Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Ann Ferguson: Talking Fair Trade Federation Membership

FTF's Ann Ferguson
Dunitz & Company has been a member of Fair Trade Federation for many years now. I often field questions about membership and advise ethical businesses to join. And then I refer them to Ann Ferguson, the Membership Manager of FTF. Ann joined the staff of FTF in 2014 and she IS the person who can shed the most light on the ins and outs of membership. I recently asked Ann if she'd be willing to chat with me about Fair Trade Federation, the membership application process and well, a little bit about her. She graciously said yes and we scheduled a (long) phone call.

I always have fun asking people to tell me about themselves. If you know me at all, you know I'm a pretty good interviewer. And so on this afternoon, it seemed most appropriate to ask Ann what motivated her to pursue a career in fair trade. I learned that after Ann graduated college at Indiana University in Bloomington, she spent a summer living in the slums of Bangkok, Thailand, as part of a service learning program. She told me it was absolutely transformative when she experienced first-hand how small businesses working directly with artisans made a huge difference in their lives. She saw how people that would otherwise have no work to support themselves were taught to make scarves, key-chains and other handicrafts. This training allowed them to make a living and with dignity, take care of themselves and their families.

Once back in the States, Ann knew she wanted to continue supporting fair trade. And immediately she was disappointed she couldn't find any venues in Southern Indiana (where she was living at that time) that sold fair trade goods. After a bit of research she discovered a local church that also yearned to build a fair trade business. She jumped in and she became part of the "we" that ultimately formed Old North Fair Trade Market. Old North Fair Trade Market is a member of Fair Trade Federation.

Ann said it wasn't tough at all for her to pack her bags and relocate to Delaware for her position at Fair Trade Federation. (I think she was quite brave.) Being surrounded with a community of like-minded people made her feel right at home. In 2014 she was hired to help manage and develop the FTF membership screening process. And today, although her responsibilities have grown, she is still involved with membership.

Ann & Me, NY Now
When prospects reach out to me, they always seem to have the same questions. What are the benefits of joining FTF? Can you tell me about the membership application process? The process feels so daunting. How long does it take? Are there obvious deal-breakers that would preclude me from being accepted into the fold?  And since I had Ann captive on the line, I thought best to ask her these same questions.

I liked that Ann reached back to her own experiences working with Old North, a fair trade retailer to explain the benefits of membership. She explained that being part of a larger movement and a feeling of connectivity to that movement was invaluable. She explained that being part of this larger community provided lots of resources for education, mentoring and collaborations with other members. And the annual conference with so many informative seminars and  the chance to meet wholesale "fair trade" superstars (could that be me?) was a huge benefit for them (as retailers). She mentioned in particular how useful it was when her colleagues at Old North met a few people running another fair trade church store at the annual conference. Their issues were similar to the ones they experienced at Old North and brainstorming together was so helpful.
FTF Conference Mingling

Ann understands that so many applicants are overwhelmed when they consider applying for membership. They have the impression that the paperwork requirements are endless. She explains that the process is easily broken down by the FTF principles and Code Of Practice and she is always happy to guide applicants through the process. She was clear with me, she is not a babysitter (a word I love to use in jest) or a coach. "I'm a cheerleader." Ann always recommends applicants reach out for their business references first to start the process. She stresses there is no reason to struggle. "If an applicant approaches it one principle at a time, it shouldn't feel so cumbersome."  Ann also reiterated that she is only a phone call away to help out. Assuming yours is a business that is working directly with farmers and artists or a business that buys from one that does, Ann will gladly help you explain how to explain what you do.  Once an application has been completed it takes 2-4 months for evaluation.

As I bombarded Ann with questions, I learned things I hadn't known.  The screening process is not completed by FTF staff.  And it is not completed by the FTF Board. In fact, these people don't even see the applications. There actually is a screening committee, all Fair Trade Federation members, appointed by the FTF Board. The committee members actually go through training themselves, and these anonymous members evaluate the membership applications.

Ann said there are two basic requirements that some businesses most struggle with. One involves paying promptly and fairly. (It might be that an applicant hasn't figured out how to determine a fair wage in the community in which they work.) The other is explaining how farmers and artisans are growing in their capacity to lead and sustain businesses for long-term autonomy, their own well-being, and the health of their communities. Ann was quite precise. To be admitted to FTF, a business must live by and follow all of the FTF principles and Code Of Practice.  If anything seems vague in an application (to the screening committee), the applying company will be given an opportunity to clarify any script they've submitted. Ann stressed to me that FTF wants potential members to succeed. And if there is something that needs improvement in the way any business operates, she not always, but often encourages prospects to re-apply after they've adjusted their practices.

Ann is often approached by individuals wanting to start a new fair trade business.  First, she told me that any new business must wait at least one year before applying for FTF membership.  She also explained that sometimes the preparation (for the FTF screening) for a new business is often easier than one that's been operating for many years. She explained when a business is brand spanking new, they can put processes in place, right off the bat, that follow FTF core principles.

But what about the money? If a company's gross sales is $75,000 or less annually, their FTF dues will be $250.  Seems easy enough to me.  She also said that if any prospect is concerned, they can refer to the dues calculator on the FTF website which shows how dues are based on a sliding scale. The dues schedule for membership was designed by members to be affordable and equitable. (I agree that it is.)

And now it was time to chatter about fun stuff.  It does seem as if most of us work all the time. (It seems I do.) I asked Ann what she does in her spare time. I was impressed to learn she is a voracious reader. She says she typically reads forty books in a year.  This year she challenged herself to read 80. She confessed she's only at 52, which means she has some serious work if she's going to reach her goal. She also told me she's devoured several selections from Oprah's reading list. My take away from this was 2 things. First, if I'm ever looking for a good book to read, I'll ask Ann for a recommendation.  And second, I suggested we might start a FTF virtual book club. (I recently joined a New York University Alumni virtual book club. We are given 2-3 months to read the selections.) 
FTF Wholesale Guide

Finally, I had to ask Ann what her favorite design was from Dunitz & Company. She confessed that she's browsed the Dunitz & Company site often enough to know she adores our Circle & Triangle Hoops.  She also mentioned having a soft spot for our Joanie M fused glass studs that were recently featured in the 2019/2020 Fair Trade Federation Wholesale Guide. Here's my FTF plug if you're reading my post and you own or buy for a retail store. Use this guide. You'll find so many great ideas from so many ethical vendors. 'Nuff said. If you're a FTF prospective member, I encourage you to come on board. After all, you've got Ann Ferguson to guide you through the process. -ND

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Bright White - A Must for Spring 2020

Seems Dunitz & Company will be right on trend for Spring 2020. NYFW (New York Fashion Week) still has a few days to go, and one thing is clear. White clothing will be everywhere next season. Harper's Bazaar editors highlight 'Le White Suit' in their recent trend report. Me? After scouring the shows online, I noticed a prevalence of pheasant type necklines. These pant suits on the right are offered up by Tori Burch, Mara Hoffman and Adeam. Don't worry your pretty little head. When the time is right, Dunitz & Company will be offering plenty of white fused glass and seed bead earrings, bracelets and necklaces.

NYFW - White on Trend

And here are a few more runway looks to prove my point. Bright White is a must for Spring 2020. From left to right, starting from the top. Dennis Basso. Gabriela Hearst. Herve Leger. Cushnie. Anna Sui. Alexander Wang. Cynthia Rowley. Josie Natori. Sally LaPointe. Ya gotta see what I mean, no?

White was "big" for Spring 2019. It will be even bigger for 2020. I was amazed when one retailer we sell to told me that they kept receiving special requests for our white fused glass earrings all (this) summer long. Are you a Dunitz retailer? If so, keep this in mind when you place your Spring 2020 orders.

Do you know it hasn't been since Spring 2012 that I've offered a true white combination in our seed bead collection? I've offered off-white, combinations with beige - but not white-white. Well we'll definitely have it for 2020.

White on White - Joanie M Fused Glass

And you better believe our white color combo for our Joanie M fused glass will return next spring! With a hint of silver, it's perfect.

Stay tuned to Dunitz & Company blog. (You can even sign up and have our posts emailed to you. Follow this link and look to the bottom right of the page.) I'm sure I'll be highlighting some other fashionable colors that you'll want to plan for. How? Either by having appropriate clothing in your own closet for your own pleasure. Or in your store, for the pleasure of others.-ND