The gift of giving back
By Michelle Newman
Fairtrade products have become a staple in shops and supermarkets in recent years, possibly due to our growing awareness of developing countries around the world and the producers who work tirelessly to earn their pay.
Mother-of-two Solene Rapinel, who is originally from Brittany in France, has been living in Ireland for 11 years and is an avid Fairtrade supporter. She recently set up and launched her own website, Fairtradegifts.ie, to promote this even further.
“I studied International Law at university and after my studies I went to work with human rights projects abroad. I went to Croatia, Afghanistan and then to Pakistan. When I was there I met a lot of women who were really looking for [somewhere to sell] their products. They were making perfectly good things but they didn’t have a market for it,” Solene says.
On her return to Ireland Solene worked for Oxfam for 10 years as an area manager, or ‘the manager of the managers’ as she puts it.
“We used to have separate Oxfam Fairtrade shops, they closed down a couple of years ago but people were still coming to me saying, ‘Oh it’s a pity you don’t have the products anymore’ and I thought, ‘Maybe there’s a niche,’ a market for that,” she says.
“Because of my background I knew that there were people still looking for these Fairtrade products so when I left Oxfam last summer I decided, ‘Okay let’s go, let’s try to do this myself.’”
Solene, who says herself she is ‘not an IT person’ then went about upskilling. She did lots of courses that would help her along the way in setting up her own business as she was determined to make it a success.
“It’s so, so hard to have a brick and mortar shop now, the rent is so expensive so I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll start with a website and then I will see how it goes.’ But because I’m a lawyer originally, I had to do the website myself so I did a lot of courses with the Local Enterprise Office about starting your own business, marketing, everything,” she says, “I did all the courses that you could ever do!”
Social media was also a powerful tool for the budding entrepreneur when she joined a Facebook group called Working at Home Mums.
“They were very supportive because we could ask questions and people can feel silly but there’s always someone there to answer your question,” she says.
Fairtrade Ireland defines Fairtrade as ‘an alternative approach to conventional trade and is based on a partnership between some of the most disadvantaged farmers and workers in the developing world and the people who buy their products.’
“It means that the people have to have been paid a fair price first, so this is guaranteed,” Solene says as she explains the concept in a bit more detail.
“Each community will decide what project they want to run and everything is monitored, it has to be good for the environment and obviously, there is no child labour.
As well as that there is what is called a Fairtrade premium; this is when extra money is given for projects in the community, like hospitals or schools or wherever. So not only does it benefit the artisans or the farmers, it has to benefit the community as well.”
Work of mouth and Facebook are what helped Solene to get the website off the ground and so far she is delighted with how well it is doing. She says that orders are coming through every day and she has received lots of positive feedback on the products she stocks.
“I was quite happy with the results,” she says. “I’m getting new stock at the moment and working on that. The next big things will be Mother’s Day and Fairtrade Fortnight 2018.
“Different countries have different campaigns, but it’s the same two weeks everywhere in the world. All of the Fairtrade towns here in Ireland, they would do some small events, just to raise awareness really.”
For now, Solene says the majority of her stock comes from the same suppliers who she worked alongside while at Oxfam and everyone was more than happy to get on board with her new venture.
“I told them, ‘Look guys, the shops are closed but can I sell your products even if it’s in very small quantities.’ Everybody said yes so I was delighted,” she explains.
“At the moment I don’t go to pick out the products myself because I don’t have the funds, so I rely on them. I only use wholesalers who are certified Fairtrade because they go to these places and check that the rules and criteria are being respected. We have products from places like India, South America, South Africa, Switzerland. I even have candles that are from the UK, Fairtrade can be everywhere.”
To check out Solene’s website, visit www.fairtradegifts.ie, Fairtrade Fortnight 2018 takes place from February 26 to March 11. For more information see www.fairtrade.ie