Holiday boutique offers fair trade products

By Sarah Hillenbrand | 12/4/14 12:39am

Earlier this week, the Grand Valley State University Women’s Center partnered with Global Gifts to host the Fair Trade Holiday Boutique. The goal of the boutique was to provide students a convenient way to look for gifts that are ethically made and also to make students aware of what fair trade means.

“It gives students a chance to do some fun shopping and look at different products from around the world,” said Jessica Jennrich, director of the Women’s Center. “When you purchase something like that, it gives you a connection to someone who made it. It’s going to help that person who created the product to continue to do more.”

Global Gifts supplies the products that are sold for the boutique. It is a non-profit fair trade store in Grand Rapids that was started almost 30 years ago. The store has goods from 30 to 35 different countries at any given time and has many different suppliers for different items, said Jessica Riley, store manager of Global Gifts.

“Our mission is aimed at trying to give people in the developing world opportunities to work and make money for their family,” Riley said. “They are paid a fair wage in context of the local economy.”

In addition to working with Global Gifts to source the fair trade items, 10 percent of the profits from the boutique go to Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women. Jennrich said the Women’s Center has continued to organize the boutique to support GROW, which helps small business owners, specifically women, start and grow their businesses.

Riley added that it is important for students to know about and understand fair trade at this time in their lives so they can become responsible consumers after graduation and when they are out on their own.

“(Students) spend the same money at big corporations, but if they purchase somewhere that’s fair trade certified, someone has already been paid fairly up front for it,” Riley said. “Every time we place an order, someone around the world is being employed.

“It’s better than the old model of charity because that just helps in the short term. Fair trade also protects their dignity, and it's not charity because they are doing their own work and making their own money. Money is powerful, so how you spend it is important to be as ethical as possible.”

Jennrich added that, while students have heard of fair trade, many may not know what it means.

“It’s a name that’s used for products that work with those who create them, rather than being mass produced in giant factories, to allow them to get a higher percentage of profits return to them for creating the products,” Jennrich said.

The boutique had many products available for students to purchase, such as jewelry, scarves, gloves, hats, books, Christmas tree ornaments, trinkets and much more. Riley said Global Gifts continues to work with the Women’s Center to organize the boutique because of their similar missions to emphasize social justice.

“Students are the best people to start learning about this because when people start young, it’s easier when you’re just starting out to learn about ethical consumerism,” Riley said.

For more information about GROW, visit

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