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Humankind Fair Trade in SLO celebrates 10 years of giving back globally 

HumanKind Fair Trade's storefront in downtown SLO stands out from the rest with its ever-changing window display. Currently, it holds a large, colorful No. 10 and a tree—both handmade. The number signifies 10 years of making a difference as a storefront and nonprofit.

The shop is also unique in its efforts to work with developing and disadvantaged communities globally by selling goods created by artisans in their respective countries.

click to enlarge HELPING HANDS Lauren Mullen (left) and Elizabeth Aebischer (right) are two of a handful of volunteer board members who run HumanKind. - PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA
  • Photo By Karen Garcia
  • HELPING HANDS Lauren Mullen (left) and Elizabeth Aebischer (right) are two of a handful of volunteer board members who run HumanKind.

HumanKind came about from an experience that Elizabeth Aebischer had when she was participating in organizing an alternative holiday gift market at her church, the First Presbyterian Church in San Luis Obispo.

"We would sell $1,000 worth of product in two hours. And somebody said, 'We need to make this a brick-and-mortar store,'" Aebischer said.

In 2007, she gathered some friends with the same desire to be a part of the fair trade effort and formed a nonprofit corporation. Their goal was to open a brick-and-mortar in the downtown area. After a fundraising campaign and donations, the shop opened in 2009.

"I think when we first opened the store, there probably weren't as many people that came through our doors that were aware of fair trade. We spent more time educating people on what that meant," said Lauren Mullen, president of the store's board of directors.

Now that the community understands what fair trade is, Mullen said, shoppers are interested in learning about where the products come from and who their purchase will benefit.

While every item in the store has a story behind it, she said the Haitian metal art pieces are her favorite. Mullen said it was a type of item they started carrying from the beginning. Shortly after the store opened, a catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti.

"We had already had customers that felt a connection to the art that they bought, so they came in and asked what happened to the artisans in Haiti," Mullen said.

HumanKind learned that all of the artisans had survived. Their workshop was destroyed, but they still had their tools.

"They said, 'You know we will be fine, and we will recover. All we need is people in America, Europe, and Australia to keep buying our products, and we will recover,'" she said. "I always tell people [the artisans] don't want aid. They want to trade with us."

All of the products in HumanKind are certified by the Fair Trade Federation and hand-picked by LynAnne Wiest, the store manager.

"She has been doing an amazing job, and she's really committed to fair trade, great with making displays, and really pushing our store to the next level," Aebischer said.

The nonprofit prides itself on knowing that the proceeds from every purchase go to HumanKind, its efforts, and the artisans.

Mullen said that in a lot of the fair-trade cooperatives that HumanKind works with, the artisans get a say in how profits get spent, whether on education or health care for their community.

"The other thing that fair trade is, is it often incorporates their culture and art through the product. We kind of are enriched by people we will never meet, and we know the things that we buy and are in our houses are really helping someone," Mullen said.

To learn more about HumanKind and its products, visit humankindslo.org.

Fast fact

Jack's Helping Hand's 13th annual barbecue, on July 11, was another sold-out and widely successful fundraiser. According to the organization, the community gave more than $580,000 to the nonprofit, which is dedicated to filling the unmet needs of local children and young adults with cancer or special needs. More than 650 guests attended the fundraiser at Santa Margarita Ranch, which included a barbecue buffet, entertainment, and a live auction. Ninety percent of the proceeds benefit Jack's Helping Hand programs, including the Assistance Program, a resource that provides special treatments, services, expensive equipment, and transportation to children with special needs and their families. To learn more about the nonprofit or how to get involved, visit jackshelpinghand.org or call (805) 547-1914. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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