The Fair Trade Federation’s 360° Fair Trade Conference and Expo is the largest fair trade conference in the United States. We were joined this year by approximately 250 attendees and speakers from 164 fair trade companies and organizations across the U.S. and Canada as well as from Mexico, Nicaragua, and the Netherlands. The 2017 Conference took place Wednesday, March 29 through Friday, March 31 at the historic Seelbach Hotel in Downtown Louisville, KY.
“I love seeing my old Fair Trade friends, meeting new ones, and finally putting a face to the voice I have only known previously through phone or email. The FTF Conference is where I come for renewal – to become inspired, committed, and reenergized for the work yet to be done!” -2017 Conference Attendee
The Conference opened with the invaluable perspective of Bob Chase, newly retired CEO of FTF founding member SERRV. His reflections on his lifelong career in fair trade and insights on how we can continue to build a more sustainable world inspired both new and seasoned attendees.
Colleen and Maggie Clines, CEO and Creative Director for Anchal Project respectively, and Kirsten Dickerson, Founder & CEO of Raven & Lily, also shared their guiding philosophies in design thinking and catering to new audiences. Their provocative reflections on the future of fair trade both challenged and encouraged attendees.
The Conference held 22 moderated sessions on a variety of topics for fair trade retailers, wholesalers, and partner organizations. Eleven open forum sessions also allowed participants to dive into topics of their choosing, including topics that emerged as the conference progressed.
Food & Farm
Highlights of the conference included the food and farm sessions. Speakers from Canaan Fair Trade, Ben & Jerry’s, and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps led a fascinating panel discussion on ethical sourcing and how regenerative agriculture embodies the fair trade principles. CoopCoffee and Heine Brothers’ Coffee showcased their Carbon, Climate, and Coffee Initiative, discussing climate justice innovations and sustainability collaborations throughout their supply chain. Additional panels and presentations featured speakers from the New Economy Coalition, World Fair Trade Organizations (WFTO), Small Producers Symbol, and Nicaraguan fair trade coffee cooperative, PRODECOOP.
The digital strategy sessions were both engaging and educational. The speakers from Power and GlobeIn as well as local blogger, the Kentucky Gent, provided substantial content and practical advice about expanding online presence, leaving attendees ready to implement ideas as soon as they walked out the doors. One session goer commented, “All the social media/digital content sessions were extremely useful, and I plan on rolling out some of the tips on how to successfully manage digital platforms.”
Attendees had the opportunity to meet with the Small Business Ombudsman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), who answered questions and presented on product safety with a focus on toys and textiles. In addition to product safety, participants heard from those in fair trade apparel – Mata Traders, Raven & Lily, and Passion Lilie – regarding sourcing, design, and adopting corporate best practices for fair trade business. One attendee mentioned, “Apparel is one of the newer categories and one of the faster-growing categories in my store, so this was a very relevant and timely discussion.”
Fair Trade Marketplace
FTF members are driving the expansion of fair trade in the digital marketplace. FTF member companies, Fair Trade Winds, Global Crafts, the Little Market, Global Gifts, Passion Lilie, and Zee Bee Market, discussed the challenges in e-commerce and offered recommendations and solutions for success. Other topics included off-site sales, inventory management, starting up a fair trade store, internship programs, marketing and sustainability with speakers from Ten Thousand Villages, Peace Coffee, Global Gifts, and Creative Retail Solutions.
The productive open forum sessions gave participants an opportunity to explore ideas not covered during the conference presentations and panels. As described by a participant, “It was really great to be able to chat/brainstorm with others and hear their experiences.” Topics chosen expanded on business strategy and ideas within the fair trade movement, such as e-commerce platforms, search engine optimization, visual merchandising, environmental sustainability, and diversity.
360° Fair Trade Expo
Attendees and visitors were able to view unique fair trade products from 55 fair trade companies and organizations at the annual FTF Expo.The two-day event was lively and valuable for many attendees, especially for those unable to attend major gift shows. “I loved matching a name (of a vendor) to a face and meeting new potential partners in fair trade. Every moment we all mingled and talked taught me just as much as the break out sessions did!”, said an expo visitor. A list of this year’s exhibitors can be found on the conference website here.
Conference goers were energized and inspired by the conference and expo activities over the 3 days. A first time conference attendee remarked, “Since this was our first year both as a member of FTF and at the conference, the highlight for me was meeting the incredible community of vendors, supporters of fair trade, and leaders in the industry. I really enjoyed the expo, because we were able to share our story with so many people who hadn’t heard of our organization before! I’m very excited to bring back all the knowledge gained from the sessions and other colleagues, which I know will help as we continue to improve our program.”
We would like to extend a thank you to the speakers, panelists, and exhibitors for making the 2017 Conference and Expo a success. We would also like to thank our dedicated sponsors: