By Sue Botos
Sue Hoffner had been a familiar face to many Rocky River residents whose children attended the Our Savior’s Rocky River Lutheran Church nursery school where she worked for 20 years. Now anyone wishing to reminisce and support a worthy cause can find Hoffner at the One World Shop, where she is one of a group of volunteers dedicated to supporting fair trade.
A friend had suggested that after Hoffner retired in 1993, she would enjoy working at the nonprofit fair trade store on Detroit Road in Rocky River, so she checked it out. She said that within 20 minutes she was hooked, and has been volunteering ever since.
“First, it’s the purpose or principle,” said Hoffner recently. “Fair trade includes items from artisits and artisans around the world, usually from developing countries, who are paid fair wages for their handmade wares. That is important to me; I can help make life better for someone who is really poor in Haiti, for example, just by buying a gift here, and I know sweat shops are not involved.”
Hoffner’s thoughts are echoed by manager Vicki Lubin, who was recently packing up items from the store for a craft fair in Ashtabula. “When you shop here, you’re giving a gift twice; first to the person you bought it from, then to the person you gave it to,” said Lubin, whose shop carries everything from Guatemalan jewelry to recycled pop-can purses from South Africa to bike chain picture frames from India.
“It’s like Christmas every day. It’s always fun to see what’s coming in,” said one employee.
Lubin, who has managed the shop for three years and is its only full-time, paid employee, said that it was started by the Lakewood Presbyterian Church 32 years ago. After many years in a small space on Madison Avenue, the shop moved to the Rocky River location.
One World Shop now features items from more than 130 artisan groups in more than 38 countries. “Our mission of fair trade is dedicated to helping women all over the world,” stated Lubin, explaining that the store works with organizations such as Zonta International, a global organization of executives and professionals working to advance the status of women in developing countries.
“We only deal with fair trade, and we encourage and work with many fledgling groups,” said Lubin, further explaining that much research is involved when it comes to finding groups to purchase items from.
“You really have to do your homework and due diligence,” continued Lubin, who said that Internet investigation as well as speaking to representatives of the artisan groups is necessary.
Holly Gigante, like Lubin, started out as a customer of the shop and has been a volunteer for about a year. She said that the main producer of a group with items for sale at the store must be a member of the International Fair Trade Organization. This group oversees artists to make sure fair trade standards, such as adequate pay and promotion of sustainability, are being met. Gigante said the artists are paid up front for their work, and that payment is not based on a percentage.
“They are given a fair wage in their country for their work,” she said.
Like Gigante, Betsy Nero, who was manning the counter recently, has a strong commitment to “educating the First World about the Third World,” and had served on the shop’s board of directors for three years. Lubin explained that once a year, nominations are accepted for the nine-member board. “They make sure we’re on the right path. We sit down and discuss our strategic plan,” said Lubin.
The shop often sets up booths at area craft and cultural festivals, and even has a stand at the main branch of University Hospitals. This is leading to recognition, as well as spreading the store’s message of free trade. “We get so many customers coming in who have never been here before,” commented Gigante, who said both the unique inventory and the support of the artists play a part in a shopper’s decision to stop in.
Although items occasionally go on sale, Gigante said there are few that do not sell. “Vicki’s a good shopper. She knows our customer base,” she said, adding that there is usually a shopper for even the most unique item.