The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

November 10, 2012

International Fair starts today in Austinburg Township

Shoppers can help improve working and living conditions for artisans, communities

AUSTINBURG TOWNSHIP — The tradition of an International Fair at the town hall is not quite as old as that of the Peruvian carved gourds sold there.

For the origins of the latter, you need to go back 4,000 years, says Vickie Lubin, manager of the One World Shop, which supplies much of the International Fair’s merchandise. The gourds, about the size of a child’s fist, are carved to look like the faces of whimsical creatures and embellished with a string for hanging from a Christmas tree.

As for the origins of the International Fair itself, Rita Linehan of Harpersfield Township says it goes back more than 20 years, when the Congregational Church sponsored the market of free-traded items. After a decade-long hiatus, the fair was revived in 1999 by her daughter, Molly, who saw first-hand how vital native crafts were to helping residents of Central America improve their lot in life.

The Linehan family turned over the fair to Zonta Club of Ashtabula Area several years ago. Annette Paul, chairwoman for this year’s event, said the local club hosts and promotes the fair as a service project. The only money they make from the event, from selling refreshments, goes toward the advertising bill.

The fair features items from the One World Shop in Rocky River. The shop is a non-profit store that is committed to fair trade practices. By purchasing the handmade items at a fair trade price, shoppers help improve the working and living conditions for artisans and their communities.

Doug Baird, volunteer with One World Shop, said the artisans are paid up front when the order is placed, so they do not have to put out their own capital and make goods on speculation. Because the items are handmade, no two are exactly alike.

More than 35 developing countries are represented at the One World Shop, and about 30 at the International Fair. Recycling abounds.

For example, artisans in India make picture frames from discarded bicycle chains. They also weld bolts, nuts and chain links to create dragons and other “guy” art.

Women will find the scarves made from the discarded saris of Indian women of special interest because of the accessory’s unique patterns and history. The cotton sari is the traditional dress of Indian women. Buyers purchase the second-hand saris from women in the Kolkata area of India at a fair rate. The material is hand sewn into scarves.

Nature lovers will find the wool birdhouses made by artisans in Kathmandu, Nepal, a fascinating and colorful way to attract birds. The felt birdhouses are made in a clean, safe production center that meets globally socially compliant workplace standards. Lubin said the bird houses, although made of wool felt, are very durable and naturally resistant to moisture.

Although the products sold at the International Fair don’t involve integrated circuits and LCD screens, there are plenty of goodies for the techno-savvy shopper. Tablet covers made from recycled materials, including rubber, and messenger/laptop bags made from mosquito netting, are offered at this year’s fair.

One of the companies that makes these products is Five Accessories, which employs more than 70 persons in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The majority of the workers are young mothers who are encouraged to bring the children to work and the company-provided daycare. Workers use their wages to purchase homes and education. At least 40 artisans have been able to purchase sewing machines for their trade as a result of the outsourcing work they do for the company.

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