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May 6, 2004

Global Ties - Couple Slate Day for Fair Trade


The Daytona News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida

NEW SMYRNA BEACH -  The hand-carved soapstone sculptures are made by Kennedy, a young Kenyan man whose picture lies on a shelf at Global Crafts on Flagler Ave.

Sculpted African busts, depicting members of Kenya's many tribes, stand nearby.  Global Crafts owner Renice Jones recalls meeting the art's creator as she and her husband, Kevin Ward, sat on a restaurant patio in Kisumu, Kenya

 Cloth dolls, handmade by a Kenyan teenage mothers group, are also for sale.

"They are a really good group," Jones said.  "we still work with them and hear from them often."

The art and crafts sold at the New Smyrna Beach store are not made by nameless workers in a faraway sweatshop.  Rather, Jones and Ward said they take great care to deal fairly and ethically with the individual craftspeople, many of whom they know personally and keep in contact with by e-mail.  They adhere to Fair Trade principles, which they say are popular in Europe.

Global Crafts will celebrate International World Fair Trade Day from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Flagler Avenue gazebo.  The Ngoma Thunder Drummers from Jacksonville will perform, along with the Babe James Center's Heritage African-American Dancers.

"Part of the role of being in Fair Trade is an education role and the event goes in with that," Ward said.  "We don't just want to use New Smyrna Beach as somewhere to ship from.  We want to have a presence here."

Many Fair Trade companies in the U.S. are nonprofits, but he said he and Jones were determined to make it their livelihoods after returning from Africa in 2002.

"Our whole point is if you can't prove you can do this as a business, it's pointless," he said.

"The couple, both of whom work full-time at the business, have been successful over the past two years, putting any profits back into growing their company, they said.  The are opening a second store in St. Augustine this month and in December, they opened a warehouse in Edgewater.  A lot of their business is done over the Internet, Ward said, and they export internationally.

The couple was inspired to start their own Fair Trade business, after returning from volunteer stints in Kenya.  At 40, Jones quit a good-paying computer job to join the Peace Corps.

While working as a computer instructor at a junior college in Kenya, she met Ward, who was in a similar role with Voluntary Services Overseas, a British organization similar to the Peace Corps.  Ward, then 35, left his job as a computer lecturer in London to work in Africa.  But the couple's teaching days were short-lived.

"They started rationing electricity, which made it very hard to teach computers," Jones said.

So the couple began doing other things, such as working with a teenage mothers' group.  The women, about half of whom are HIV-positive, mad crafts to earn money, Jones said.  That gave her and Ward the initial idea for their company.  In 2002, Jones arrived in New Smyrna Beach to live temporarily in her sister's condominium, while Ward bought African crafts to ship over.

"We sank our savings into buying crafts," she said.  "The container showed up a month after he did (from England.)"

The biggest expense is shipping the items, Ward said, which is why they concentrate on only a few countries.  The receive about two tons of shipments from Africa per month, about half of which comes from Kenya, he said.  They also directly import from Uganda, South Africa and Zimbabwe.  The hire African employees in each country to coordinate the shipments, but deal directly with the many artisans by e-mail.

"Quality is our big push -- and service," Jones said.  Ward agreed.

"You only get the quality when you're doing fair trade with craftspeople," he said.

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