January 17, 2018

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Fair trade from Guatemala to Winnipeg

Cityplace pop-up shop helps pull artisans out of poverty

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Ceilidh Moulden, co-owner of pop-up store Si Fairtrade Fashion in Cityplace, holds a laptop connected by Facetime to fellow co-owner Sarah Cullihall, who is from Winnipeg but is currently in Guatemala.</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ceilidh Moulden, co-owner of pop-up store Si Fairtrade Fashion in Cityplace, holds a laptop connected by Facetime to fellow co-owner Sarah Cullihall, who is from Winnipeg but is currently in Guatemala.

A pop-up store in Cityplace is helping artisans in Guatemala earn a living.

Handcrafted shoes made of leather, Christmas ornaments made from delicate beads, and bags and shawls in all kinds of colourful patterns are some of the many products sold at Si Fairtrade Fashion.

Shoppers lingered over a golden frame, one of several scattered throughout the store. Inside the frame was a story about the artisans who made the items, and how the small pop-up store helps sustain the lives of many artisans in Guatemala.

The store is run by to two Winnipeg women, Sarah Cullihall and Ceilidh Moulden.

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A pop-up store in Cityplace is helping artisans in Guatemala earn a living.

Handcrafted shoes made of leather, Christmas ornaments made from delicate beads, and bags and shawls in all kinds of colourful patterns are some of the many products sold at Si Fairtrade Fashion.

Shoppers lingered over a golden frame, one of several scattered throughout the store. Inside the frame was a story about the artisans who made the items, and how the small pop-up store helps sustain the lives of many artisans in Guatemala.

The store is run by to two Winnipeg women, Sarah Cullihall and Ceilidh Moulden.

They created the business early last year as their solution to the issues facing Guatemalan artisans, launching an online store five months ago and opening the pop-up space in mid-November.

"One of the major issues (Guatemalan artisans have) is the lack of international access," Cullihall said. Living in rural areas, the Guatemalan artisans have no access to the international market, which severely limits their sales.

What makes this problem worse is the rainy season in Guatemala, which lasts half the year.

"During this time, tourist levels drop, so people who would normally be coming in are no longer buying from the artisans," Cullihall said.

Since the local crafts people rely on tourists as their main source of income, this results in poverty for the artisans in Guatemala.

"This means they don’t necessarily have money to send kids to school or put food on the table," Cullihall said.

Cullihall and Moulden learned about the problems faced by the Guatemalan artisans when they befriended a local woman from Guatemala, named Clementina.

"We just connected, and Clementina said this is what we need, we need an online business store," Cullihall said.

Since then, the fashion business has teamed up with seven groups of Guatemalan artisans, helping expose their brands to the North American and local markets.

Their pop-up store — open for three months in Cityplace mall in time for the holiday season — helps raise awareness of the plight of the Guatemalan artisans and the issue of fair trade.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Si Fairtrade Fashion helps Guatemalan artisans get access to international markets.</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Si Fairtrade Fashion helps Guatemalan artisans get access to international markets.

"Sarah and I both thought it (would be) such a fantastic opportunity to be able to utilize the space in order to bring more awareness to the Winnipeg community about fair trade goods," Moulden said.

The Launch It! program, organized by Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, provides young entrepreneurs free space for three months to help them get a taste of what it’s like to run their own business.

"(The program) gives you the experience, it gives you the kind of the know-how and kind of lets you test before spending and investing time and money into something," said Eric Olek, project co-ordinator.

"They are doing something that is really amazing," Olek said about the duo’s pop-up store. "It’s a noble business idea, it’s a good cause and they are helping to get those artisans in the global spotlight."

The store shares the stories behind the products not only through the framed stories, but also through the brand tags.

"We make sure we don’t label any of the products as our own," Moulden said. Each product has a tag telling the story of the group of artisans behind it. She said from 30 to 70 per cent is returned to artisans from each sale.

Moulden and Cullihall take the sharing of stories one step further.

"Once someone makes a purchase, we always send them a video of the artisan groups they have purchased from so that they can actually have the extra connection with the artisan," Moulden said.

Customers seem to appreciate the videos.

"One of the greatest feedbacks we received was, ‘It’s really nice to be able to see who’s making the product and see the faces behind the actual product,’" she said.

The pop-up store is teaching the two women what it takes to run a business, Moulden said.

"(Having a physical store) really helps us develop what consumers like and what consumers are gravitating towards, so we have a better idea of what to work on."

She said after this experience, the fashion business will consider opening a permanent store, as having people be able to see and touch the products has proved to be effective.

"It really hits home (because) having that tactile, the feel for every single product (is necessary)," Moulden said.

Currently, Cullihall is in Guatemala helping source products from artisans. The store will be open until Jan. 31, after which the business will relocate to its online shop, which can be found at si-fairtradefashion.com.

nadiah.sakurai@freepress.mb.ca

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