Salem’s fair trade shop celebrates 20 years as a market for artisans around the world

Desta Sirrine, assistant manager at One Fair World on Northeast Court Street in Salem. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)

When Ann Niedereh and three other Salem women opened the fair trade shop now known as “One Fair World” in 2002, they didn’t exactly know what they were getting themselves into. 

None had prior experience in fair trade, retail or business, but all were bound by the same core principle – helping people in the most impoverished areas of the world be able to earn a decent living by providing a place to sell the products they make.

The first and only certified not-for-profit fair trade organization in Salem, One Fair World will celebrate its 20th anniversary Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at its shop at 474 Court St. N.E.

Those who attend can get discounts and prizes with purchases, listen to live music at the storefront, view a memory photo display of the shop’s early years and spend the afternoon with a llama. 

The organization sells items made in nearly 50 different countries. They include artisan-crafted home décor, candles, jewelry, musical instruments, greeting cards, baskets, coffee and chocolate.

Niedereh, president of One Fair World’s board of directors, said 75% of the artisans they work with are women in poverty. For many, she said, “their choices in life are: do I beg on the street or do I become a prostitute?”

Niedereh said providing a marketplace for the things they make allows them to meet their other needs, educate their children and improve their overall quality of life. One woman told the organization it’s the reason she’s able to eat more than once a day.

“We’re not doing charity, we are helping to build people’s independence in their societies,” she said.

To be considered fair trade, she said products must be made by people who are paid fairly, work in decent conditions, and would otherwise be impoverished. There also cannot be child labor, and the materials used have to be environmentally sound.

Bowls, baskets, incense, candles and other items for sale at One Fair World, made by artisans from impoverished areas around the world. (Ardeshir Tabrizian/Salem Reporter)

The idea came to co-founder and Salem resident Ellen Chambers when another local fair trade organization, the Self-Help Crafts shop in Dallas, closed after about 15 years. The shop was run by Mennonite missionaries, all volunteers who wanted to provide a marketplace for impoverished people.

Seeking to fill that gap, the founders of the Salem store had the same mission, though they are not tied to any particular church. “We’re a community organization,” Niedereh said. 

For its first nine years, the Salem shop operated under the name 10,000 Villages, a Pennsylvania-based organization that works with artisans around the world and identifies those who could most benefit from having a market in the U.S. for their products.

10,000 Villages was a helpful resource early on for the founders of the Salem shop in establishing a not-for-profit organization. “We were kind of naive about what we were getting into,” Niedereh said. 

“We didn’t know that we couldn’t do it, so we just did it. And all along we were always looking to see, ‘Is there enough support from the community for this kind of organization?’” she said. “Salem and the surrounding community have been wonderful supporters of the mission of this business.”

Since 2009, the shop has since worked independently as One Fair World but follows the same standards – it buys only fair trade-certified products, but buys from other importers in addition to 10,000 Villages.

“There are many organizations now that import fair trade products. That didn’t used to be the case 20 or 30 years ago,” Niedereh said. 

In addition to volunteers, One Fair World has one full-time employee, manager Kim Baldwin, and a part-time assistant manager and volunteer coordinator, Desta Sirrine, both of whom have been at the shop for over 10 years.

The keys to the organization’s longevity, Niedereh said, has been the dedication of staff and volunteers, stocking new products every month and broad support from the Salem community. “Without that, we’re nothing,” she said.

The shop has longtime regulars that come back time and time again.  “But every day, literally every day, there’s someone who comes in who has not been in the store before, maybe because they’re a visitor to Salem, or just that they haven’t shopped downtown,” she said.

The Tuesday event will be in conjunction with Salem’s Make Music Day, which has about 100 bands, orchestras, singers and musicians slated to perform at more than 30 locations around the city.

Caesar the No-Drama Llama, a therapy llama and fixture at Salem-area events, will be at One Fair World from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. during the celebration.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!