Fairtrade at St Michaels was the first shop in Oxford dedicated to offering a wide range of fairly traded goods. It was set up at a time when Fairtrade was still something of a fringe activity, heavily reliant on Sunday stalls in churches and cardboard boxes in spare bedrooms. From this background, a group of six people came together with a shared vision of making high quality, fairly traded products available to Oxford shoppers throughout the week and throughout the year. Hospitable landlords were found at St Michael's Church on Cornmarket Street, who agreed to lease us their basement premises; the enterprise was registered as a bona fide company; and in October 2003 we opened for business with stock from a handful of suppliers spread rather thinly over the new shelves, a second-hand till and a small team of enthusiastic volunteers.
In the twelve years since opening, the shop has grown and flourished and now stocks a dazzling range of goods from 60 or 70 different suppliers - everything from basic essentials to beautiful, unusual crafts and accessories. The shop is often compared by delighted visitors to an Aladdin's cave of treasures. We have built up a loyal fan base of year-round customers and a reputation as THE place to come for Christmas shopping. Now we are planning to expand beyond the confines of our basement with the development of an online retail presence.
Fairtrade at St Michaels is run as a co-operative and is very much a team effort - a sociable as well as a social enterprise. There is an executive committee of unpaid directors who meet monthly and who involve themselves in a variety of "hands on" roles in the life of the shop. We employ four part-time members of staff who keep all the daily business running smoothly and cheerfully. They are ably supported by our wonderful band of volunteers whose input of time, energy and enthusiasm has, from the outset, been crucial to the shop's success.
We also have shareholding members of the co-operative who have generously contributed to the venture with no prospect of any reward other than a vote at the AGM! We greatly appreciate their ongoing interest and support.
You can find more about Who's Who here
For more information about volunteering or becoming a share-holding member, drop us a line here
Fairtrade at St Michaels buys most of its stock through suppliers and importers who are registered with the British Association for Fairtrade Shops, of which we are a member. (www.bafts.org.uk) This means that the provenance and fair trade credentials of the goods have been thoroughly checked and approved.
Most of the food items and some other products carry the Fairtrade Mark.
We also keep ourselves as up-to-date and well-informed as possible by researching the background of new products and building relationships with our suppliers. We know that 'the story behind the products' adds value for our customers, and enables them to feel that their everyday shopping choices are making a real difference to the lives of people around the world.
Because we operate as a not-for-profit enterprise, any profits we do make are either ploughed back into improving the business or donated to charities with a fair trade link. It gives us particular pleasure that over the past 11 years we have been able to make donations totalling £45,000 to a wide variety of projects around the world, from 500 new olive saplings for the beleaguered Palestinian farmers of the West Bank to a complete pop-up school in Nepal.
So every purchase made at FTSM is doubly important - not only helping to provide a more secure livelihood for the producer of that particular item, but also enabling fresh development in some of the world's poorest communities. In addition, of course, the customer has a high quality product to enjoy!
For more information on the shop watch our video here.