BY JANET MANDELSTAM
Mary Embry has been a fair trade advocate “for more than a dozen years,” she says. She includes fair trade principles in the course on sustainability that she teaches at IU’s Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design, and she serves on the board and volunteers at Global Gifts, Bloomington’s fair trade store located on the east side of the downtown Square.
In June she led a small group of fellow advocates on a trip to Ecuador to see those principles in action. The principles include, she says, “empowering marginalized people, especially women, and paying a fair price to the producers, one that covers the cost of their materials and helps sustain their existence.” Fair trade also promotes environmental responsibility and rejects sweatshops and child labor.
Ecuador, Embry says, “is an ideal place to see the whole fair trade supply chain.” The trip was organized by Minga Fair Trade Imports, the company that buys products from local artisans and supplies them to fair trade retail outlets like Global Gifts. Embry’s group met artisans making jewelry, leather goods, tapestries, sweaters, and hats (Panama hats really come from Ecuador). “We got to see the products being made and to see how Minga works with the artisans, often suggesting how to make the products more successful.”
The group spent 16 days in the country, first visiting the capital, Quito, then traveling to the Amazon rainforest where they met jewelry makers in Tena, and then on to Otavalo where artisans sell their handiwork in a large outdoor market; many also sell to Minga.
Linda Xiong, a 2012 IU graduate, was one of the students who made the trip with Embry. Being in Ecuador, she says, helped her to “really understand the process of fair trade, to see how the relationship between the artisans and the retailers works. There’s a disconnect when we see a product in the store, but we’re all connected by what we buy. I wish more students had the chance to do this.”
Embry is working on that. “I would like to take more students,” she says, “and develop a study abroad program through the university.”