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Making the world fairer


At first glance, the Fair World Gallery at 116 Fifth St. in West Des Moines doesn’t look much looks much like any other shop in Valley Junction. It has a soothing décor, and sells art, crafts, jewelry, furniture and even some food. Though some of the store’s products are beautiful, it is where they came from and how they were made that sets Fair World Gallery apart.

In October, friends Christine McNunn and Liz Salaba were having dinner and chatting. McNunn, a homemaker, wanted to start a business, but she wasn’t sure what kind. Salaba, an information technology worker for Principal Financial Group, had lots of ideas, but “not the will power to follow through.” Salaba had recently seen a program on public television about the fair trade movement, and suggested a store selling Fair Trade coffees and teas. The women looked into it, and ended up broadening their horizons to include ornately carved furniture, textiles, toiletries, paper, toys and foods like chocolate and cashews.

Fair trade, according to the International Fair Trade Association Web site at www.ifat.org, is a trading partnership that seeks greater equity in international trade. The program works to reduce poverty and create sustainable development. Among the requirements for participation in the program are fair wages, gender equity and healthy working conditions. Participating businesses have to disclose their finances to prove that the proper amount of revenue is reaching the workers’ paychecks. The gallery will recognize World Fair Trade Day May 8 by distributing information and samples at their shop.

“A lot of people never think how they could be shopping differently,” McNunn said. “You can’t buy everything fair trade, but there are some things you can. The organization encourages people to spend 5 percent of their disposable income on fair trade items. If people would do that, it would make such a difference in the world.”

Once Salaba and McNunn decided their shop would sell fair trade items, they began looking for a location. They considered malls, but decided they were too expensive. They considered the East Village, but decided it was “premature.”

“We knew we needed a lot of foot traffic, because we don’t have a lot of money for advertising,” Salaba said.

They also considered their potential clients and where they themselves liked to shop. Both said they enjoyed shopping in Valley Junction because of its easy parking and unique shops.

“It’s a destination,” McNunn said. “People bring visitors from out of town here.”

Salaba and McNunn held their grand opening celebration April 2, and have been busy ever since with events like Valley Junction’s Gallery Night, which they estimate brought 500 people through their door, several of whom returned the next day to make purchases.

Salaba, McNunn and their employees are only too happy to tell the stories of the products they sell. Choices soaps are made by Enterprising Kitchen, a program that helps abused women raise money and their self-esteem. The tapestries from Lesotho, Africa, are made by a women’s group that dealt with a changing economy (the area had been agricultural, but the river was being dammed) by getting a herd of goats and making textiles. The furniture from Indonesia is either carved out of salvaged wood or entombed wood, wood nearly petrified and long-buried by volcanic activity.

“It’s amazing how interested people are in individual objects,” McNunn said. “They want to give it to someone and say, ‘I bought it at this store, and this is who made it.’”

Fair World Gallery has a Web site at www.fairworldgallery.com, and the gallery will have a booth at the Valley Junction farmers market Thursday nights through September.

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