Plowsharing will once again be celebrating this Saturday with many other Fair Traders, including our artisan partners, the principles that unite us in this cause. Fair wages, protecting cultural identity, environmental stewardship, promoting transparency in our economic activities, and ensuring the rights of children are some, but not all, of the principles that guide us as an organization.
One of the things Plowsharing has done over the years is invite our customers to participate in the Fair Trade Quiz on this day. You are challenged to figure out the answers to four different questions about Fair Trade, and for your hard work and perseverance, we give you 25% off any one item that day. And I think describing it as hard work and perseverance is a bit of an overstatement, because we provide the answers in places around the store. So, come on folks, really?! This quiz was made to be taken advantage of.
But, in all seriousness and reality, and we do take our mission seriously, the work of Fair Trade stores like Plowsharing is important in the lives of thousands of artisans throughout the developing world, and we want you to celebrate with us.
So come on in this Saturday, do the quiz, learn a little, and come away with the knowledge that your purchase has made an impact on someone in a different part of the world. See you in the store!
Plowsharing is known for having great gifts, jewelry, and home décor, but have you ever checked out our cards? We have a large variety of greeting cards, good for almost any occasion. Each one is a beautiful, handmade piece of art that shows heartfelt appreciation for the people who receive them. Many of them have sweet or serious messages, but many of them are downright hilarious! So really, whatever message you are looking for, we have the perfect handmade card for you.
However, what really is amazing about the cards we carry is the story behind them. Most of our cards come from a vendor called Good Paper, and Good Paper works with women who have escaped sex trafficking in The Philippines, and young adults who have been orphaned by the conflicts in Rwanda.
Gelyn, a Good Paper card maker from The Philippines, originally moved to Manila in 1989 seeking a better life. Due to poor economic conditions, she was struggling to put food on the table. Eventually, Gelyn had no choice but to enter prostitution. When she began working for Good Paper in 2010, she was able to leave that life behind. She is now able to make a living wage, enabling her to feed herself and her children, put her children through school, and save for the future. She has found friends with similar stories among her fellow card makers and they care for each other and recover together.
In addition to artisans in The Philippines Good Paper also works with card makers in Rwanda who have been orphaned by disease or conflict. One such card maker, Yvette, was orphaned by the Rwandan Genocide. She and her two sisters were forced to drop out of school and search for work. They ate once a day, or not at all, and struggled to find clothing. Now that Yvette works for Good Paper she earns a living wage, which enables her to rent a house, eat a balanced diet, and make plans for her future. She dreams of one day starting her own sustainable business like Good Paper.
Good Paper cards are the perfect example of spreading love full circle, from their production to the moment you watch your loved one open their beautiful handmade card!
The process for starting Plowsharing actually began in 1984, 33 years ago, when a dedicated group of people from the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship began to gather together to talk about having a store in St. Louis. None of us had any experience in retail, or in running a business, or selling things. We were educators, medical professionals, accountants, editors, students, childcare workers, and professional volunteers. We were all Mennonites, people who traditionally are much better at giving than selling.
We were also united by the thought that this sounded like a pretty good idea, but decided to build in a “fail-safe” option should this turn out not so well. In order to raise funds we agreed upon the idea that we would raise enough operational money to last us 6 months. At the end of the six months, we could then decide whether we were doing well enough to continue on. If things seemed positive enough, we would go on. If the thing was a disaster, we would cut our minimal losses, close up shop, and look for something else to do.
So, we put together a proposed budget, with monthly expenses totaling around $1350. We multiplied that by 6 months, and came up with the imposing (at least for us) amount of $8000, which was the amount we agreed to raise before we opened our doors. And, away we went, trying to raise $8000.
We never did a lemonade stand, but some of our efforts seemed as low-key and simplistic as that (if that can be considered low-key and simplistic.) Pledges from our fellow Mennonites were key, and they ranged from $1/month to $50/month, pledges that were open-ended until we got the $8000. One-time gifts; a Roblee Foundation grant (if anyone from the Roblee Foundation reads this, thanks, 33 years later); and a number of small Fair Trade sales of some of the products that we incorporated into our first store. There are still a few folks who can recall buying things from us at a small office we had at the World Community Center, 438 N. Skinker, near the Loop.
And, finally, about 10 months after we agreed upon the amount, we had our $8000 in cash, ready to be used in running a store. Our search for a retail site took us several places, but we finally settled on a site on Manchester Road in Maplewood, one that was both affordable (the U. City Loop was a bit too much for us with the amount of money we had) and gave us some visibility from the street.
Needless to say, the rest is history, and 32 years later we are still going. Our Grand Opening Day, Saturday, June 15, 1985, was great! We were very excited by the response and the $900 in sales that we generated. (The real world hit us on Monday, June 17th, 1985, when sales were $40, $10 of which came from my wife.)
However, the true success of a Plowsharing is totally dependent on the number of artisans, craftspeople, and farmers, (and their families) that we have partnered with throughout those years. Their ability to make things and receive a fair wage for their handiwork, and our ability to market their creations and give customers a sense of how their purchase can positively affect the life of someone else is the true marker of success.
Come join us for our Anniversary Celebration Sale!
It's been 32 wonderful years of providing Fair Trade merchandise to St. Louis, so on June 15-17 come into any Plowsharing Crafts store and receive
25% Off Everything in the store*
Enjoy Fair Trade coffee and chocolate samples, and see what's new at Plowsharing Crafts!
It was 32 years ago that the first Plowsharing Crafts store was opened in Maplewood on Manchester, staffed entirely by volunteers, inspired by a vision of supporting artisans from around the world with sustainable work. Our University City store opened 2 years later in 1987, and we've been an institution in the Loop ever since.
We look forward to celebrating with you soon!
*discount cannot be combined with any other option. Food items are excluded.
Mother’s Day is such a special time, whether you are a mother, are married to a mother, or just have a mother, it’s so important to celebrate these vital women in our lives. As many of you know, 70% of the artisans who create our products here at Plowsharing are women. Many of them find their motivation in creating a better life for their children. This week an email came to us from Serrv, one of our biggest Fair Trade vendors, about one mother who helps to make some of the beautiful baskets we sell here at Plowsharing. This is her story:
“For more than 12 years, Morsheda has woven beautiful baskets with our partner, Dhaka Handicrafts. Before becoming a weaver, she and her husband earned a steady living as small-scale farmers in their village of Hapunia, Bangladesh. When a nearby river rose and flooded their home and property, they suddenly found themselves without a reliable source of income. Luckily, Morsheda secured work with Dhaka Handicrafts and her husband found seasonal employment in agricultural labor.
Over the years Morsheda has been able to save income through Dhaka Handicraft's artisan savings program. The family built a new hut with their initial savings. More recently, Morsheda dedicated her income towards sending her children to school, including her daughter Afroza (below). Afroza is currently studying at Sherpur Degree College and hopes to join the Bangladesh Army after she completes her college studies. Her success has inspired other young girls in their rural neighborhood to go to school.
Morsheda and her daughter, Afroza
"I appreciate what Dhaka Handicrafts has done for my mother. They trained her and helped earn a good amount of money each month. It is gratifying to realize that Dhaka Handicrafts help many destitute and extremely poor people secure a standard of living. Many girls like me are able to find their hope of life realized and open doors to self-reliance."
We were touched by Morsheda’s story and her dedication to putting her daughter through school so we wanted to share it with you.
In thinking about how Plowsharing can continue to serve mothers, both in our artisans and in our customers I am drawn to thinking about how mothers have served us over the years. Mothers aren’t just represented in our artisans but also in our staff, volunteers, and overwhelmingly in our customers. You would be amazed how many people we have who come in around Mother’s Day to find something for Mom because “this is her favorite store” or “whatever I get from here my Mom LOVES!” or “my mom loves your mission so much that she always tells me to come here to get gifts.” So don’t forget and get something for the mom in your life this mother’s day (even if that mom is you!)
One other thing we wanted to highlight is World Fair Trade day, this year on May13th! World fair trade day is the day when fair trade artisans, vendors, stores, and patrons celebrate Fair Trade’s contribution to the fight against exploitation and poverty. When you don’t spend as much time working with Fair Trade vendors as we do you may not see the impact as clearly as we do but your purchases with us really do make a difference in the lives of artisans in developing nations. Our artisan groups have freed women from the economic desperation forcing them into prostitution, offered artisans the opportunity to send their children to school, allowed artisans to build heath care clinics in their communities, and we could go on and on and on and on. Every year, Plowsharing holds a Fair Trade event at each of our stores and our Fair Trade event comes with a storewide discount. If you can answer a few Fair Trade questions (hints with be posted around the store) you’ll receive 20% off your entire purchase that day(5% per correctly answered question)!
We hope to see you soon!
This blog is a new endeavor for us. Over the next couple of months/years you will be hearing from our executive director, store managers, part-time staff, and maybe even some of our volunteers about what life with Plowsharing in it is like or has been like over the course of our organizational lifetime. We hope you enjoy out stories and come back every month for more!
To that end, let’s begin with some history! Some of you may know that Plowsharing was originally a mission of the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship and in fact we still have very close ties. Our Executive Director and the majority of our board come out of the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship (SLMF). Impressed with the work and mission of an organization called SelfHelp Crafts (now known as Ten Thousand Villages) SLMF decided to open a Fair Trade shop in the St. Louis area. A member of their congregation, Rich Howard-Willms stepped up and took leadership due to his familiarity with the St. Louis community, interest in the subject, and availability. That was in 1985 and he’s still our Executive Director 32 years later.
Just in case you aren’t familiar with the concept, Fair Trade, at its most basic, is a strategy for poverty alleviation. Fair Trade means that all of the artisans that produce the products we have on our shelves at Plowsharing get paid a living wage. Instead of paying the lowest possible salary, like many organizations do, our artisans set their own wages and with the help of our loyal customers we can pay our artisans enough so they can not only survive but thrive in their environment. In future blog posts, we hope to delve deeper into the process of Fair Trade and what it means to us but for now, back to our history.
Plowsharing Crafts first began in Maplewood at 6271 Manchester Road in 1985, where Great Harvest Bread Company is now, but we always had eyes for the Delmar Loop. If you’ve ever walked down the Loop it feels like the kind of place Plowsharing should be, with it’s wonderful restaurants and unique specialty shops, street musicians, amazing history, and consistent foot traffic (an important factor in planning for a retail store). After two years of looking a spot opened up in the Loop and we moved in 1987. The move to the Loop was everything that we had hoped and the business began to steadily grow. We are still there in the Loop 30 years later and it is still our most successful store.
Eventually it became clear that Fair Trade was a popular enough movement in St. Louis that we should open another store and in 2002 Plowsharing Crafts Kirkwood was born! While the we have had our ups and downs in the Kirkwood area it is still clear to us that this community is also firmly behind Fair Trade and Plowsharing Crafts after 15 years.
Not too long after opening the Kirkwood location we formed a relationship with Manchester United Methodist Church and began to have an annual Fair Trade Market there with the help of some amazing volunteers from that congregation. This event has grown so considerably that it is now considered to be the largest event of its kind in the United States! If you have never been to the Fair Trade Market it is a five day event in late November. We spend much of our fall preparing for this event, ordering items to the church to be priced in the weeks leading up to the market, filling up our stock rooms with items for the market, promoting the event, setting up the event, and working the event with the help of our wonderful volunteers. It’s always challenging and exciting and we all know what an impact we are having on the lives of the artisans represented there. While this is definitely the biggest event we participate in like this we also have a whole division devoted to off-site events. You can often find us at farmer’s markets and church events in the area with our Fair Trade items, especially around
Most recently, about five months ago we have opened a new store in West County at Town and Country Crossings, lovingly known to us as Plowsharing West! This comes on the heels of the closing of our Edwardsville, Illinois store, which we opened in 2013 but wasn’t sustainable in that market, when our lease came up we decided it was better to relocate. This beautiful new store is run by our lovely and talented, Patrice Estes, who used to run our Kirkwood store. The Kirkwood store is alive and well and run by our former Edwardsville store manager, Hope Gunderson. While it is too soon to tell what sales will look like in this new location, we have high hopes for the store and how it can best serve the West County community. Make sure you stop in if you get a chance!
That brings us up to present day! This week in particular we want to emphasize #fashionrevolution and their #whomademyclothes? movement. Fashion Revolution seeks to remember the events in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013 when over 1,000 people were killed and roughly 2,500 injured in the collapse of a clothing factory due to unsafe working conditions. We wish we could tell you that conditions like the ones that caused this
tragedy were uncommon in the developing world, where most of the clothes you find in traditional stores are made, but these conditions are very common. By taking a picture of clothing tags and posting on social media with #whomademyclothes? we hope to bring greater awareness to these conditions and promote the buying of Fair Trade alternatives like the ones we offer in our shops. One specific product that we are loving this week fits in well with this fashion revolution: this beautiful tie-dye vest from Unique Batik! Unique Batik works in Guatemala, Thailand, Chile, and Ghana to provide artisans with fair wages and safe working conditions! Make sure you ask the companies you shop with this week #whomademyclothes? and stop in to any of our locations to ask us about the clothes we offer and where they came from!
Come join us in celebrating World Fair Trade Day on Saturday May 20th!
Help spread awareness about Fair Trade practices, learn about some awesome Fair Trade products and artisans, and enjoy our annual Fair Trade Quiz!
Fair Trade is a tangible contribution to the fight against poverty, climate change and global economic crises. The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) believes that trade must benefit the most vulnerable and deliver sustainable livelihoods by developing opportunities especially for small and disadvantaged producers.
Fair Traders follow these 9 guidelines prescribed by the Fair Trade Federation:
- Create Opportunities for Economically and Socially Marginalized Producers - Placing the interests of producers and their communities as the primary concern.
- Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships - Relationships that are open, fair, consistent, and respectful.
- Build Capacity - Helping producers to build capacity through proactive communication, financial and technical assistance, market information, and dialogue.
- Promote Fair Trade - Raising awareness about Fair Trade and the possibility of greater justice in the global economic system.
- Pay Promptly and Fairly - Empowering producers to set prices within the framework of the true costs of labor time, materials, sustainable growth, and related factors.
- Support Safe and Empowering Working Conditions - Cultivating workplaces that empower people to participate in the decisions that affect them, and seeking to eliminate discrimination based on race, caste, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, political affiliation, age, marital, or health status.
- Ensure the Rights of Children - Respecting and supporting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as local laws and social norms. All children have the right to security, education, and play.
- Cultivate Environmental Stewardship - Encouraging environmentally sustainable practices throughout the entire trading chain.
- Respect Cultural Identity - Celebrating the cultural diversity of communities, while seeking to create positive and equitable change.
Learn more at
we wanted to say thank you for a fabulous Fair Trade rug event March 29th-April 2! It was a great success, and the lives of dozens of artisans were impacted.
We wanted to share this message of thanks from the Bunyaad Rug staff and volunteers
Dear Plowsharing Staff, Volunteers, and customers,
Thank you for your support of the Pakistani rug program! Your 2017 Rug event means so much for the artisans and their families. Through your efforts, the artisans knew that they have people who work to sell their rug, enabling them to create stability in their lives. The success of your event can be measured in the lives changed by Fair Trade, which sets a person's life on a course for success and stability. Fair Trade works because of you. Thank you for being a part of Bunyaad's fair trade journey!
Have you ever wanted an Oriental rug? Not just any rug, but one with the quality to last a lifetime and the fair trade labor standards you demand? Choose the rug of your dreams at our rug event:
March 29th-April 2nd, 2017 at our University City Store, 6271 Delmar
Thursday 10-9, Friday 10-6, Saturday 10-6, Sunday 12-5
For more information, come to the Loop on Thursday, March 29 at 7:00pm for From Loom to Living Room: the History and Stories behind Bunyaad Fair Trade Rugs. RSVP for this free event at 314-863-3723
These quality rugs are made by adults, using traditional hand knotted techniques, in Persian Bokhara, Kazak, Chobi, Gabbeh and more styes, in sizes from 2'x3' to 10'x14'.
Or how rugs are made: