Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Chat with Rachel Spence of Fair Trade Federation

I thought it would be fun to know a little bit more about Rachel Spence, the Engagement Manager at Fair Trade Federation. I asked her if I could interview her for this blog. She graciously said yes, and today, she was my victim ;). My goal was to learn a bit more about her and find out what had motivated her to work in 'fair-trade'.

LinkedIn seemed a good place to start when prepping for my chat with Rachel. I loved learning that she had studied for her Masters Degree in International Affairs at George Washington University and worked at the DC - UN offices during those years. (I softened her up by mentioning that my nephew had also studied at GW and loved it.) I wondered if there was a life experience that attracted her to this course of study. Rachel mentioned that growing up in Delaware had a great deal to do with that choice.  She stated that many international headquarters are based in Delaware and as a kid she was ever-cognizant of their presence. That, family vacations abroad (she specifically mentioned loving Mexico) and  frequent trips to a Ten Thousand Villages store kindled her interests in world affairs.

One of Rachel's first gigs was working at United States Council for International Business, a trade association that assists larger corporations with issues concerning gender equality and labor rights. She spoke enthusiastically about this experience.  I also garnered she had a light bulb moment while working at USCIB. Rachel recognized that she wanted to work with small businesses where she felt she would have a greater impact for change. A volunteer opportunity at RUNA, a producer of fair trade tea and energy drinks put her boots on the ground in Ecuador where she helped them through the fair trade certification process.

Rachel joined the staff of Fair Trade Federation during the summer of 2016. And that is when I met her.  She along with other FTF staffers visited NY Now, (a wholesale trade show) to meet and greet with those FTF members exhibiting at the show. That might have been one of her first activities working at FTF. And I learned in our conversation that such activities are some of her favorites. Rachel told me she feeds off meeting members in person at trade shows and gatherings such as the annual Fair Trade Federation conference. Mingling with FTF members (nearly 250 companies now) amplifies her voice and enthusiasm. She's all about educating the public about fair trade and creating visibility for FTF and its members. [Photo to the right was taken at NY Now. I'm on the far left. Rachel is on the far right.]

Now the fun stuff! I asked Rachel to tell me about her favorite fair trade items she uses in her every day life. Right off the bat she mentioned that she's all about jewelry and clothing. You know I wasn't going to have any of that. I insisted on specifics! Phew!  Maybe it's lip service. Rachel mentioned she adores the two pair of Dunitz & Company Joanie M fused glass earrings she owns. (Note, she's wearing a pair in the first photo posted above.) She also described a beige and brown handbag she carries each and every day that comes from Manos Zapotecas, another Fair Trade Federation member.  It was clear she owns many fair trade adornments and it was not a simple task to select a favorite.

The thing is Rachel wants everyone to enjoy fair trade pretties as much as she does. And as Engagement Manager for FTF, she's continually finding new ways to communicate to the world about just how great fair trade items can be.  Just yesterday she was an integral part of a "Twitter" conversation focused on holiday shopping.  If you were on twitter yesterday, and you didn't know about the Fair Trade Federation Holiday Guide, you may very well know about it now. There are oodles of fashion, food and home decor items featured. Luscious items.  Haven't finished your shopping? Check it out. Dunitz & Company's fused glass cuffs can't be missed!

It was at this point we digressed a bit. Rachel shared with me her love for her 2 year old, possibly Labrador/MinPin X rescue dog, Ivy.  And then of course, I had to brag about my two Doberman rescues, Stetson and Ida.  Dogs? Don't get me started. But, at this point, I think both Rachel and I were operating on fumes. I mean, this can be tough for both interviewers and interviewees!

In closing, I asked Rachel what was the one thing she'd like people to know about fair trade. Guess what? That wasn't a simple question either. She left me with three thoughts.
  1.  Many companies working in fair trade spend a lot of energy focused on the well-being of our environment.  Yes, fair traders take care of people. She also wants everyone to know that when talking about fair trade, the environmentally friendly aspect of fair trade often is overlooked.
  2. She recognizes that people who support fair trade (with their pocketbooks) are most often interested in the stories of aid and support. But, just as important is the high quality and good design now available from fair trade producers.
  3. And finally, she mentioned it is easier to "shop fair trade" than ever before. This is the case because you can easily purchase great products on line and there are more and more (brick & mortar) shops and producers offering fair trade items. It's not always about coffee!  
Thank you Rachel for spending your morning (on the phone) with me. I really enjoyed our chat. Want to learn more about Fair Trade Federation, fair trade and FTF members?  Please check out the FTF site. There you'll be able to easily browse and learn so much more. -ND