Interview: Chris Solt

Chris Solt is the Executive Director of The Fair Trade Federation and he took some time to talk with us!


How did you get involved in Fair Trade?

After I finished my Social Science degree at Cleveland State, and while I was looking for research positions, I took a part time job at a Ten Thousand Villages store which was located near downtown Cleveland. I had worked for Borders in the 1990’s, and knew retail well, but swore I’d never do it again. Once I learned about fair trade, I was shown a path that utilized my experience, skills and for a mission that aligned with my values as a human on the planet Earth. Essentially, I drank the kool aid and never looked back. Ten months later, I was recruited by the Ten Thousand Villages home office as the Regional Sales Manager for the Northeast of the US.

What do you like best about your job as the Director of the Fair Trade Federation?

I really feel blessed to not only meet and learn from, but to establish relationships with the most amazing people, doing extraordinarily valuable and complex work, against seemingly insurmountable odds. Changing the world may sound like a cliché to some, but in the FTF community it is real. Changing the world is a vocation with real outcomes and impact that connects us all, no matter where on the Earth we are.

What do retailers like most about being members of the Fair Trade Federation?

Being part of community with like-minded retailers, and having a formal connection to the fair trade movement. Both of these help develop one’s business, and provide legitimacy in a marketplace full of false claims and misleading marking jargon. To be an FTF retailer is a deep commitment, not only to fair trade principles and values, but a commitment to your customers that ensures that everything sold does not come at the cost of someone else’s dignity, health, or environment.
“As a fair trade retailer I would not have the confidence to tell my customers that the artisans that make the products we sell are paid a fair wage if not for the Fair Trade Federation’s arduous screening process.”
~ Martha Ehlman, Tenfold Fair Trade Collection
“It is a wonderful community of people and when I consider the collective impact we have it is inspiring.”
~ Sam Carpenter, Global Gifts

In what other ways to retailers benefit with a FTF membership?

There are many, and some are valued more by others, depending on their level of experience, skills, and business development. Some benefits include our mentor programs (both individual and small group) where best practices, tips & tricks, vendor/product recommendations, are shared, as well as real store/business problems and challenges are crowd sourced and solved. We also facilitate in-person retailer education events at our conference and trade shows, and even held a three-day-long retailer retreat last fall. We also publish a Stores and Cafés Guide, which drives traffic to our member stores and cafés. But more importantly, I’ll let a few of our members answer this question:
“I would encourage members to attend FTF events whenever possible. Our store has benefited greatly from the sharing of ideas and best practices at FTF events.”
~ Robert Hazen, One World Goods
“I started my business a little over two years ago with no retail experience, and no resources other than a passion for doing something good. I became a member of FTF six months after my store opened, and the changes I have seen in my business and myself have been night and day. Not only do I manage my business with much more strategic and sound practices thanks to what I have learned from FTF, I also see where I fit within the Fair Trade movement as a whole.”
~ Lindsey Woodruff, Pachamama Market
“Becoming a member of the Fair Trade Federation was the single best decision we made for our business last year. We’ve found so much value in having a supportive community of ethical business owners, access to thought-leaders in the field, and our customer base has easily tripled. We haven’t been to the conference yet, but we’re sure it will exceed all expectations, too!”
~ Joy McBrien, Fair Anita

Why is it important to have an organized Fair Trade movement?

Because no one owns the term “fair trade” it is incredibly important for those who express their values in the marketplace, whether as a retailer, wholesaler, customer, or advocate, that they take responsibility for being a fair trader (in particular) by being formally part of an organization that connects transparency, authenticity, and legitimacy to the words used to describe their values. Otherwise the term “fair trade” is just that. Words.
“Ganesh Himal Trading has always considered itself to be a business that plants seeds and nurtures them, as they need, to grow in the manner that makes them strong and independent. We are not focused on “growth” per se, instead we are focused on being keenly aware of how together we and our partners are thriving. The FTF allows us to connect with both our producer partners and our retail partners to strengthen this awareness and the relationships that have been nurtured through all of our time with FTF have truly allowed us to thrive together. Thanks for what you do!”
~ Denise Attwood, Ganesh Himal Trading LLC

Join Chris Solt, Executive Director of The Fair Trade Federation, for a live Q & A
about Fair Trade retailers & the larger Fair Trade movement in our Retail Support Group on Facebook @ 2 pm – 3 pm EST. Join the event here.