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: