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Can I Laugh On Your Shoulder?

May 8, 2019

In the last year, big brands like Nike, Athleta, and J.Crew have entered the fair trade industry. It's a big win for the fair trade movement, but it leaves small business owners with daunting challengers. Mom-and-pop shops are no match for companies like Target. No longer is it enough to market the story of your artisans and expect to generate revenue. If you want to compete, you must put your customer first. In my keynote address at the Fair Trade Federation Conference in Austin, I challenged business owners to reconsider how they position their organizations in the fair trade space. This is what I had to say...

Things You Don't Want To Miss:

A Crazy Dream

  • 1:17 - In the next 25 years, I want the term fair trade to cease to exist. I want ethically-made products to become so much the norm that the term "fair trade" is no longer needed.

The Power Of Persistence

  • 1:45 - When I was about eight and 1/2 years old, I took it upon myself to look out for the other children in my neighborhood. Our neighborhood didn't have any sidewalks, so I decided to petition the town council for safer streets and the implementation of sidewalks. As you might imagine, nothing happened. In six months, we still had no sidewalks, so I began to write the town council, asking for change. Finally, after two and 1/2 years of calling, writing letters, and begging for change, we finally got the sidewalks. While this is a cute story, it's an important illustration for the power of persistence. If we want to see change, we must be persistent.

Life Lessons From Kenya

  • 7:34 - In 2011, I visited the Kazuri Bead Factory on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. It was my first exposure to the fair trade movement, and if you're not familiar with them, their goal is to provide employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenyan society. This trip put in me a desire to learn more about the movement, and I soon jumped all-in on fair trade. I wanted to do my part fo effect change for those living in poverty around the world.

The Challenges Facing Fair Trade Businesses

  • 9:10 - Fair trade businesses are changing lives, and striving to make ethical business practices a standard around the world. However, the jump to fair trade isn't without its challenges. One day, fair trade will become a seemingly standard operating procedure, and cause marketing will slowly begin to lose its power as consumers come to expect ethical practices as the norm.
  • 9:52 - Fast fashion brands Madewell and J. Crew recently launched Fairtrade certified denim lines. Athleta is now a certified B Corporation, and Nike has an entire department dedicated to sustainability and ethical practices. The industry of business is wising up, and that will affect small businesses who operate on fair trade principles. Small businesses will lose their competitive edge to monoliths like Target as it seeks to enter the fair trade space.

A Unique Perspective

  • 13:10 - I'm a fair trade customer, and I love ethical fashion. I've also worked alongside small business owners as they seek to stay alive and use their revenue to serve their local communities as well as men and women in poverty around the world. As a blogger, I've interviewed hundreds of fair trade business owners who seek to thrive as entrepreneurs, and I hope my perspective will challenge you to consider how to run your business with purpose.

Change Your Messaging

  • 15:35 - If you want to survive in the next era of ethical business, change your message. Put the onus on your customer first, your product second, and your artisans' stories third. Disclaimer: We're not telling you to neglect your artisans, nor are we suggesting you hide their stories. Of course we want to tell the stories of those who make your product. However, the message of fair trade for years has focused around the artisans, and in reality, it's the customers who can be the heroes of the story. Customers purchase products, and their purchases keep your business alive and lift your artisans out of poverty.
  • 16:55 - The Root Collective is a great example of a company that's shifted it's messaging. They realized their customers wanted to be noticed in their shoes, so they began focusing on developing a rock-star product that would solve a problem for the customer. Now, their customers get noticed, and in turn, they share the story of The Root Collective. Focus on meeting a need for your consumer, and in turn, they'll get behind your cause.

Shift Your Brand Perspective

  • 19:26 - Consider your branding. Does your branding blow people away? Do you impress people when they visit your website? If you want to compete with Nike, you've got to brand yourself. Ask yourself, "other than fair trade, what's your competitive edge?"
  • 21:36- Tribe Alive is an ethical fashion brand that's killing it these days, and their branding is SHARP. In fact, it's so sharp that J. Crew and Madewell approached them. Now those companies are selling Tribe Alive products. Tribe Alive's branding speaks for itself. It's messaging is focused on the customer, and it leads people to a conversation about the work they're doing.

Develop Your Marketing Strategy  

  • 22:47 - Are you using social media as a tool to create a community of brand evangelists, or are you using social media as a megaphone to announce new products and sales? Too many people are taking the "social" aspect from social media. People want to belong; they want to connect. A brand that connects people will thrive.
  • 23:54 - Elegantees uses its platform to share sneak peaks of upcoming products while connecting users. It brings users into the company, and gives women an opportunity to become brand evangelists. Invite your community into your business, and market to them by speaking directly with them.

Start Small 

  • 27:24 - Don't be afraid to change. Take one element from this talk, and use it to shape your business. Implement it in the next 24 hours, and set yourself up for success in the next 25 years.

A Memorable Moment:

"When it comes to the marketing of your business, your customer is your hero. Always. You're the guide. The customer is your hero."

  - Molly Stillman

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