Startup Ideas: Fair Trade Goods 6

Here’s an idea you can have for free: Start a business offering exclusively “fair trade” goods. Start a website with that as a differentiator. Gather and sell the same kind of things we get at the two or three brand name chains of import stores, but with a “fair trade” guarantee. Or maybe you want to focus even more and be the source for fair trade clothing or fair trade pottery or fair trade household goods.

I don’t have data to actually prove the idea, but Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International reports a 40 percent increase in sales of certified fair-trade goods this year alone.

Fair Trade

And I posted here last week about a Harvard study reported by Ray Fisman in Will Customers Pay More To Do Good that showed buyers were willing to pay more for fair-trade goods.

Take a look at, Fairtrade Ireland or Fair Trade Products Fare Well from the Houston Chronicle. You can read there about how some specific examples are growing on fair trade and how much fair trade has grown since certification started in 1998. You can visit Transfair USA for more background.

Transfair USA

Data, however, isn’t the point. Ideas get proven by results, not data. If you’ve got the resources and interest to make this happen, you already know who you are, so just do it.

About the Author Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry. Follow Tim on Google+ Read more »

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  • Tim Brown

    This is a great tip. What if all businesses adopted a fair trade approach as a fundamental baseline for their supply chains? Could this lead to a more just world?

  • Joel Patenaude

    We have investigated Fair Trade and would say the best opportunity for a startup would be as a distributor — selling Fair Trade merchandise directly into the big boxes and chains without touching it. Otherwise the obstacles are enormous — numbers simply don’t work. The costs of importing, esp furniture and handicrafts, make it very tough these days. Fair Trade items still have to be purchased with a low value US dollar and incur high shipping and inventory holding costs. Only exception I can think of might be high end jewelery — lightweight, easy to airship and very high values.

  • Vasant Hede

    I was thinking about ‘Fairtrade Business’. Can you throw light on starting it in countries like India!

    • Tim Berry

      Vasant, sorry, no. I’m no expert, not on fairtrade business and much less on business in India. What you see here is what you get (from me). Why not google “fairtrade business in India?” Tim

  • Jessica

    Hi Tim,
    You suggest to write the business plan as you go, …however is there a basic guide/template that can be followed specifically for fair trade concepts?
    Also, is anyone aware of a concise source listing fair trade apparel coops?
    I am interested in using my apparel design knowledge in a fair trade manner.
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

    • Tim Berry

      Jessica, I suggest you start with the Wikipedia entry for fair trade to get a quick overview. From what I can tell — and it’s not my main business, much less my expertise — there are several competing organizations offering varying degrees of fair trade guidelines. Good luck with it, I definitely agree with the goal. Tim