Paul and Lois Culler have made fair trade their business. They opened their first Fair Trade Winds shop in Maine in 2007. Now there are six across the country. Their local shop opened in October in the Mosaic District in Merrifield, Va.
In an area of high-end shopping, art house films and around-the-world dining, the Fair Trade Winds store (2920 District Ave.) offers handcrafted goods including scarfs, stationery and mittens. The idea, for the uninitiated, is global sustainability and fair wages to everyone in the commerce supply chain, from artisans to exporters. The Cullers see their business as a linchpin for wholesalers and consumers. “We all feel more people need to know about fair trade,” Paul Culler says. “Otherwise the wholesalers are at a dead end.” Employees make it a point to share stories behind the products, and the store’s website has a “Meet Fair Traders” section.
Meredith Pietzman went from being a customer to a part-time employee. She grew up visiting developing countries with her parents. After visiting Fair Trade Winds several times, she contacted the Cullers about getting more involved. “I got into fair trade because it gives people a pride in earning an income for themselves and their families instead of giving them something which can be more of a Band-Aid,” she says.
The Cullers try to walk the walk in their personal life. “We use fair trade material as often as we can,” Paul says. “When we go to the grocery store, we look for the fair-trade label. We do our gift shopping at our own stores or other stores as we shop.”
But is it possible to live a totally fair-trade life? It’s hard. “A lot of things like automobiles and home materials in the West aren’t fair trade,” Paul says. But there’s progress. There are now flowers and vegetables, wine and vodka. “You can do a substantial amount as more food products are coming down the line, but there are still a lot of things we use in the culture that aren’t fair trade,” Culler says.
Earlier this year, Anne Kidd was eyeing a purse as a gift for her sister’s birthday. Fair trade, she says, produces unique objects. “You can find products here you can’t find anywhere else.”