Fair Trade is a system of directly sourcing products from developing regions and paying the people who create those products a fair price for them. Fair Trade status is regulated by organisations that have set specific criteria and follow up to make sure that participating producers and buyers meet their standards. The Fair Trade label provides concerned customers with a guarantee that the workers who produce the products they buy are not being exploited, and that they also have the opportunity to benefit from community-based programs supported by Fair Trade industries.
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Contact Fair Trade agencies such as Transfair and Global Exchange, and ask about their criteria for certifying Fair Trade products. Inquire about general standards for Fair Trade products as well as specific standards for the industries you intend to work with, such as textiles or woodworking. Obtain specific information about pricing requirements. Choose an organisation to use as a certification body as well as a resource for information and support.
Contact the U.S. Customs Agency about specific regulations for importing the type of goods you will be buying and selling. You probably will not need a special license to import arts and crafts, but it is a good idea to ask. Also ask about tariffs you will have to pay on goods you import, and figure this into your pricing strategy.
Decide how to structure your business--for example, as a corporation, a partnership, etc. Contact your state government to register your business, and get any licenses required by the state or local government. If you plan to have a retail store, locate appropriate space. If you plan to hire employees, register as an employer with the IRS and with your state's unemployment insurance and industrial insurance divisions.
Write a business plan. Describe the company you plan to create, including the types of products you will import and where you will be sourcing them. Detail your credentials for running a Fair Trade import business, including your familiarity with the crafts of a particular region. Include a marketing plan with details about how you will position and distribute your products. If you intend to open a shop, describe where it will be located and the clientele you intend to attract. Provide financial information about the capital resources you have available and how much product you need to sell in order to earn a profit. Use your business plan to apply for loans from your bank or from private investors interested in Fair Trade principles.
Choose a product line for your Fair Trade arts and crafts import business. If necessary, travel to the regions that interest you and consider items that appeal to you and that you believe will be able to sell. Visit public marketplaces and speak to vendors about whether they would be interested in wholesaling goods to your import business. Decide whether you will purchase from cooperatives and craftspeople who already have received their Fair Trade certification, or whether you will work with previously uncertified artisans and help them to obtain their certification.
Purchase prototypes, bring them back to the United States, and work with retailers to pick items or create designs. If you plan to wholesale Fair Trade products, procure initial orders from the retailers you will supply. If you will open your own store, buy enough product so your shelves will look full. Order enough product to maintain sufficient stock to fill future orders of about the same size as the initial orders, if you have sufficient space and capital.
Choose community development programs in the regions where you are sourcing your goods that directly benefit the craftspeople who produce them. Designate a share of the purchase price that you will donate to these organisations. Give at least the minimum that is required for Fair Trade certification and, if possible, give more.
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