World Fair Trade Day this year is doubly a cause for celebration for one Saratoga Springs business, Mango Tree Imports — it deals only in Fair Trade goods, and May 2016 marks its 10th anniversary.
So owners Chris and Kim Andersen say they’re going a bit beyond the normal celebration Saturday. It’s a milestone on a path toward something they believe in, and they’ve seen a lot of progress in public support of Fair Trade in the decade Mango Tree has been open — an understanding by shoppers that “they can effect change by what they buy and how.”
“Fair Trade” designation indicates that an item was produced in a way that respects people and the community, and uses economic, environmental and social standards to determine this. In plainer language, the idea is to prevent exploitation of peasants and destruction of their land in a drive to get products to Western consumers at lower cost.
Mango Tree sells crafted items almost entirely, rather than food. In some cases, the Andersens have a direct connection to the people who made the items Mango Tree sells — she was an English teacher in Paraguay, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana, and they’ve been able to bring in Paraguayan jewelry and Botswanan baskets through personal contacts.
Kim Andersen said having firsthand experience with the people at the bottom of the supply chain makes her even more committed to Fair Trade and its benefits.
“I think when you’ve traveled or when you’ve lived abroad and start to understand somebody else, . . . it can only be a good thing,” she said. “We’ve met quite a few of the artisans.”
She added: “And [Fair Trade] does have an impact, just like it has an impact negatively when we get everything cheap from a sweatshop.”
With one exception — McGillycuddy’s soap, from Sharon Springs — the inventory at Mango Tree comes from abroad.
“Everything that we carry is from the developing world,” Andersen said.
About 50 nations are represented on the shelves at any given time. On Monday, Andersen got a big shipment of silver jewelry from Paraguay, which she was excited about given its close timing to World Fair Trade Day.
Jewelry and home decorations are the most popular items at Mango Tree. One of the most unusual would have to be paper made from elephant dung, a Sri Lankan product.
The Andersens, both public school teachers at the time, started Mango Tree in May 2006 on Route 50 in Ballston, then moved it into Ballston Spa in 2010. In 2014, they moved it to the Saratoga Marketplace.
This was a gamble that they’d be able to retain the customer base they’d built in the first eight years and add new customers in Saratoga, a shopping destination. They took it in hopes of spreading their message.
“If we are selling more products and sharing information about Fair Trade in a new community, that creates more work for the artisans and farmers,” Andersen explained.
The Andersens also run two language schools — Capital Region Language Center for English-speakers who want to learn other languages and Empire State English for those who want to learn English — in Saratoga Springs and Colonie.
With the demands of running a store and two language schools, Kim Andersen left her teaching post in Ballston Spa. Chris Andersen remains a Shenendehowa science teacher. They live in Ballston with their children, Delaney and Caleb, who attend Ballston Spa High School.