Fair trade store in Everett sells hope and dignity

Walk into Leo Carpenter’s new shop, you’ll see necklaces and handbags, baskets and wool hats, coffee and chocolates. And you’ll likely hear compelling reasons to buy, far beyond Black Friday bargains.

“They get the speech when they ask what fair trade is all about,” Carpenter said Wednesday. “It means no slave labor, no child labor, decent wages and environmentally sustainable.”

Carpenter picked out a pretty sequined bag from a rack in Ethical Choices, his shop at 2612 Colby Ave. in downtown Everett.

“These are made from recycled saris. They’re not in landfills,” said Carpenter, who owns Ethical Choices with his wife, Laurie. “If I can sell 20 of these purses, then I get to order 20 more — and people get to make them.”

Since last month’s opening of Ethical Choices, where the display window reads “A Fair Trade &Freedom Store,” Carpenter, 59, of Lake Stevens, said customers have come in wanting to know more about fair trade.

He’s happy to share information, along with his beliefs about helping people a world away. Most of his products were crafted by far-flung artisans, in India, Nepal, Thailand, Uganda and Kenya.

“No one wants to dress themselves in something, or eat something that adds to the misery of another person. This is really where my heart is,” Carpenter said.

He hopes people avoiding Black Friday crowds will stop by Ethical Choices, along with shoppers wanting to support local stores the next day, designated as Small Business Saturday.

Today, Carpenter isn’t the earliest riser. “The joke is, I’ve told everybody that in honor of Black Friday I’d open at 9:55 a.m. instead of 10,” he said. The shop is open six days a week, and closed Sundays.

Carpenter said many people are informed about fair-trade issues, but he offers fliers explaining what it means for products to be Fair Trade Certified and answering other questions.

Agricultural goods can be labeled Fair Trade Certified, meaning a price is set by an international fair-trade group and certified by the nonprofit Fair Trade USA. Pricing attempts to cover a living wage and production costs. Companies offering crafts or clothes can join the Fair Trade Federation, which works to see that artisans get fair pay for their locales.

Snohomish County has other stores selling fair-trade items, including the Sno-Isle Foods Co-Op in Everett, the Fabric of Life Foundation and Boutique in Edmonds, and Stanwood’s Yesterday, Today &Tomorrow.

For Carpenter, it all comes down to hope and dignity for individuals, especially women.

He is regional director for Not For Sale, a California-based nonprofit group with an aim of ending human trafficking. The group targets sex trafficking, child prostitution and indentured servitude.

Earlier this year, Carpenter headed up a Free2Walk event in Marysville, drawing attention to what he sees as modern-day slavery.

“In some Third World countries, you at birth would have been considered a savings bond, to be cashed in at maturity. Girls are sold at 7 or 8,” he said.

His store sells handcrafted note cards made by “stateless” women and children in Thailand, where problems getting proof of citizenship in some regions contribute to human trafficking.

A member of LifePoint Church in Lake Stevens, a Free Methodist congregation, Carpenter sees the store as an extension of his faith. “Free Methodists were the first abolitionists,” he said. Retired from the flooring business, Carpenter said Ethical Choices is “part of God’s plan for my life.”

Looking out at Colby Avenue, the 1971 graduate of Cascade High School said “I used to race my GTO up and down this street.”

“What drives this store, you can’t just go save people, dust them off and say ‘You’re free.’ People need sustainable futures,” he said.

That’s why he sells scarves, hats, gloves, necklaces, bags and Christmas ornaments with labels such as Global Girlfriend, Ganesh Himal Trading, Divine Chocolate, Looming Ladies, and Seattle Gourmet Coffee’s Ethical Choices Freedom Blend, made just for the shop.

“What you do affects the whole dynamic of how this world turns,” Carpenter said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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