Global Gifts Celebrates 25 Years of Fair Trade, Looks to the Future

On August 1, 1988, a small gift shop opened its doors in a strip mall off of Michigan Road in Indianapolis. A non-profit organization armed with a tiny staff and about 40 volunteers, its mission was singular: to provide hope and opportunity to artisans around the world through the sale of fair trade crafts. They called themselves “Global Gifts.”

This August, Global Gifts celebrates 25 years of business in central Indiana, a milestone that makes Global Gifts’ executive director, Sam Carpenter, reflect on the company’s past—and consider its future. “In 1988, fair trade wasn’t a well-known concept, but customers and volunteers embraced it,” says Carpenter. “Their support all this time has allowed us to expand our vision. We’ve come a long way in 25 years.”

Indeed, Global Gifts has grown considerably. That one small shop on Michigan Road is now three locations—two in Indianapolis and one in Bloomington—with annual revenue exceeding $1,250,000. Now, each year more than 300 volunteers donate approximately 13,000 hours to help customers, stock shelves, and man the registers. Over the years, shoppers have named Global Gifts one of Indianapolis’ best gift shops in NUVO’s annual Best of Indy poll.

But, according to Carpenter, they’re not done yet.

“We’ve had discussions about opening another store,” he says. “There is increasing demand for products that are made ethically—where workers received fair wages and had safe working conditions. That’s what fair trade is all about.”

Where would this new store be? Here Carpenter demurs. “We’re considering a few locations,” he says. “Stay tuned.”

In the meantime, the store is growing in other ways, building relationships with artisan groups (the stores currently carry products by artisans from more than 40 countries worldwide), and developing community relationships through shopping nights to benefit other local non-profits. They are also expanding efforts to educate the community about the importance of fair trade, holding talks at schools, churches, and other organizations throughout central Indiana.

“We want people to understand how their purchases can make a difference,” says Carpenter. “When you buy fair trade, it has a direct influence on an artisan’s life. Fair trade provides marginalized workers with the opportunity to earn a fair living, to get job training, access to healthcare, and more.”

And that, through all its growth and changes, is the simple message that has guided Global Gifts for 25 years, and will continue to guide it into the future.

Global Gifts will celebrate its anniversary on August 2 & 3 with a live music, craft activities and a bag sale, offering 25% off handcrafted items. 

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