The Fair-Trade Difference

Four Door County business proprietors talk about the ethics behind their fair-trade products and practices

Around the world, 736 million people are living in poverty, often getting paid less than $2 per day for their farming or artisanal work, according to Fairtrade America. Along with other such organizations, it says that the sale and purchase of fair-trade products offer a solution by ensuring that “the supply chain is supporting – not harming – the people and environments,” and protecting and fairly compensating trading partners around the world.

At least three Door County businesses have embraced that goal of greater equity in the international trading system by making fair-trade products and practices a crucial part of their mission. 


(From left) Trudy and Emma Cox are the mother-daughter duo behind Kindgoods in Sister Bay. Photo by Emma Chamley.

Trudy Cox and her daughter, Emma, looked to their own shopping habits for inspiration when they opened their business, Kindgoods, in Sister Bay in 2017. 

Trudy said they wanted to fill a niche for fair-trade goods that they didn’t think was being addressed in Door County. For Emma, fair trade is a holistic way of doing business, based on the principles of the Fair Trade Federation – a community of U.S. and Canadian businesses committed to fair trade. 

According to the federation, fair trade is an approach to business that prioritizes the well-being of farmers and artisans in marginalized communities, primarily in underdeveloped countries. It embraces nine principles (see the sidebar), and at the core of those is the idea of relationship building: caring about and remaining connected with craftspeople and business owners around the world.

“We’re not going to buy your product only once, and then you’re on your own,” Emma said. “We’re going to work with you to make that a livelihood for yourself.” 

She said that Kindgoods stocks items from 43 fair-trade vendors, as well as 20 brands that are not certified as fair trade. She explained that for stores and wholesalers to become certified, they must do so through the Fair Trade Federation, and certification requires that stores sell only fair-trade products.

The 20 brands that Kindgoods stocks that aren’t fair trade are mostly domestically made or books, neither of which can be certified fair trade. 

“When we choose vendors that aren’t fair-trade certified, we make sure that they do identify with at least one or more of the fair-trade principles,” Emma said. 

Exposing customers to cultures and crafts they aren’t likely to see in other Door County shops inspires Trudy. 

“People really appreciate that they can come in here, and in this space, they’ll find things that they really won’t see anyplace else in the county, or anyplace else, often, that they’ve ever been,” she said.  

Brilliant Stranger

Dawn Patel, the owner of Brilliant Stranger in Egg Harbor, sports bib overalls she designed. Photo by Emma Chamley.

For Dawn Patel, fair trade has been a collaborative and impactful way to make art. She started her first fair-trade store in Bayfield, Wisconsin, in 2003, when fair-trade shopping wasn’t as mainstream.  

“Back then, it was really something that very few people knew about,” she said, “so I spent a lot of time explaining what fair trade is. It was not really in people’s awareness yet.” 

After moving to Door County, Patel opened another fair-trade shop: Brilliant Stranger in Egg Harbor. She said she specializes in wearable art: one-of-a-kind clothing made from fair-trade fabrics that she customizes. Combining her background in art and fashion with supporting the global community has been a match made in heaven, Patel said.  

“I kind of use the clothing as a blank canvas for my art,” she said, “so it was a way of bringing together everything – like my sewing, my painting and my passion about fair trade.”

Her most popular item is bib overalls, made from a pattern she created and shared with Nepalese artisans, who produce the overalls.

“They are independent artists, so no one goes to a factory or even a really nice workshop to work,” Patel said. “They work at their pace, where they want to work, and they set the prices according to what is a fair standard of living.” 

She said the name of her store has come to encapsulate her relationship with the artisans with whom she works and collaborates – people she’s never met – and she considers them to be “brilliant strangers.” 

Empathy for all is part of what drives Patel’s commitment to fair trade. 

“Think about the people who produce everything – what we eat, what we wear on our bodies, anything,” she said. “If you think about the people whom you haven’t met – the individuals, human beings with lives and children, and dreams and hopes, and everything else that you have – why don’t they deserve to have a good life?”

Fair Isle Books and Gifts

Fair Isle Books and Gifts owner Deb Wayman said that owning a fair-trade business has brought her joy. Submitted.

After working at a fair-trade shop in Illinois, Deb Wayman – owner of Fair Isle Books and Gifts – knew she wanted to start a fair-trade shop of her own, and Washington Island seemed to be the perfect place. She bought the island’s bookstore, Fair Isle Books, nine years ago and added fair-trade products – something she said has turned out to be a success.

“It combined itself into two different pieces of a shop, and they’re beautifully complementary to each other,” Wayman said. “They really resonate with people.” 

She sells a variety of goods, including clothing, jewelry and chocolate, but she said the shop also offers an educational opportunity for visitors who are coming to learn about what fair trade means. 

“I feel like there’s a lot of education, especially with day-trippers and tourists who are here for a week or so,” Wayman said. “Helping them to learn about fair trade and what it is as an option in terms of their purchasing.” 

Being a small-business owner can be difficult, she said, but the positive feedback she gets from her customers and the community makes it worth it.

“It’s really being with people in the shop and sharing stories that motivate me,” Wayman said. “All the interactions with customers who are delighted to learn about what fair trade is, and who are excited to take something home that’s beautiful, but is also making a difference in the world.” 

Trudy Cox said she also feels the love and appreciation that customers have for Kindgoods’ unusual, conscious products every day. 

“If I’m just having a not great day, this is my happy place,” she said. “I feel safe here, and surrounded by things that are made with love and received with love.”

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