VIDA introduces the fair way to shop

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A Freeland couple who has successfully run a fair trade wholesale business is now offering international gifts and home accessories to South End shoppers.

VIDA, Whidbey’s first fair trade retail store, opened

May 1 at 1715 B East Main St. in Freeland.

Kris and Michael Barker import high quality home furnishings and accessories from Central and South America. La Vida Verde has been around for 16 years, four on Whidbey. Once only a wholesale company with yearly sales to the public, the company is now open year round with a retail store in Freeland.

“A couple of times a year, we had a warehouse sale. We figured we are here anyway, we might as well,” Kris Barker said.

People familiar with the warehouse sale will be surprised with the broadened variety of products.

“Michael just got some incredible jewelry from Peru and Columbia; incredible silver,” Barker said.

But there are also pine lighting, cookware, furniture and ceramics. They also purchased some other arts and crafts from like-minded wholesalers to give the South Whidbey shoppers lots of variety.

“There are imports from Mexico and Germany, from all over the world, sort of world crafts,” she said.

The couple ventured into the fair trade business during a vacation in Costa Rica.

“We went on vacation and sat in some rocking chairs. We bought some and brought them back to the U.S. and sold them,” Barker recalled.

The chairs were a hit.

“We were both teachers and we said if we sell enough chairs, we can go back. So the original plan was to sell enough chairs to go to Costa Rica again,” she said.

Nowadays, the Barkers are invited to travel all over South America to buy for their business and sell products to such big name companies as Coldwater Creek. Now they cut out the middle man for South Enders to get the goods.

“We thought Whidbey could use some fair trade, too,” Barker said.

Buying at VIDA is for shoppers with a conscience. The money spent at VIDA directly affects artisans who created them. The products have not been made with unethical labor practices such as child labor.

Fair trade is an organized social movement and market-based approach to alleviate global poverty and promoting sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of a fair price as well as social and environmental standards in areas. It focuses particularly on exports from developing countries.

Fair trade’s strategic intent is to deliberately work with marginalized producers and workers in order to help them move from a position of vulnerability to security and economic self-sufficiency.

It also aims at empowering them to become stakeholders in their own organizations and actively play a wider role in the global arena to achieve greater equity in international trade.

Global fair trade sales have soared over the past decade. The increase has been particularly spectacular among fair trade labeled goods. In 2006, these sales amounted to approximately $2.3 billion worldwide, a 41 percent year-to-year increase and contributed to a better life for artisans around the world.

VIDA is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday or by appointment. Call 331-4078 for more information.

Michaela Marx Wheatley can be reached at 221-5300 or mmarxwheatley@southwhidbeyrecord.com.