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Sandy Evans, who owns Gilday's Tea Shoppe, Celtic Market and Fair Trade Boutique along with her husband, Barry, examines a necklace made from paper beads. The shop's fair trade jewelry is designed and made by hand by artisans and workers from around the globe. (Tribune photo by Anne Polta)

Gilday's is local link to the global fair trade movement

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WILLMAR -- The dangling tawny-colored earrings in the jewelry case at Gilday's are handmade by women in Afghanistan. A matching necklace and bracelet of green malachite are crafted in cottage industries in the Himalayas.

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Then there are the tiny bottles of skin-softening marula oil from Africa and the handbags from Nepal.

Sandy Evans plucks a sleek black handbag from the shelf and invites a visitor to guess what it's made from.

Recycled leather? Recycled plastic?

Wrong on both counts. It's recycled tires, Evans explains. "Nobody ever guesses right."

From coffees and teas to clothing and jewelry, Gilday's Tea Shoppe, Celtic Market and Fair Trade Boutique is a rural Minnesota link with the global social conscience of the fair trade movement.

"It's very personal," said Evans. "You know who you're helping and what you're buying."

Evans and her husband, Barry, the owners of Gilday's, knew before they even opened their shop three years ago that they wanted to offer fair trade products to their customers. Items began appearing on the shelves a couple of years ago, and the inventory has been growing ever since.

The response has been good, Evans said. "It's been really well-received."

More than that, it has been an opportunity to educate the community about global fair trade and invite people to support the movement.

"It's not about competition. We need to work together in order to make it better for other people," she said.

The fair trade philosophy is about supporting producers with adequate prices and ensuring that goods are produced in a sustainable way that doesn't unduly harm the environment or social structures. One of its focuses is on products exported from developing nations to markets in industrialized countries -- coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate, handcrafts and so on.

It also supports workers and producers such as minorities, women, small businesses and rural enterprises who might otherwise be marginalized in international trade.

Buying fair trade products allows these individuals to earn a living, gain skills and reinvest in their own communities, Evans said. "When you're buying fair trade, you're helping other lives, but you're also getting something for yourself. We say it makes your money work twice."

Globally, the World Fair Trade Organization involves 110 million farmers, artisans and retailers and has $2.2 billion in annual sales. As the movement grows, sales have been climbing 30 to 40 percent a year.

For the owners and staff at Gilday's, what has been especially rewarding about fair trade is the personal connections it fosters.

The products often come with a story about the makers. A collection of bead earrings from Kenya, for instance, is designed by an artisan who works in a tiny shop in Nairobi and obtains his materials from all over Africa. Colorful shopping bags that are sewn from recycled cotton and can be zipped up into a purse are made in India by young women receiving vocational training. The coffee comes from a Wisconsin supplier who achieved a zero carbon footprint.

"You build a relationship with the people you're working with," Evans said. "You're always looking at sustainability. What you're trying to do is help a person, help a business. It's always looking at today and tomorrow both."

Gilday's frequently incorporates fair trade products on its daily menu. Soup made from prepackaged dry mixes was featured last fall, said Faith Zirbes, one of the Evans' daughters who works at Gilday's along with her own daughter, Jessica Zirbes.

"They were very good," she said. Other dishes have contained spicy za'atar and olive oil from the Middle East.

Jessica's personal favorites: the bath and body products.

"I didn't really know too much about fair trade until I started working here," she said. "Now I can educate other people."

Evans hopes the fair trade boutique can become a resource for local churches and others interested in the fair trade movement.

"We certainly don't consider ourselves experts by any means. It's just that you have to start somewhere and you learn as you go," she said.

She would also like to see the store's fair trade inventory and sales grow so that the producers can continue to make money.

"That's the whole point of fair trade -- helping other people with their lives," she said. "At least we are contributing in some fashion to their aid. If we can do nothing else, at least we are doing that."

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Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

(320) 235-1150
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