Oklahoma Businesses on an Economic Mission for Developing Countries

Article excerpt

David Anderson and Lyn Lucas are on an economic mission, and fair trade is their means of making a difference.

The couple operate RedCorn Textiles in Broken Arrow, which buys handmade items from Guatemalan artists at fair wages. But they aren't simply importing purses and scarves; they travel regularly to the country to better understand the skill, materials and time that go into the textiles, and they work with the artists to price their works and reinvest what they earn.

"We believe fair trade is a way of helping them earn money and not just give them money," Anderson said. "If you give them money, you're not giving them anything long term."

RedCorn Textiles is among Oklahoma's retailers who believe that fair trade is the right thing to do to ensure people in developing countries are paid a fair wage for their work and do it in a safe environment. Although the concept is still gaining traction in this part of the country, Oklahoma business owners and consumers are increasingly stocking and buying fair trade products.

One of Oklahoma's community leaders in fair trade is Norman, which was certified in May as Oklahoma's first Fair Trade Town and the 17th in the United States. Stephanie Bates, co-chairwoman of Norman Fair Trade, said her organization continually engages retailers and the public about fair trade opportunities. This summer, the group provided detailed information for businesses about the types of fair trade products available for their industries. Fair trade is still largely linked to coffee and chocolate, but many other products are offered today, Bates said.

"We try to let people know that fair trade has branched out in the last couple of years," she said. "There are now fair trade body products, which means we can approach local salons. There's also fair trade sports equipment - we held a soccer tournament using only fair trade sports equipment. There are also new food items, like ice cream and molasses."

To become a Fair Trade Town, for every 5,000 people, Norman had to have one store that carries at least two types of fair trade products, Bates said. Norman now has 23 businesses that carry two or more fair trade products and 10 to 15 stores that carry one fair trade product.

Sara Kaplan, co-owner of Native Roots Market in Norman, said she tries to stock as many fair trade products as she can, and she usually works through a national distributor. She said her customers trust her to have researched the quality and validity of a fair trade product; in return, they use their dollars to support fairness and social justice.

Kaplan said the cost for fair trade products is comparable to gourmet items. …