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!