2555.
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Shop
Bring a bit of the garden indoors with nature-inspired fair-trade gifts from the Garden Shop. Gail Milliken, Garden Shop manager and visitor services manager, described the owl (with chick) gourd ornament as “so cute.” There’s also chocolate made by a San Luis Obispo company and fabric fruit decorations that will tickle the fancy of any conscientious, tree-hugging loved one this holiday season. Located at 1212 Mission Canyon Road; call 982-4726.
Santa Barbara Museum of Art Store
What’s better than a beautiful Christmas tree? A beautiful Christmas tree covered in fair-trade ornaments, of course, and SBMA’s store has you covered for any tree-trimming needs. Besides ornaments, Barbara Savage, the store’s buyer, has stocked up on jewelry from Cambodia, ceramics from Per°, and African wire baskets. “We’re chockfull of fair-trade products,” said Savage. As for gifts, children in Nepal make some of Savage’s favorite goodies from recycled gum wrappers. Savage, who founded a nonprofit to help developing countries preserve their culture and move out of poverty, said she likes fair-trade goods because they’re profitable, sustainable, and they help the environment. Located at 1130 State Street; call 884-6454.