Stories that open Hearts: An Interview with Sandy Ramsay, co-founder of Artisans' World Marketplace
Nestled on a small street in downtown Sarasota, Florida sits a non-profit fair trade shop housing 3 decades of stories, free hugs, and a worldwide selection of handmade gifts. Hatched and nurtured by Sandy and Doug Ramsey, Artisans’ World Marketplace is not only here to help artisans and families through fair trade, but to teach the Sarasota community that we can make a difference for people in need in such a simple way: shop fair trade.
If there’s one thing I love, aside from coffee and writing, it’s shopping. However, upon visiting Artisans' World Marketplace, I wasn’t given the typical retail rundown. Instead, the spunky store co-founder welcomed me with a Cheshire grin and a tour around the floor, sharing several stories about the elegant shirts from India and the adorable little purses dangling from her walls.
Before I could ask any of my intended questions, I found myself submerged in a much-needed lecture about fair trade and quickly realized how imperative it is to share our artisans’ stories in every store. It’s not just about showing people why fair trade is so necessary--it’s about sharing the love and respect we have for people all over the world
Sandy then brought up a very good point. She motioned towards the giant map behind her register and explained that she gives so much love to people from all of the countries pinned on the poster--so she makes it her mission to give all of her guests the same level of care and respect.
During my visit, I was able to get the scoop from Sandy about what it takes to run a fair trade shop, her experiences, and how to keep fair trade alive.
Lucuma Designs: How did you find yourself in the fair trade world?
Sandy:Well, I walked by this store one day and they had these incredible baskets--and they were cheap. That’s before I became a fair trader (and you’re not allowed to say cheap). But I said, “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” And I’m a basket person--not a basketcase, a basket person. I like baskets. So, I went in and the lady told me about fair trade, and I said: “Wow, that’s the greatest thing since sliced bread!” You know, you’d see all the starvation in the world on the nightly news and you’d be thinking, “What can I do?” And I found out I could have a direct impact on life around the world just with how I shop
LD: What was the first thing you started carrying in your shop?
Sandy: Oh goodness! I don’t know. (Laughs) When I volunteered and worked at Serrv, this fair trade store, I’d always make sure that people knew we were this different kind of gift shop. One day, this man came in with his mother and he goes to her, “Mother, look at this. Isn’t the quality good?” And so, I came out and said, “Have you shopped in our store before?” And he said “No.” So I proceeded to tell him all about fair trade and how it worked, and he stood there and listened patiently and when I was done, he extended his hand and said, “I am Bob Chase the director of Serrv.” And I was like “Ah--you know more about fair trade than I do!” So, we became friends and when that store closed, he contacted me and said, “Sandy, how can we keep fair trade alive in Sarasota?” And my background is an executive secretary, so I don’t have a retail background. I just know what I like. So basically, when we started, we carried a lot of their things. It was a combination of things. And then as the years have gone on, whenever somebody joins the Fair Trade Federation, I look at their site and look at the things they carry and see if it can go in my store.
LD: Do you think our community has become more aware of fair trade since you’ve started?
Sandy: I know the people in my store have and that’s why they come and bring their families into the store. They want to hear the stories about the artisans. You tell the stories and what fair trade does and what it means to the artisan. Without that, we’re just another store with great pieces and great prices. So, we are good at telling the story. I think that’s my gift... But I think it’s important to share the stories.
LD: So, do you think it’s helpful when companies send you info on the artisans?
Sandy: I do. I put my own tags on because what I had learned in the store, was that people would buy a product from, for example, Ten Thousand Villages when it was Self-Help Crafts. And so, when people would go, “Oh I love that store.” And then they'd look at the tag on the product and they couldn't find Self-Help Crafts. So, I remove tags and put Artisans World Marketplace on them because--not that I'm embarrassed or ashamed of any organization I work with--I want them to come back to me. I want them to be able to find me so they can come back.
LD: How receptive are a lot of your customers when you actually get to tell them stories?
Sandy: Some don't give a flip. You know, I thought that everybody that walked in the front door would be converted to fair trade... I've been accused of ripping people's hearts out but I'm like, “Oh I don't do that.” I just tell them the truth and I think people are moved by that.
LD: Can you give me an example, or do you know of an example of how fair trade has helped a particular family or group of people?
Sandy: Well, we carried beeswax candles from a lady’s group in Durham, North Carolina that was started by a fair trade store. It enabled five women to remain totally free of welfare aid for five years. And then we used to have Arts Day in Sarasota where all the artists performed downtown. We brought three of the women in and they rolled candles in the driveway, so people actually got to meet them and hear their stories. That's one example of women who were able to get off welfare. Unfortunately, that group started on a tight shoestring and eventually the shoestring gave out. But there are other organizations that work with women in Asia. They do jewelry. And these women have been rescued from human trafficking. There's story after story after story that we share in the store.
LD: Yeah for sure. What do you think brings customers back?
Sandy: I think when I go into a store, I like to be able to look and spend my time... We try to do what I like in a store because I don't have a retail background. We acknowledge the person when they come in, they walk around. I let them walk around for a little bit and then I tell them what we're about. But we don't call them customers. We call them guests. What I think is really great is when we have a number of people in the store, somebody is really excited about the store somebody new comes in and they tell the new person what we're about. We get that a lot in our store. I like that when I tell somebody they're hearing me and they in turn then tell somebody else. There's sad stories behind everything that we carry in this store, but we want people to leave with a positive story and knowing that they can make a difference. So, I think that's the difference.
LD: We've talked about a lot of guests that come in and out do some people have kind of different feelings about fair trade when they leave? Are some of them more receptive to it?
Sandy: You have to give people hope that they can do something—not just that there's this big problem out here overseas and you can't make a dent in it. I think you can—you have to think you can. Just have your shot.
For more about Artisans’ World Market, visit their www.artisansworldmarketplace.com.
And if you’re in town, swing by 128 S. Pineapple Ave. Sarasota, FL. 34236 for a story or two!
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