Throwing a Fair Trade Party

Image: gathering of people with around around kitchen island. Title: Throwing a Fair Trade Party

Educate others about fair trade and help them go sweatshop-free. 

When Carmel Jud decided to help Afghan women suffering from impacts of the Taliban regime, she started holding house parties. Not your everyday gathering, Jud’s house parties focused on selling fair trad goods that Afghan women had made in their homes and sold for fair prices.

“The response was amazing,” Jud recalls. “We would show a video about how the Taliban was forcing women out of schools and professions. Then, we would display the crafts we had for sale and explain how the Afghan women making them were now able to earn money to support their families and maintain their dignity. The guests would be so moved that not only would they buy many of the items we had for sale, but most of them would sign up on the spot to host their own parties.”

With the holiday season approaching, now’s the perfect time to think about hosting a fair trade house party. “The party can be your holiday gift to your friends,” suggests Nancy Potter, director of sales and marketing for A Greater Gift (a program of SERRV International). “You can show them that their choices do make a difference and that their purchasing dollars can provide hope and justice to fair trade artisans.”

Here are details on how you can host a successful party—one that pleases your guests and encourages their support of a fair economic system.

Why Fair Trade House Parties?

In conventional trade, much of the purchase price of a product usually goes to middlemen, and the workers who produce the products often earn poverty-level wages insufficient for supporting their families. Fair trade ensures that producers receive prices that cover their costs of production and allow them to invest in the well-being of their families, their communities, and the Earth.

Fair trade crafts—including jewelry, clothing, and household items—can be obtained from businesses belonging to the Fair Trade Federation (FTF), which screens its members based on fair trade criteria. Fair Trade Certified™ commodities such as coffee, chocolate, and bananas sold in the US bear the seal of TransFair USA, the organization that certifies that the producers have received a fair price for their products.

House parties are an excellent way to support artisans around the world by selling their fair trade products. A host will gather a group of friends, neighbors, or coworkers to explain what fair trade is and to encourage them to purchase fair trade crafts such as embroidered bags, colorful shawls, and handcrafted jewelry, or gift baskets featuring Fair Trade Certified™ chocolate, coffee, and tea. Perhaps most importantly, house parties educate guests about fair trade and spur them to spread the word about it.

“Most of the people attending fair trade house parties don’t tend to know much, if anything, about fair trade,” says Dana Geffner, who often sells fair trade items at house parties through the fair trade organization Pachamama, which she founded in 2002. “Then they get so inspired that they start going to their local supermarkets and asking for Fair Trade Certified™ coffee, or pledging that all of the gifts they buy will be fair trade.

The Gathering

Most fair trade parties are informal gatherings, and Jud suggests aiming for 10–15 guests to keep the group intimate. To encourage attendance, she advises sending invitations that emphasize the social aspect of the evening and the opportunity to purchase beautiful crafts. If you’re holding your party in holiday-shopping season, you can also tell your friends that it’ll be a chance for them to fill all their gift-buying needs in a single evening.

At the party, beverages and finger food—perhaps featuring Fair Trade Certified™ coffee, tea, or chocolate—can help encourage socializing as the guests arrive and everyone gets settled. Then it’s on to the two main activities of the evening: learning and shopping.

Educating Your Guests

To get your guests excited about fair trade, you’ll want to point out the injustice that exists under today’s economic system and explain the solution that fair trade presents. Geffner has brought guest speakers, including members of fair trade cooperatives and human rights groups, to parties, but she says that the host can also fulfill the role of fair trade educator. You can also show videos about fair trade, if you wish.

To brush up on your fair trade knowledge beforehand, consult an organization such as the Fair Trade Resource Network. Vendors from whom you request merchandise or catalogs may also supply educational materials, such as brochures or videos.

In Jud’s experience, a speaker who can talk firsthand about conditions in developing countries can help guests further understand “how their choices affect individuals around the world.” If you wish to go this route, you can appeal to friends, family, or coworkers to connect you to potential speakers; contact a community center of an immigrant group in your area; or appeal to a radio station that broadcasts in a non-English language.

“One of my most powerful speakers came to me through a Spanish-language radio station,” Jud says. “I wanted someone from Mexico who could talk about conditions in Juarez, because so many of the sweatshops that produce clothes for US consumers are located there.” Within ten minutes of the station broadcasting Jud’s request for a speaker, a woman who’d worked in a Juarez sweatshop volunteered to tell her story.

“The guests found her story shocking,” Jud recalls. “She talked about how the buses from the factories to the residential area didn’t have enough space for all of the workers, and how the women would fight to get on because they knew that if they had to walk home, they would risk being attacked and killed, the way several young women there have been.”

Once the host or speaker has highlighted the problem, it’s time to talk about the solutions that fair trade offers. You can provide an overview of how the system works and then use specific 
products and producer groups as success stories.

Unveiling the Fair Trade Products

If you can manage it, a few representative craft items can be useful props when telling stories about individual artisans or cooperatives—and they can help show your guests how beautiful 
and unique their products are. Jud recommends concealing the items before the initial presentation so that people won’t decide what they do or don’t want to buy until they’ve heard the whole fair trade story. She prefers to uncover items one at a time, introducing each one with the name of the person who made it and describing the impact that fair trade has had on that person’s life.

Some organizations have kits available for people holding fair trade sale events, and these kits will often include educational materials as well as sample products or products that you can sell on the spot. If you want to order products or kits, find out how soon before your party they can ship the items and how soon after the party you need to return them.

Ten Thousand Villages has a program designed for larger events, such as community days or church fairs; this is worth considering if you belong to a group that might like to host one of these “Ten Thousand Villages Festivals.” Pre-formed modules contain $4,000 worth of goods, plus promotional and educational materials; hosts are expected to sell approximately $2,000.

The Do-It-Yourself Model is flexible: You obtain a few catalogs (Visit the FTF Web site or peruse the Green Pages™ Online—our directory of green businesses that includes FTF members—and request catalogs from businesses whose products you find appealing), then have your guests fill out order forms at the party and take care of placing the orders on their own. If you own a few fair trade items already, you can show them off as samples. Or, you can buy your holiday gifts early and display them before passing them along to their intended recipients.

Jud’s nonprofit, Rising International, has been holding California fair trade house parties for the past two years. Recently, the organization decided to put the parties on hold while considering the best direction in which to expand. Jud says she’s still happy to serve as a resource for anyone with questions about holding fair trade house parties.

So, if you’ve got space for a small party and a dozen friends or coworkers who could use some help with their holiday shopping, think about hosting a fair trade house party. An evening of learning, shopping, and socializing can direct fair trade dollars to artisans around the world, and it can turn your guests into advocates for an economic system that treats workers fairly.