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Spokane Company Example of Progress in Fair Trade

A fair-trade company based in Spokane celebrates 30 years in business this holiday season. The evolution of Ganesh Himal Trading, from 1984 until now, tells the story of fair trade in the US.

Fair trade, as defined by the Fair Trade Federation, “supports farmers and craftspeople in countries who are socially and economically marginalized”. Denise Attwood and Ric Conner came upon fair trade before the term existed, and they came into business by accident. After college they set out to trek for a month in Nepal.

Conner: “And before we went trekking we bought two sweaters from a Tibetan refuge family…"

And they loved them.

Conner: “...And we went back to Loeb Song, the person we bought the sweaters from, and we said these were great sweaters thank you so much. And he says ‘can you help me sell these sweaters’, and we go ‘well, maybe’.”

‘Maybe’ turned into yes, and Conner and Attwood started shipping sweaters and other goods from Kathmandu to Spokane where they’d sell them at college campuses, friend’s homes, and the Spokane Civic Theater.

Attwood: “You know our whole business really was based on this idea of direct trade with people, getting the money directly in their hands, paying them a fair wage, trying to help them create lives where they could send their kids to school, where they could have stability.”

By the early 1990’s Attwood says they became familiar with other small companies around the nation who had the same mindset.

Attwood “The North American Alternative Trade Organization… and it was at that conference in Washington DC that we then began to formulate the concept around fair trade.”

In 1997, a group of these companies created the first US fair trade certification system. By the early 2000s fair trade storefronts were opening in the US. GaneshHimal helped create one in Spokane, Global Folk Art, which has since becomeKizuri. As they moved into wholesale, Attwood and Conner started crafting the products alongside the Nepalese producers.

Attwood: “… And so we would go figure out, okay this is a great fit, or maybe this needs to be a little bit bigger, or these need to be different colors...”

And Ganesh Himal set out to encourage traditional Nepalese craft work, like the handloom, but adapt the materials to Western audiences.

;Attwood: “There aren’t a lot of people here who use the type of floor mat that they weave. So I went to them and said what if I took this 3x6 floor mat and instead we made it into a table runner. They said what’s a table runner?”

They have since designed place mats, coats, Christmas stockings, and items saved from going in the waste stream, like tire rubber turned into purses and wallets. They now work with 14 producer groups in South Asia.

Attwood: “And so now we sell to over 250 fair trade stores. So in the process of 30 years as the fair trade movement has grown, we have a customer base now that understands exactly what we’re doing…”

Conner: “The only retail we do anymore is the fair trade festival coming up this weekend at the community building.”

The festival is open Friday and Saturday with a number of fair trade vendors. Part of the proceeds go to a new Ganesh Himal project in which they give scholarships for Nepalese girls to go to school.

Flipping through a slideshow of the past 30 years, Conner acknowledges they’ve experienced personal growth through their work, but he’s ready to be back where they started.

Conner: “We’ll see where we go from here, I’m ready to let the next generation take their shot at it really. I just want to go trekking.”

The festival of Fair Trade happened Friday-Sunday after Thanksgiving in Spokane's community building. Ric Conner presented his 30-year slideshow Saturday at 3:00 at Aunties Bookstore. He says he would be willing to show it again for groups in town.

Copyright 2014 Spokane Public Radio

Read Ric and Denise's story:

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