Growing Roots in Alaska
GrassRoots Fair Trade Store
Jill Dean, Owner
When Jill Dean opened the doors of her gift shop in Anchorage, Alaska, five years ago, it was the only fair trade shop in in a community of 300,000 people. That hasn’t changed: Grassroots, A Fair Trade Store, is still the only fair trade store in town. What has changed over the years is that the selection of fair trade merchandise has improved and Dean is convinced that has helped the fair trade movement.
Grassroots only carries fair trade items and while it’s part of Dean’s full store name, she doesn’t assume anyone entering her shop knows what fair trade means or they’re shopping there because she carries fair trade merchandise.
“When I am considering what to bring in the store, I look for unique, handmade and cool products that happen to be fair trade,” says Dean. “I want our products to stand on their own and show fair trade in a good light.”
Dean admits Anchorage is a unique place and the message of fair trade doesn’t always resonate with some residents. “The Tea Party is huge here in Anchorage,” she says. “Some ask us why we don’t carry only made in America and while some people may think of it as competition, we use the opportunity to have a thoughtful conversation about what fair trade is and how it’s not about taking American jobs away.”
Dean doesn’t shy away from controversy. She was a lawyer for 27 years before deciding Anchorage needed a fair trade store and she would be the one to open it. “I was always involved in social justice and after researching and learning more about fair trade, and considering different ways I could get involved, opening the store felt like it was the best decision for me.”
She is proud to carry a range of fair trade products including jewelry, women’s accessories, apparel, home décor and bath and beauty.
Since she’s adamant about making sure fair trade items are made of the highest quality, if a product is not up to par, she lets the wholesalers know. “I hold my wholesalers accountable, just like any retailer would and should,” Dean says. “We also provide feedback. We used to receive these beautiful capiz bowls from Indonesia and so many would break by the time they arrived to us. We asked them to change their shipping methods and it’s helped.”
Marketing the fair trade message doesn’t come easy to Dean but social media helps. “How do you share what fair trade is in a sound bite?” she asks. She’s found success in television advertising during October through November and while it wasn’t inexpensive to produce and air, she feels it’s a great way to get promote her brand.
She encourages retailers that don’t carry fair trade to introduce it to their merchandising mix because customers are seeking it out more than ever these days. “There is incredible selection of fair trade items available now,” she says. “It does take time to find so you may have to be a bit patient. Look at smaller, emerging organizations, learn their stories and then share them with your customers. Those stories help your customers feel more involved in their buying decision.”