Monday, February 11, 2019

Fair Trade at Work: Global Gifts' Alissa Head

When you work in "Fair Trade" as long as I have, you meet so many people making a difference. Big differences. And more often than not, many of these do-gooders don't get the recognition they deserve. We don't always know who they are. We don't always understand exactly what they do. One person that has impressed me with her professionalism and dedication is Alissa Head. Alissa's the Executive Director of Global Gifts, a group of fair trade stores based in Indianapolis, IN.  I asked Alissa if I could interview her for my blog. She graciously accepted. Here's what she had to share with me.

NANCY:  You've been part of Global Gifts for several years.  I'm just curious. Did you move to the Midwest to work for Global Gifts? Or were you fortunate to find this perfect fit while already living in Ohio?

ALISSA:  I was already living in Columbus, OH when the opportunity to join Global Gifts came about. I had just stepped out of my role as Vice President of Operations at a local, print on demand, direct to consumer e-commerce t-shirt company that had grown by 500% during my tenure of 4 years. (from $500K to $12M in sales annually.) As graphic tees phased out of fashion, I was asked to downsize our production. I did so, but I put myself at the top of the list of people to lay off and left the company at the end of the reorganization. One week later a friend told me about Global Gifts opening a store in Columbus, and there was a position open for Store Manager. I was eager to get back into the non-profit world and applied. (Alissa explained she had previous experience in non-profit trade association work.) 

NANCY: Was there a pivotal life experience that encouraged you to work in 'fair trade'? 

Alissa's Hat Design
ALISSA:  I have been very active in our local handmade community for many years as a knitting pattern and knitwear designer, which led me to my previous job. Handmade is the root of my passion for fair trade, but justice and integrity are what drive me. Treating people fairly, in all aspects of work, both domestically and globally, as well as environmental sustainability are two tenets I hold very dear. There was a moment during my previous employment, during rapid growth, when we visited one of our t-shirt distribution centers. The warehouse was one square mile, chockablock floor to ceiling, full of boxes of blank shirts. I was stunned by the magnitude of it and I thought to myself, “There is no way this is sustainable.” That moment, plus the reorganization of the company, were two experiences that made me realize I would never be comfortable working towards increasing a bottom line at the expense of the environment and people’s welfare. I had heard of fair trade chocolate and coffee, but was unaware of the handmade movement. When I had the opportunity to work for Global Gifts, I jumped in eagerly!

NANCY:  Describe some of the important projects you are working on in the shop(s)?

ALISSA:  Right now my focus is on streamlining operations for our four stores, including better systems for Human Resources, as well as upgrading our technology in stores to improve our efficiency and customer relations. Additionally, along with our Marketing Manager, Jennifer Moncel, I am working to increase our brand awareness and improve our website to make it more cohesive with our brick and mortar experience.

NANCY:  And do you have a favorite project or activity you're involved with at Global Gifts?

ALISSA:  Before I was promoted to Executive Director I was Purchasing Manager, while also Store Manager in Columbus. Looking at all the lovely new designs and deciding what to bring into the stores is still one of my favorite things. Although I am no longer in charge of purchasing, I still enjoy our process, now led by Dave Debikey, our Bloomington Store Manager.

NANCY: When did Global Gifts become part of Fair Trade Federation?  Do you have any thoughts about this partnership? 

ALISSA:  I joined Global Gifts in late February 2014, and one of my earliest experiences was attending the Fair Trade Federation Conference that year in Indianapolis, co-hosted by Global Gifts. I learned so much there and am so grateful for the FTF Community. We rely on Fair Trade Federation verification when considering new products, vendors, and artisan groups. The assurance Fair Trade Federation membership gives us in transparency and accountability, and the ability to share that with our customers, is key to our mission in supporting at risk and marginalized artisans.

NANCY: Can you share a story that makes you smile? A story where you and/or Global Gifts were integral in making a positive change?

ALISSA:  This year we have completed all of our requirements to make Columbus, OH an official Fair Trade Town through Fair Trade Campaigns. The only step left is to have a resolution passed by the Mayor. This has been a personal project of mine since 2015, and I am gratified to see its completion. We have a great fair trade community in Columbus, and last year we started making regular appearances vending at local events, as well as hosting our own "World Fair Trade Day Sip and Shop". This result is due to the accumulated efforts of not only myself, but many unpaid interns and community members. I hope to be able to pass the torch this year to take Fair Trade Columbus to the next level, spreading the word and work of fair trade.

NANCY: You must be proud of your website. It's really easy to navigate.  Where else can people learn more about Global Gifts?

ALISSA: In addition to our website, each of our stores has its own social media accounts on facebook, Instagram, and twitter. Following these accounts gives a wonderful insight into each store’s location, culture, and community, led by the store managers. It’s a lot of fun to see what they do with their posts and how it takes us further along the path of sharing fair trade at the local level.

NANCY: Of course, I'm thrilled that Global Gifts is selling Dunitz & Company's fused glass jewelry. You know I had to ask.  Do you have a favorite design you like pointing out to customers? Or something you personally enjoy wearing?

ALISSA:  I personally love the skinny leather and fused glass bracelet in my favorite hues of blue. 

NANCY: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

ALISSA:  I feel so fortunate to be Executive Director of this organization, working for fair trade along with our wonderful team at Global Gifts.  Although I feel that I bring a lot of experience to this position, I also still have so much to learn, and I am looking forward to the continued journey.

---end of interview :)

Post Interview: I asked Alissa to tell me more about her artistic side. I wanted to know just a little more about her and what drives her in addition to her work at Global Gifts. She told me about her formal visual arts training and shared with me some images of her recent art work. With her permission, I'm sharing a few here.

Alissa spends a lot of time creating fiber art. Check out the photo to the right. Named "Meditations on Wholeness," Alissa knit this piece with stainless steel and silk thread. How cool is that?

Alissa's wool fiber paintings were part of a group exhibit hosted last year at Global Gallery, a fair trade coffee shop located in Columbus. Her paintings are inspired by photographs she took at Blendon Woods, one of the metro parks in her area.  Spot on.

Thank you for allowing me to pummel you with questions, Alissa. It always amazes me how much more I can learn from all those around me working in and supporting fair trade. I'm so impressed by you and the work you do at Global Gifts. And now I know what a talented artist you are as well.

Reading this? If you're in Indianapolis, Bloomington or Columbus, get on over to a Global Gifts store. These shops offer a wide selection of wonderful fair trade goodies. And, yes, lots of Dunitz & Company fused glass jewelry. -ND