Karen Eagles is the owner and sole employee of Anna Sophia's, a Springfield retail shop specializing in fair-trade merchandise. Eagles is a retired Missouri State University professor.
Business Spotlight: Anna Sophia's
As retirement from Missouri State University neared, Karen Eagles found herself dreaming not of travel but of a second career.
She saw a couple of needs in the community she wanted to fill. By opening a store to do so, she also could find a way to express her values.
The first need, she says, was for a religious gift and bookstore. "One that was Catholic, but not exclusively Catholic," says the former university computer information professor. The other was to expand the variety of fair-trade goods available in Springfield.
"I had been introduced to international fair trade, and I wanted to make those products available year-round because up until that time, a few churches would bring products in for the Christmas season ... but there was nowhere in Springfield where you could buy fair-trade products any time of the year," Eagles says.
In March 2006, Eagles opened Anna Sophia's. The name is the marriage of Sophia, a Greek word connoting women's wisdom, and Anna, the prophetess in the Gospel of Luke who was one the first to visit baby Jesus, she says. "It was a meaningful name to me, so that's what I went with," Eagles says.
Initially, Eagles envisioned a corner set aside for fair-trade items. "And now the corner has become half the store," she says, pointing to a collection of clothing, decorative objects, artwork, handbags, jewelry and other handcrafted goods.
She picks up a handbag made in India and recalls the story of a woman from Bangladesh whose family married her off twice, both times into abusive relationships. The woman was offered a job in India "and of course they wound up being slave traders and she was immediately made to work as a prostitute," Eagles recounts. Ultimately, someone from the organization that makes the handbags, called Freeset, found the woman, and it proved to be her salvation. "It gave her a living that allowed her to send her kids to school and to support herself. Those are the kinds of stories that get to you sometimes," Eagles says.
The store also carries TOMS Shoes - a line of shoes that donates one pair of shoes to a child in a Third World country for each pair sold - and a variety of religious items, including nativities made around the world and art created by local artists.
"But the fair trade is what's been growing by leaps and bounds," Eagles says.
While she declines to disclose revenues, Eagles says sales this year are up compared to 2008. She suspects that may be because people are becoming more selective about what they spend money on, given the tight economy.
"You are more aware of where your money goes," she says. "So if you can support companies and organizations that actually make a difference in people's lives, then a lot of people would rather do that than just pick up something off a shelf."
For customer Lisa Blumenstock, of Republic, that rings true. Blumenstock says she has shopped at Anna Sophia's since it opened three years ago because she prefers to buy gifts that make a difference and are likely to have more meaning for the recipient.
"It's like shopping with a conscience. You can't find that just anywhere," Blumenstock says.
Socially responsible retail
Another local shop where fair-trade goods are sold is Global Fayre, 324 S. Campbell Ave. While Global Fayre and Anna Sophia's are competitors, owners of the two stores have teamed at community fundraisers to help spread the word about fair trade.
"Our biggest challenge is low public awareness of fair trade, especially in places like the Midwest," says David Crump, who with wife Cheri co-owns Global Fayre. "Although Karen is a competitor to me, we have a greater interest in just raising the awareness of fair trade in total."
Given the complexities of international fair trade, raising awareness is tough, Crump says.
"Of course, it's easy to understand why it's important to pay people more for what they're doing," Crump says. "But to really get the depth of fair trade, it's not just about the price, it's about the social responsibility and sustainability and long-term growth. They're pretty difficult concepts to take on.
"But if you break that down into, these gift bags are about giving prostitutes in Calcutta a different way of living, they get that really easily."
Worldwide fair-trade product sales grew 22 percent to 2.9 billion euros in 2008, despite the global recession, and the United State contributed 10 percent growth, according to the Fairtrade Foundation, a nonprofit that certifies fair-trade products in accordance with international standards. Top sellers are coffee, bananas and tea.
Eagles would like to see more people take stock of where their money is going and ask themselves, "Do my shopping habits reflect my values? ... Because if you truly believe that people should be treated fairly and should make enough money to support their families ... then you need to ask some questions about what you buy," Eagles says.
"I'm well aware that you cannot buy everything you need fair trade - I wish that were true - but there are choices you can make that would help sustain the environment and Third World countries."[[In-content Ad]]