We got in touch with Elaine Willmore, a hugely active member of the Traidcraft family to learn how she started with a single bag of sugar, and grew to be a Key Contact, Traidcraft Speaker, and all-round superhero.
1. How did you first get involved with Traidcraft?
It all started with handmade cards and a bag of sugar! A Traidcraft catalogue came through my door in 1996, and I loved the unique designs of the cards. It was also the first time I had seen fair trade food, and bought some sugar, since I enjoy making cakes. I remember thinking what a ‘no brainer’ it was to be able to buy food that helped support the producers. I was very excited about how a small act like this could have a BIG impact. I opened a fair trader account in 1998 and started selling, hosting stalls all over the region. I remember being anxious about the first stall and being stressed at not being able to add up money, talk to customers and keep a stock list all at the same time!
2. How has your involvement with Traidcraft changed over the years?
After a couple of years as a Fair Trader, I was asked to become a Key Contact for the Gateshead area. I now get lots of requests (often via Traidcraft) that take me from Tyne & Wear to Durham and Teesside to give talks and run stalls. This has been in churches, schools, universities, trade justice groups and the WI to name a few, and I’m also on Gateshead Council Fair Trade Steering group.
3. You do a lot to get your workplace involved with fair trade…
I started at work by selling chocolate in coffee breaks during Fairtrade Fortnight in 2005. This went down really well, with many people asking me if I could sell it all year round – of course I was delighted to do so! Management and colleagues are very supportive (Newcastle is a Fair Trade University) and I run a mini tuck shop using drawers next to my desk with an honesty box which works well. I sell GEOBARs, FairBreaks and other snacks as well as chocolate. My advice is: if you offer easily accessible chocolate and snacks, people will buy them!
4. What motivates you to do what you do? Tell us everything!
Selling fair trade items is a wonderful way of expressing God’s love to others. The Bible tells us to ‘love our neighbour’ and I firmly believe that ‘neighbour’ extends well beyond the house next door. I was fortunate to visit Bangladesh with Traidcraft to make a documentary, and had the opportunity to see first-hand how lives are transformed by fair trade. It was such a privilege to meet the women whose jute and cards I had been selling!
5. How do you balance such a busy working life with doing so much for Traidcraft?
I’m not sure that I balance it very well! I’m away from home a lot through work and Traidcraft but fortunately have an extremely supportive husband, John, who transports me to events and has collected literally hundreds of boxes from Traidcraft. Our children (now adults!) have also been roped in over the years and are now spreading the fair trade message in their universities. I’m blessed with a lot of energy and this, together with the knowledge of what an impact our work has, sustains and motivates me.
6. So much of what you do is encouraging other people to get involved with Traidcraft. What’s your next step?
I’m currently trying hard to disseminate the messages that were raised in the ‘Show You Care’ campaign as I think we need to sustain the momentum we built, to explain the difference between buying from Traidcraft and buying from Supermarkets. People are very surprised to hear these messages as they think buying Fairtrade coffee from a supermarket is sufficient- I do not believe that it is- and people need to understand the difference between ‘Traidcraft’ and ‘Fairtrade’ .
7. Do you have any tips for new Fair Traders starting their Traidcraft journey?
One thing that works well is display stands. A stand for cards, or a pull-up banner is a good investment as it makes the stall look more professional, and sends a clear message out of who you are representing. A few months ago I got one of the ‘Divine’ standsand this has also improved sales of the larger bars of chocolate, and increased the capacity of chocolate I can display because it has a small footprint.
8. And finally, we know Fair Traders can find themselves in odd situations… Do you have a funny story for us?!
An amusing anecdote relates to my long-suffering husband.
We were carrying boxes into a church hall, and were soon offered a cup of tea. One of the ladies asked me: “would you like a cup of tea for your staff?” We had to laugh and I did wonder if we should get him a T shirt that said STAFF on the back!!!