Business Profile: Kirabo, Hand Made Fair Trade
Sunday, June 21, 2009

1.  Kirabo is an eclectic store.  Tell us what is the meaning of "Kirabo"?

Kirabo is a Ugandian word for “gift”.  Since we are a gift shop, that sells exclusively fair trade merchandise from developing countries, we selected the name to be both appropriate and worldly. 

2.  Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to open the store.

Fall of 2006, 9 months after graduating from MSU's Broad College of Business with my second degree,  I attended a local craft show and was introduced to fair trade.  Esperanza en Accion, a fair trade organization out of Nicaragua, was selling beautiful pottery that really 'called out to me'.  I listened carefully about fair trade from the volunteers working the booth, and was inspired to go home with a couple pieces of pottery and visit their website.  After reading one of the Nicaraguan workers stories, I immediately called the local group and asked to volunteer.  The story that moved me was about a woman who was able to build a home for her and her children with her fair trade wages, allowing the family to move out of the 'town dump'!
3.  What does fair trade mean and why is it important?

Fair trade is an alternative, international trading relationship which reaches out to disadvantaged producers.  It provides developing world artisans a fair wage for their handmade crafts, promotes healthy working conditions, environmental sustainability and does not allow child labor.  Often products are made from recycled goods and embrace cultural traditions.  Artisans are empowered to build better lives for themselves and their families.

4.  When were you first introduced to fair trade and what does your logo mean?

Our logo is the national flower of Nicaragua, Plumeria Rubra.  We selected it to honor our strong connection to the organization that introduced us to fair trade.

5.  Your store carries very unique gifts.  Tell us about some of the gift/decor items that you offer.

We opened in August of 2007, carrying mainly home décor.  One of our most popular is our recycled tea bag group from S. Africa.  This co-op makes coasters, trivets, mirrors etc. from a hand painted, used tea bag.  There is a large selection of jewelry, wallhangings, musical instruments and even toys. We also have beautiful handmade paper cards, some even from elephant dung and we call it the ultimate in recycling.  Within the last 6 months, we have begun to offer fair trade clothing from Nepal and India, with designers in Chicago and Los Angeles.  It is very stylish and no sweatshop operations are allowed!

The fair trade movement has been growing for over 50 years in both the craft and food side. Our merchandise is from over 30 countries.  We are a partner store with the fair trade organization Ten Thousand Villages and they are one of our 24 different suppliers.
We stock gifts but also carry fair trade coffees, teas, olive oil, jellies, and soup mixes.  One of our favorite coffee groups has their roastery in Traverse City but travel to 6 developing countries to work with the farmers.

6.   Have you ever traveled to any of the places you purchased goods from?  Can you provide us with an interesting experience?

Although I have not yet traveled to the countries we buy from, I look forward to attending one of the learning tours that several of my suppliers offer.  Opening a new business has been very busy and time consuming.  A great story about one of our customers involves an MSU fashion design student.  She came into Kirabo as a customer and expressed an interest in traveling internationally.  I introduced her to my Ecuador supplier, and this past January, she accompanied him on a buying trip.  On the airplane, she had sketched a blouse/top and hoped to show it to the artisans.  They loved it, made a prototype, she tweaked it and we are now selling it in our store!  They even named it after her, the 'Mandy' blouse. 

7.   When you are talking to people about fair trade products what are their reactions to what you do or the items that you sell.

Our customers are always fascinated to learn about how the products are made and from what.  We have jewelry made from a tagua nut and often show the customer a picture of the tree and an actual nut.  They are amazed.  Another favorite is our cut metal sculptures from Haiti, which are made from the discarded oil drums that wash ashore.  Shopping fair trade also allows the customer to feel good about their purchase, knowing they have helped support a group of people who often  live on less than a dollar a day.


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