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Ever woken up one morning and thought, "what I really need is a fairtrade sex toy?"
So has Jeremy Piercy, the author of "Coffins, Cats, and Fairtrade Sex Toys", who is also the founder of the UK's largest Fair Trade chain store, Shared Earth. After returning from India in the 80s Piercy wanted to do something to address the problem of world poverty and thought that a store that promoted the work of different cultures would be the ideal way to do it. The original York store was successful enough to open another seven:
New Street, Birmingham
The Mall, Bristol
Royall Arcade, Cardiff
Woodhouse Lane, Leeds
Bold Street, Liverpool
Wood Street, Stratford-upon-Avon
As well as closing the original store in York on Goodramgate and opening a new store on Minster Gates that also serves as the head office.
I am lucky enough to live in York. I had never heard of Shared Earth (hereafter referred to as SE) before I came here for university, which is little surprise, as I lived in Ashford, Kent, miles and miles away from any SE. I discovered it in my first year at university when I went in to buy a candle for my then girlfriend (and now fiancee - I'm not saying that one thing directly led to another, but you never know if you don't try your luck), and ever since, it has been one of my favourite shops in the city, and I visit it every time we come into town.
What does it stock, I hear you ask. Well, a huge variety of things. SE has 30 producers world wide, all of which produce a number of different objects. You can find furniture such as side tables, candles, jewellery, mirrors, photo frames, greeting cards, glasses, pens, paper, notebooks, windchimes, bags, incense, throws, cups and plates... there is a huge, huge variety of products, enough to keep you engrossed for hours. I don't want to merely give a list of the products SE sells, but if you do want a better idea then visit the website, www.sharedearth.co.uk.
SE is a member of BAFTS, the British Association of Fair Trade Shops, and it does aim to propagate the principles of fair trade. SE has close links with its producers and will tell you where their items come from. My favourite is the greeting cards. These are handmade in Indonesia with recycled paper and dried flowers, and with the card they provide a piece of paper giving you a bit of information about the cooperative that produces the card as well as - a nice touch - the signature of the woman who handmade the card for you. My partner and I loved them so much that we decided to buy a load of them to send out as our wedding invitations as we are going for a fairtrade theme, and we thought it would be really lovely and original.
SE operates a green policy in keeping with its ethos. Plastic bags are unavailable behind the counter; if you don't bring your own bag in, you will need to purchase a paper bag for a small sum (something like 10p for a small bag and 30p for a large) - or, alternatively, buy a jute or cotton shopping bag that will last a good long time. Never fear, the money raised from the sale of paper bags goes towards tree growing to offset our carbon footprint. SE also has a policy of keeping its doors closed - not to shut us out, but to shut in the warmth, to reduce their carbon footprint.
Its credentials are established, so is it worth visiting? Well, absolutely, in my opinion. The staff are always friendly and knowledgeable, it smells great due to the incense and scented candles, they constantly receive new stock so there is always something new to see and the products are fantastic. The fair trade jewellery is really pretty, and is very reasonably priced. A necklace might only be £4-5, which will be infinitely nicer than the mass-produced stuff the high street stores sell, as well as being fair trade and handmade.
There are a couple of disadvantages, however. The first is that whilst you can shop online on the website, it does not offer close to the full range of products found in store. This can be quite disappointing, particularly for anyone reading this who isn't lucky enough to live near a SE. There is also the fact that, as I mentioned in my discussion article on fair trade in general, choosing to buy fair trade, whilst it does help the producers that SE deal with, is never going to solve world poverty as it is not addressing the underlying problems that cause poverty. Don't get me wrong, I think it is far better to buy someone a really nice fair trade handmade present than some mass-produced piece of tat from some chain store (I am sure we have all received plenty of that in our time), but we can't believe that buying fair trade will save the world - however, it does make a very positive difference.
Other things to know: ordering off the website is not free, they do charge delivery of £4.03 on orders up to £20, free over £20, so for the most part it is worth your while to order more. SE has an e-newsletter you can sign up to; they will sometimes email voucher codes for things like 20% off online. Unlike with some places, these newsletters are not too frequent so they won't be jamming up your mailbox. Opening times for the different stores can be found on the website by following the link to "Our Stores" and clicking on the relavent store.
SE really is a wonderful place to visit, with amazing things from the everyday to the inspired. Tired of buying cologne for your dear old dad every Christmas? Maybe buy him a set of wineglasses made from old beer bottles! Not sure what to get your young nephew? What about getting him a microphone that is powered by a dynamo and made from entirely recycled electronics and plastics! It truly is original and wonderful. Everything they sell is checked for quality and so you can be confident that the Fair Trade symbol stands for the best, and this is shopping that you do not need to feel guilty about - no exploitation, and your purchases do make a difference. And don't worry; this shop is not merely for hippies and students (although it is true that Se certainly does take a roaring trade from them). I defy anyone to go in and not find something they will love.
Postscriptum: SE does not, unfortunately, currently stock fair trade sex toys, just to save you the embarrassment of asking the girl behind the counter to show you where they are.
Gift shopping. We all have to do it at least a couple of times at years. It can often be a pain wandering round town looking for that perfect gift for your best friend/mum/niece. I have a solution if you live in certain cities. It is called Shared Earth and it will also ease your guilty conscious and makes you feel you are purchasing something worthwhile. What is Shared Earth? Shared Earth is a gift shop with a difference. Yes it does sell sort of hippy studenty stuff such as incense, candles, funky bags and Chinese light shades alongside some African bongo drums and ethnic statues liked a lot of other gift shops. The difference is the suppliers they buy from. Shared Earth is a fair trading company and only purchase their stock from companies who do not exploit their workers/g fair trade company which supplies fabulous hand crafted gifts and stationary to wholesale and retail customers all over the world! Where are they located? Their head office id in York and they have branches in Manchester, York, Birmingham and Leeds. They do sell wholesale to other shop s and businesses but there are no facilities to buy over the internet or via mail order. This review will focus on the Manchester branch which is located on Piccadilly close to Piccadilly Gardens I visited the shop today looking for a little something as a birthday present for one of my closest friends. Store layout The shop is not the biggest shop and I sometimes feel I am bumping into everyone. Sometimes it is hard to examine things on the shelves. The merchandise is displayed attractively on the walls and on fairly low shelves. Ranges. I love the stationary hey sell in Shared earth. It is bright and attractive and sometimes unusual. It often features animals or nature. Sometimes the stationary gift sets have that little extra such as a book mark, pen or wind chime. These make ideal gifts and prizes for the competitions held on some of the Y
ahoo friendship groups I am on. You can buy the wind chimes separate mostly in animal shapes. They have a similar farmyard range with magnets and wind chimes. Continuing the animal theme there is a great Safari range for big and little kids. I bight a lovely letter rack with a crocodile on it as a gift once. They also have coat racks, nook ends and little boxes in this range. For the pussy lovers amongst you, they have lots of feline statues. One of my favourite and particularly environmentally friendly ranges was one that used recycled computer circuit boards, carrier bags and waste paper to make a range of key rings, clocks, note books and coasters. The circuit boards were particularly effective. For our hippy chick friends there are loads of candles, incense and burners, stones and jewellery. They have some really nice scented candles that are presented unusually. The one I bought was in a tin like a paint pot. They do some rally funky bags. I ended up getting my friend a Chinese print little evening bag quite reasonably. I was enamoured with a green and gold Chinese style vase for about £6.99 Once you have selet5ed that special gift they have a range of cards and wrapping paper. Some of it is unusual and the cards are quite arty although they have some fun furry ones. For a little treat they also do fair trade bars of chocolate Prices The prices for the small things are not too bad. The little bag I bought was £3.48 whilst you can get the stationary sets for about £3 or £5 with the wind chimes. The wind chimes are only about £2.50. Some of the bigger things are more expensive I would say the cards and wrapping paper are probably a bit expensive. You are unlikely to get a card for less than £1.60 Customer Service. The staff are always very friendly when I have been in. They also take good care with the purchased goods and wrap them up well. Shared Earth is a great shop if you have friends who
are into slightly ethnic stuff. The animal theme stuff would be a great gift for a child or an animal liver. The plus point is definably their Fair Trade policy as you know no one has been exploited in the making of the goods. The only problem is you are unlikely to be able to buy the stuff unless you live in one of the four cities that have a Shared Earth shop. www.sharedearth.co.uk