When crossing the threshold at The Market Path in Highland Square, it’s like stepping into a global marketplace, a pleasing mix of the exotic combined with vicarious travel and discovery.
Beautifully handcrafted earrings from Ecuador and Uganda adorn a wall. Soapstone carvings from Kenya, nesting baskets from Bangladesh, and brilliantly colored handwoven bags from Guatemala all share space here.
The exquisiteness of some of these items unnervingly beckon one to stop to take a closer look. Once that happens, the mission of The Market Path unfolds.
The shop, a nonprofit featuring fair trade goods from around the world, opened in 2007 and was the brainchild of the Rev. Bob Dreese, the pastor of First Grace United Church of Christ.
“The UCC is a very progressive, social-justice oriented church,” says Dae Evans, manager of The Market Path. “This is one of the many wonderful community things it does to reach out through social justice.
“Fair trade is all about helping people who are unemployed or those living in poor circumstances, and working as directly with them as much as possible. It’s not a charity, but a way of doing business by bringing their products to a marketplace where they can be sold, not just in their local village.”
Transparency is a principle tenet of fair trade. Other retailers’ items have a tag or label that simply states from which country the item is made. As a fair trade provider, The Path goes further, providing the consumer not only with an item’s country of origin, but other information as well. Hang tags and packaging at the shop also provide background on the who, what, why and how of an item.
“Seventy-five percent of fair trade products are made by women who are either working in their home or with small community groups,” Evans says. “And what motivates them to work is clothing, feeding and educating their children.”
For each item, a story
A display of colorful necklaces and bracelets from Uganda tell quite a story about their journey to The Market Path.
A few years ago, while traveling in East Africa on behalf of his church, North Canton native Jon Ewing came across women who were terrorized from their homes in North Uganda and were then living in a slum in Central Uganda with no sanitation or fresh water.
Though these women were destitute and in dire need, Ewing also was moved by the “beautiful handmade paper beaded jewelry they were making,” Evans recalls.
Ewing brought back to the states some of the jewelry and approached The Market Path, which began selling it.
“The women in the village hold the keys to this building, so it’s safe for them and their children,” Evans says. “And it became a way for them to earn extra money.”
Travelers passing through this Ugandan village pay a nominal fee to use the facilities.
Back home, Highland Square folks had found an affordable stainless steel water filtration device “with a very long life span,” Evans says, for Ewing to purchase so the village could have purified drinking water.
“Before that, the women were having to spend the little bit of money they had to buy lumps of charcoal to boil in their water to purify it.”
Sanctuary Spring cards are designed by women in the Philippines who formerly were trapped or forced into prostitution.
The majority of the shop’s offerings come from Central and South America, Africa and Asia. But some items originate closer to home.
A Hudson handbag designer helps women at Haven of Rest earn income by supplying them with swatch book fabric, which is then taken as-is, no waste, and sewn into unique tote bags.
“It’s really incredible the kind of impact we can have on lives that are so much in need in another part of the world just by buying a product, a gift someone can enjoy, and [by] sharing that story with them,” Evans says. “That’s a huge part of our mission, just educating people about fair trade, letting them know there’s an alternative where you can directly affect the people making the products you use.
“When you purchase a fair trade gift, the story often becomes as important as the object you’re giving.”
Merchandising the store
Items arrive at The Market Path in a myriad of ways.
A University of Akron nursing graduate brought back jewelry made from up-cycled paper from workers affiliated with an Ugandan orphanage where she worked. Profits from sales further the orphanage.
“It fit right in with what we’re doing here,” Evans says.
Other vendors include former Peace Corps members from all over the country who want to help the disenfranchised in countries where they once served.
Evans is also approached by fair trade wholesalers, some of whom are from the countries whose products they represent and who now live in the U.S., working directly with individuals in their homeland countries.
Certifying fair trade
There are fair trade certifying agencies such as Fair Trade USA, Fairtrade International and Fair Trade Federation. But The Market Path chose an approach “more individualized.”
“We decided not to become certified as a store,” Evans says. “It’s an expense, and one we didn’t want to require our artists to participate in and have to pay a fee they might not be able to afford to bring their products into our store. Being an independent fair trade store, we felt it might be limiting to the mission the church felt called to do.”
Most products carried by the store are from fair trade certified groups, organizations and individuals.
Evans invites customers to ask questions about the products. “We are very open, and enjoy sharing what we know about our products and the artists we represent.”
One Akron-based supplier, Not Wasted, is a Truly Reaching You (T.R.Y.) women’s ministry. The nonprofit, faith-based organization specializes in making one-of-a-kind handcrafted accessories from recyclable materials made by women who are recovering from addiction and moving beyond incarceration.
“They may never be fair trade certified, but I certainly feel like what they’re doing and the people doing the work there are all qualified as fair trade,” Evans says.
The Market Path is named for its location on West Market and Portage Path.
“The church’s vision is to see a place where Akron can support the wider community,” Evans says. “The Market Path is a wonderful place for folks to connect with, and compassionately help, poor, hard-working people have better lives.”
The Market Path, located at 833 W. Market St., is open Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Additional information may be found on their Facebook page or by contacting Evans at [email protected] or at (330) 258-9003.
“I’d like to invite everyone to stop in and learn more about our fair trade products, and to shop!” Evans says.