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November 28 will mark the 35th Thanksgiving I will have celebrated as a human being of the American persuasion. I’ll turn my kitchen into a warm pocket of mingling sweet and savory aromas, I’ll see delight in my little boys’ faces when I grace the table with a traditional meal. I love the practice of taking a special day to savor family and friends and to count our blessings.
Yet in the midst of my preparations, I am feeling a residual sense of urgency for the holiday to hurry up and get out of the way. There’s something important on the horizon, Darla, the advertisements tell me. Something you should not miss, Darla. Apparently, since I am an American, a trembling desire for this pending event should be hard-wired into my DNA.
BLACK FRIDAY looms like a malevolent cloud.
I was not always so blessed to work at Swahili. For a few years during college, I manned the photo department in my local Wal-Mart. I remember the frenetic nature of the day after Thanksgiving: strife amok, shoppers trampled, fistfights breaking out over cheap electronics, being admonished to push high-markup items—even with a discount those profits were still quite tasty to the corporation.
The crazed manner in which people filled their carts with sterile mass-produced objects, nicking names off their gifting lists with grim satisfaction, smudged the beauty of these two holidays. Black Friday seemed like a road with no scenery that zipped shoppers from Thanksgiving to Christmas, quickly, inexpensively and in my personal opinion, rather thoughtlessly.
I am very thankful to have joined the staff of Swahili a month after I moved from Missouri to Oregon 12 years ago. Something about the handmade items coming from Africa resonated deep within my spirit. Over a decade into this very non-traditional era of my life, I know quite well what that something is, and what it means not only to me, but also to the world at large.
Every Swahili product is imagined, crafted, quality checked, packaged and couriered by people. Every person who touches our items benefits from those items’ existence in the world, not only fiscally, but also deep in our psyches, in that place where we measure and guard our humanity.
The artisans who craft fair trade gifts earn equitable wages that provide for balanced diets, education for children and future stability for families and communities. To a growing sphere of shoppers, the implied net value of an item that begins its life bringing good to another human being is great. Add to that value the affirmation of human talent evident in the artistry of handcrafted gifts, and tack on the harmony promoted between our cultures, as well. When one takes time to measure the overall value of fair trade gifts to our basic humanity, mass-produced, factory-originated products bought and sold inexpensively begin to feel…well…cheap, and sadly impersonal.
After 18 years of diligent product development work in Africa, Swahili continues to see a growing demand for handcrafted African gifts, even though fair trade items will never be price-competitive with mass-produced items. We attribute this demand to a growing desire for a greater human net impact of dollars spent, as well as a departure from mindless gift gluttony.
Even a small item with great human net impact shows your recipient that you’ve given their value to you a lot more thought than a mad dash through a superstore on Black Friday might allow. You treasure your loved ones, you value the future of humanity and you put your dollars to work in a positive way. Not every gift can be fair trade, but when fair trade gifts are appropriate to your recipient, they are a highly beneficial choice.
Here at Swahili, we love Fair Tuesday. The goal of #FairTuesday is to inspire conscious consumerism and show how an everyday purchase can change lives in a whole community. #FairTuesday features fair trade, ethical, and eco-friendly brands all dedicated to creating positive, sustainable change. To learn more, visit www.fairtuesday.com.