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Shopping with a conscience at Global Gifts 

click to enlarge Sam Carpenter, Alison Schumacher and Simon inside of Global Gifts on Mass Ave.
  • Alison Schumacher, Simon and Sam Carpenter inside of Global Gifts on Mass Ave.
  • Kristen Pugh

An unexpected connection

"On September 17, Simon, Alison and I left for our grand adventure ..."

When Sam Carpenter and Alison Schumacher and their 2-year-old son, Simon, visited Fermín Vilcapoma in his Lima workshop, it wasn't the first time the Peruvian jewelry maker had met someone from Indiana.

"After hearing that we lived in Indianapolis, he told us he'd visited Indiana University in Bloomington lastJanuary at the invitation of a college group," Sam writes in one of his many missives for Manos Amigas, a fair trade organization based in Lima.

"I went into a fair trade shop there and saw some of my products," Vilcapoma said of his time in Bloomington.

That fair trade shop is Global Gifts and Sam Carpenter is its executive director.

Carpenter and his family returned in August from a year-long sabbatical spent in Peru, meeting local artisans and working with fair trade exporter Manos Amigas - it means Friendly Hands - to understand the fair trade process at a deeper level.

What is fair trade?

Shoppers find the label "fair trade" emblazoned across all manner of goods these days. But that wasn't true in 1988, when Global Gifts was founded. Although the very first fair trade organizations were formed in the United States after World War II, fair trade as a movement has experienced sizable growth and exposure in only the last 10 years.

"This sounds really simple, but most people do not know that fairly traded items means fair wages for the workers along with proper working conditions, which means no sweatshops," says Cullen Webster, a volunteer at the Global Gifts store on Mass Ave.

In simple terms, fair trade is a movement that supports higher standards for producers of goods in developing countries. It's an economic, social and sustainability-minded system that stabilizes the balance between producers and consumers. It seeks to boost the living and working conditions of the producers while educating the consumer. Transparency between buyer and producer is the goal, and the result is international trade equity.

Although the average consumer may come across fair trade products daily - especially in supermarkets where the coffee, chocolate, sugar and tea markets continue to expand with new fair trade certifications - there is a perfect place to shop exclusively for fair trade products locally.

The gift that gives twice

"We like to think that when someone purchases something from the store, they're giving the gift that gives twice," says Global Gifts volunteer and founding member Mary Liechty. "Not only are they giving a gift to their loved one, but you're giving the gift of income for the family that made the product."

click to enlarge Finger puppets from Peru, $3.95 - KRISTEN PUGH

More than 40 countries are represented inside each store, where items are grouped into clusters of beautiful, colorful displays. Right now, as Global Gifts prepares for its busiest time of the year, long strings of hanging ornaments dangle in the front window. Stacks of cozy knit scarves and hats line one wall, and handmade jewelry sparkles on another.

Sam and Alison lead me around the store, highlighting handicrafts from Peru, including a gorgeous, delicate bracelet made of butterfly wings encased in glass and linked by silver. The finger puppets displayed on the NUVO cover and the nativities that decorate many corners of the store are also products of Peru.

The Mass Ave storefront is a comfortable space with a friendly face stationed at the register. Born out of the Indianapolis Mennonite Church 22 years ago, the stores have a close group of volunteers. Although they're no longer officially affliated with the Mennonite Church, many volunteers still come from the church.

Sam Carpenter wasn't there in the beginning - he was studying the social sciences field of peace and conflict studies in Northern Ireland and living in the town of Derry. In 1999, Derry became a fair trade town, which means it's a town that has made a commitment to supporting fair trade and using products with the fair trade mark. A city or a region can do so, too. (Bloomington, where one of the Global Gifts stores is located, is fairly close to becoming a fair trade town. Log on to NUVO.net to read about their progress.)

After learning about fair trade in Derry, Sam ended his studies by writing a thesis about the movement.

That same interest led him to Global Gifts, where he came aboard in 2001 as a manager of Global Gifts' store in Nora. As the nonprofit expanded, Carpenter soon assumed the role of executive director.

But even before becoming executive director, Carpenter had planned to take a long-term trip to explore fair trade issues. His wife, Alison, who left her position at Girls, Inc. of Greater Indianapolis after their son, Simon, was born, was just as game. So, they started to plan.

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