Just Creations: Fair Trade, Quality Service and Education: An Interview with Joan Frisz
Perched on the Ohio River and the border of Indiana, Louisville, Kentucky is home to many attractions such as horse racing and baseball museums. But situated along historic Frankfort Avenue among houses, storefronts, and a railroad, sits the not-for-profit, fair trade store, Just Creations, which is home to crafts, art, and gifts created by artisans from all over. It also happens to be the only fully-committed fair trade store in all of Louisville.
Established in 1990, after a similar store closed at the end of the previous year, a local church community decided to keep the mission of the former store alive. Others in the community agreed that it was necessary to continue the traditions and values; they helped by lending money to get the store kick-started, rallied volunteers, and brought in board members to bring Just Creations to life.
In 2004, 14 years after their establishment, Just Creations joined the Fair Trade Federation. Now, the corner store led by Joan Frisz continues to spread the word about the importance of fair trade by sharing stories, providing quality customer service, and offering presentations about social and economic justice. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to interview Joan to get the inside scoop about her mission, her take on the fair trade family, and her predictions for the future.
Lucuma Designs: What makes your store truly unique and how does it excel?
Joan:We are the only fully-committed fair trade store in Louisville. We offer superior (and friendly) customer service. We were founded by community members and we continue to be community-oriented. As a fair trade and not-for-profit store, we take seriously our role in educating the community about social and economic justice, the artisans who make our products, and the benefits of one’s purchases here in the store. To that end, we have a full-time staff position dedicated to outreach and education and we participate in or make presentations at more than 70 events annually.
LD: What are your top 5 product categories and trending?
Joan: Apparel, including scarves, hats, gloves, etc.; jewelry and personal accessories (e.g. hair do-dads); holiday décor – nativities/ornaments; home décor; and kitchen accessories. Our shoppers are most interested in functional products, as seen in the sharp increase in the sale of kitchen accessories over the last several years.
LD: What do you feel catches people’s attention the most?
Joan: While telling the stories is an integral part of what we do, the initial draw for most customers is the product. Once we get them into the store because of what they see in the window, in our emails, or on our social media posts, they are able to see the quality of the products and learn to appreciate the story behind them.
LD: What do you think has changed most about your customers since opening?
Joan: The fact that we had unique products from other countries, no matter the quality, motivated our early customers. “Fair trade” wasn’t even the term being used to describe our business in 1990. The quality of the products has significantly increased over the years. We have worked hard to educate the community over the years about fair trade and raise the level of conscious consumerism. Many of our customers are very aware of social justice issues and will seek us out because we fit in their value system. For others, we are a place to shop for unique products that are not mass-produced and that have a story behind them. For still others, we are that store they just happened to stumble upon as they are walking down the street. In any case, we welcome them all and hope that we can win their loyalty through quality products, superior customer service, and a friendly atmosphere.
LD: What tips could you share with a new fair trade store just opening?
Joan: Be true to who you are and pay attention to the relationships. It is easy to get hooked in by the variety of product available and be tempted to move from one vendor to the next in pursuit of the next great thing. However, just as the artisans rely on long-term relationships with the vendors who buy from them, so too do the vendors need the long-term relationships with their customers. If you’re all-in on fair trade, stay true to that; maintain your values and have ethical business practices. Verify the fair trade practices of those you are doing business with.
LD: What is working for you in your store?
Joan: Our customers enjoy knowing the stories behind the products, so we will offer artisan story cards with many products. It’s impossible to do it with all, so we concentrate on those that have similar stories or are made with the same materials (e.g. gourd art from Peru, Kisii stone art from Kenya).
LD: What are you doing to help increase the awareness for fair trade in your community beyond what you already do with your store?
Joan:We employ a full-time Outreach & Education Coordinator to represent us in the community and spread the word about fair trade in general and Just Creations, in particular. We also host a variety of events throughout the year to engage our customers. In addition to family-friendly activities, there is usually an education component involved in these
For more about Just Creations, visit them at just creations.org.
And if you’re in the Louisville area, swing by the store on 2722 Frankfort Ave. Louisville, KY 40206 for more about fair trade and a wonderful shopping experience.
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