Fair Trade Couch Surfing – Calypso Glass

CALYPSO-Kevin-Marcela-OscarCALYPSO necklacesMarcela, of Calypso Glass Chile visited us again this year, this time with her son Oscar who started his own business Green Glass Chile, glassware made of recycled bottles, after college. Her first visit was in 2010 when she had an all-day layover in Miami on the way to the Frankfurt Germany gift show.  She and another Chilean exhibitor rented a car drove the 4 hours to our Central Florida warehouse and back to make the flight, with a giant rolling suitcase in tow that she had to recheck for its final leg to Germany.

It was a little more convenient this trip as Marcela and Oscar were exhibiting both product lines at a gift show in Miami specifically for cruise ship buyers. They planned to drive up Friday when the show finished and spend the weekend at our home.  When Oscar texted around 5 o’clock Thursday evening that they had finished early, I replied that there was no need to drive at night and we’d see them Friday morning as planned.  Had I known…

When they arrived we began unraveling the nuances of what it can be like to be a fair trade artisan and exhibit at big-money trade shows. The only car available for them to rent was a commercial-style van, which Marcela said made them very happy as it would be easier to sleep in.  They had become committed advocates of worldwide “couch-surfing” but the only place they could find in Miami was a spot in a man’s yard to park the van and access to a bathroom and shower.

Couch surfing isn’t Air BnB where you can choose from anything from a shared room to a whole house to rent. Couch surfing is a community of people who literally let you stay on their couches for free while you offer the same.  It’s perfect for backpacking college students and cheaper than hostels. Oscar convinced his family to sign up and as a host had a Eastern European couple (and their dog) camped out for over a month in the living room of their home where five family members lived, including Marcela’s 12-year-old son, Samuel.  So while it’s not something I would ever consider at this stage in my life, for Marcela and Oscar, it was an affordable solution for accommodations when they attend trade shows.

CALYPSO FrankfurtCALYPSO Miami Trade ShowMarcela said she loves doing trade shows. When we first met her in 2010, she was very shy about speaking English but now both her English and her confidence have significantly improved, in part by exhibiting with her 25-year-old son.  A part of me envies the vagabond lifestyle of hanging out worldwide with young people you don’t know and staying in their homes.  And while I don’t have kids, I know that my friends with millenials would kill to spend this kind of quality time with them.  But then reality sinks in.  The fact is their livelihood depends on a young guy who has an apartment in Milan who is supposed to leave the key in the flower pot and that the place is secure enough that the products they brought in large suitcases don’t “go missing.”

Many fair trade producers are from countries, including Chile,  that provide various levels of assistance to attend shows, and there are organizations and consultants that help coordinate attendance.  As a member of the World Fair Trade Organization, Marcela also has access to services the WFTO offers its producer members with regards to trade shows and exhibitions. But so much of what we take for granted when traveling, like having petty cash for local transport and food, require creativity for fair trade artisans.  Some producers rely on selling the products from their booth, a process that is often not allowed and has to be done “under the table.” Unfortunately for Marcela and Oscar who had no cash at the start of one European craft show, it took them until the second day to see how others were making sales.  Marcela and Oscar have been learning as they go and each trip they become more adept at navigating the business-to-business landscape.

Marcela told us the details of their trade show experiences as if they were humorous stories you’d tell to over a glass of wine.  She and Oscar have accepted that to compete in the global market, they need to invest in professional booths and product packaging to catch the eyes of international buyers at the expense of creature comforts and reliable surroundings.  Oscar’s knowledge of social media and marketing has enabled them to have a unique visual presence in the incredibly crowded gift market.  I’m hoping that their enthusiasm will result in sustainable, profitable businesses and maybe in the future, a hotel room.

Global Crafts carries both Calypso Glass and Green Glass Chile products under the Tili Glass brand.  And if you’re wondering, Tili was a Picunche chief in the 15th century for whom, some historians say, Chile was named.  We liked it because it was short and pronounceable. 


Renice co-founded Global Crafts in 2002 with her husband Kevin Ward after settling in Florida after 3 years in Kenya as a Peace Corps volunteer. Creating a Fair Trade business that married her passion for artisan-made pieces and years of experience in IT finally enabled Renice to find her perfect career.

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