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Cheap & Fair Gifts for Milwaukee Shoppers

Presenting new ideas for the holidays

Dec. 9, 2009
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The holiday season and the coming of a new year inspire many of us to inventory past actions, meditate on the meaning within our lives and commit to improving the future. To peruse the past year’s headlines—Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, massive product recalls, record CEO bonuses—is to witness the fallout when the prime motivation is profit at the expense of others. While free trade has its advantages, it also creates a context that rewards overly competitive, exploitative and impersonal buying and selling practices. This sort of soulless profit-driven economy is a breeding ground for social, fiscal and environmental injustice, which clashes with the spirit of the season.

This holiday season the Shepherd Express has put together gift ideas that are both inexpensive and made in accordance with fair trade standards. While opinions differ on the definition, fair trade labeling organizations usually refer to the concept as a trading partnership using dialogue, transparency and respect to ensure greater integrity and fairness in international trade, which alleviates poverty and fosters sustainable growth. In order to be certified as fair trade, members of these organizations must comply with a set of standards.

Some of the main principles include:

  • Producers work in a safe and healthy environment without exploitation or forced child labor
  • Producers are paid a fair, agreed-upon price for their goods, incorporating the principle of equal pay for equal work by women and men
  • Producers maintain sustainable environmental practices
  • Transparency and accountability among trading partners

But being fair costs more, right? Not necessarily. Take a pair of brand-name basketball shoes. Even though they’re made for $7 using cheap overseas labor, they still cost the consumer $145. That’s a markup of nearly 2,000%. The average markup price for a fair trade product is only 100% because it passes through fewer hands.

In 2007, Mayor Tom Barrett proclaimed Milwaukee a “Fair Trade City,” one of only four in the nation. Being the conscientious and progressive community that we are, there are several locally owned retail stores in Milwaukee offering a wide variety of fairly traded, inexpensive goods.

Alterra Coffee


Multiple locations


Hours: Mon. – Fri. 6:30 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sat. – Sun. 7 a.m. - 10 p.m. (Hours may vary by location.)

Alterra sells a fair trade sampler that includes four half-pound resealable bags of coffee (holiday blend, Mexico Kulaktik, Nicaragua Don Zeledon and dark Sumatra), all of which are organic/fair trade, for $22.95. If that’s too spendy, you can pick up a 1-pound bag of fair trade French roast or breakfast blend, or a canister of organic/fair trade tea, for less than $10. Still too much? You can buy teeny-weeny Omanhene chocolate bars at the register for less than $1. Heed the Japanese: It doesn’t matter how small or inexpensive the gift is as long as you wrap it really well.

Fair Trade for All


5201 W. North Ave.


Hours: Tue. – Sat. 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

8730 W. North Ave.


Hours: Mon. – Sat. 10 a.m. - 7 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Allen Christian and Gail Bennett, Fair Trade for All sells an astounding variety of goods, displayed in a well-spaced, organized arrangement. They offer a nice selection of children’s gifts (stuffed animals, puppets, clothing, books, wood toys) that are safe, because when producers receive a fair price for their product, they don’t resort to cost-cutting practices that sacrifice quality and consumer safety. For the grown-ups, opt for tea tree soap or natural shower and bath oils. If paper is all you can afford, Fair Trade for All has notebooks, journals and cards.

Four Corners of the World


5401 W. Vliet St.


Hours: Mon. – Fri. noon - 7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sun. 1 - 5 p.m.

Tucked in a quaint neighborhood just south of Washington Park, Four Corners of the World is a small shop filled with unique, handmade holiday decorations and seasonal merchandise by artisans from all over the world. A newly arrived selection of wool and alpaca gloves, hats and scarves from Ecuador and Bolivia make for useful yet inexpensive gifts. You can also pick up Putumayo CDs of world music or small metal containers from Nepal that can hold some of your loved ones’ favorite things.

Future Green


2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.


Hours: Open daily 11 a.m. - 8 p.m., Christmas Eve 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Holiday Open House: Dec. 12 noon - 8 p.m.

The gift of food is usually a good one, and it typically fits within a tight budget. Buy a handmade basket and fill it with an assortment of treats, such as a bag of bean soup by Women's Bean Project ($6.95) or a jug of hand-harvested maple syrup ($6.95) and wild rice pancake mix ($8.50) from the White Earth Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota. For your eco-minded friends, 20% of the proceeds from the sale of cute handcrafted turtles ($6.95) go to the Sea Turtle Preservation Society.

Plowshare Gift Shop


219 W. Main St., Waukesha


Hours: Mon. noon - 6 p.m., Tue. – Fri. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Every item in this nonprofit international fair trade store in Waukesha’s historic district is handcrafted by artisans in more than 30 developing nations of Asia, Africa and the Americas. Whether it’s a colorful mobile made of wooden birds or furniture for the home, each piece is made from natural materials, reflecting the country in which it was made.

Sweeney Todd Fair Trade World Bazaar


2999 S. Delaware Ave.


Hours: Tue. – Fri. 11 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.

The Sweeney Todd Salon in Bay View has taken up the fair trade banner by expanding its inventory to include a host of reasonably priced jewelry, such as stylish bracelets for less than $15 made from materials like recycled glass, brass beads and expertly carved bone and wood. Or go for a colorful hand-embroidered and -beaded coin purse or a belt pouch made from recycled rice bags, both for less than $20.

Third World Handcrafts Shoppe


5229 W. Capitol Drive


Hours: Tue. – Wed., Fri. – Sat. 9:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.

As a mission project of Capitol Drive Lutheran Church to support Christian workers in other countries, Third World Handcrafts Shoppe has a small but stocked room of fairly traded merchandise that varies from the religious (wooden Nativity sets and baptismal napkins hand-embroidered in India) to the secular (hand-carved walking sticks and musical instruments).

Trails to Bridges


139 E. Capitol Drive, Hartland


Hours: Mon. – Wed. 10 a.m. - 7 p.m., Thu. – Fri. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sun. noon - 4 p.m.

Trails to Bridges not only operates its own gallery in downtown Hartland, but also collaborates with area businesses, including Sweeney Todd Fair Trade World Bazaar in Milwaukee, as a wholesaler of fair trade items. It has an enormous selection of handmade goods that traverse the globe, from 100% natural cotton baby clothes to candles handmade from the pods of Brazil nut trees in Peru's Amazon rainforest.


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