Fair Trade: What Can One Woman Do?
What can one woman do to halt the sad practice of children as young as 9 or 10 working long hours in roasting or freezing factories in countries around the world where few rules and regulations prevent it? Adults, as well, work in inhumane conditions all around the globe, sometimes even in North America, where production demands mean getting up at 3 a.m. and working 12 days straight. No weekend off.
Eleanor learned early on about buying gifts which helped women and children have more opportunities for schooling because of fair trade.
Eleanor Held is one young woman who, as a Presbyterian pastor’s daughter, grew up hearing and learning about fairness, ethics, honesty, and compassion toward other people.
Eleanor also developed an interest in clothing—not high fashion, but rather a flair for offbeat, vintage, ethnic, or hipster styles—all quite common among folks of her generation.
A little back story. Eleanor’s mother, Ann, was our pastor and her father, John, worked for the local Social Security office. As an avocation, John stewarded the gift of his beautiful tenor voice by conducting a children’s choir at our small church. With Ann and John’s combined interest in music and worship, they took their family almost annually to participate in the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Music and Worship Conference at Montreat Conference Center near Asheville, North Carolina. Montreat was home to an early Ten Thousand Villages store (or SELFHELP: Crafts of the World, as it was known then). The shop was always a favorite hangout for the choir kids to buy “souvenirs,” with its fascinating gifts, scarves, toys, and even musical instruments made especially by artisans and women who lived in poverty in the Global South. Eleanor thus learned early on about buying gifts that helped women and children have more opportunities for schooling because of programs that eliminated many of the “middlemen” between producer and buyer.
As Eleanor says, it was a long, winding journey through college, a master’s program in peace studies, internships, and spending time in other countries to the place where she opened her own fair trade clothing store last year. She graduated from Randolph Macon College in 2006. She says that if you had asked her then whether she would own a retail business, she would have flatly said, “No. That’s not me.”
But one of her jobs after grad school included working for fair trade store where she volunteered for another Presbyterian conference center, Stony Point Center, near New York City. Meanwhile, she had also worked part time in other retail settings. At Stony Point she enjoyed the managerial work: researching, picking out and ordering items for the store, stocking them, labeling items, arranging them. As part of that experience she went to a fair trade conference where she was exposed to the larger world of fair trade. She explored the websites she learned about from the exhibits and literature she collected, and was fascinated by the beautiful and, in many cases, handmade clothing that were truly works of art, exclaiming, “Ooh, that’s cool, I want to buy that, I love that.” She also sensed that websites don’t work as well for buying clothing and felt that opening a fair trade clothing store back in her hometown, where people could try on items to see how clothing looked and worked on their own bodies, might be something she’d enjoy.
Eleanor’s mother was ready to retire from being a pastor in 2014. Sadly, her father had died from cancer in 2010, devastating for the whole family and the congregation. Ann knew she needed “something to do” in retirement and assisted Eleanor in the rather involved process of finding a suitable space to lease and set up a fledging business, which opened soon after Eleanor’s 30th birthday in late summer 2014.
What to call her store? At Stony Point, Eleanor had heard a folk story from Africa as told by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathi. In the middle of the forest, one day the forest caught fire. As all the animals stood by, horrified that their homes were slowly burning to the ground, a little hummingbird started flying to a nearby stream. She scooped drops of water into her beak and flew back and forth from the stream to the fire, squirting out drops in an effort to put out the flames. The other animals chided her: “What are you doing? What good can you possibly do? You are just a tiny hummingbird. What can one bird do?”
The green hummingbird simply responded, “I am doing the best that I can.”
Thus Eleanor named her store and effort “Green Hummingbird Fair Trade Clothing,” as she tries to be a tiny voice and effort helping artisans around the world find a market that pays them a fair wage for their beautiful work.
Jesus combined concerns and help for the poor with pleas for justice. These are people so willing to work. We can also do the best we can in helping with this effort.