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Yobel Market won’t save the world, but it beats buying corporate 

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click to enlarge COURTESY SHINING LIGHT INTERNATIONAL
  • Courtesy Shining Light International
Yobel Market owner/co-founder Sarah Ray has just returned from a trip to Pakistan when we speak. She was working with an artisan group called Life Stitch Sewing Center, building rapport and learning about sourcing for the tote-style purses and Gilgit wash bags — goat wool toiletry bags — Yobel sells alongside jewelry from Peru, leather goods from Kenya and many more household and personal items.

“We try to maintain about one degree of separation from the artisan groups, so either knowing them personally or having a friend or close personal contact working with them directly,” she says. Ray prefers the former, but as Yobel’s grown over the decade it’s been open, now at the Ivywild School, she’s having to expand faster and faster, making blind trips hard to justify. But all the same, she makes time to visit and ensure the people who make the goods she sells are getting a fair wage for their work.

“Our mission is to empower artisan groups around the world to be able to leave poverty and exploitative labor through ethical business opportunity,” she explains. That’s why it’s so important to her that Yobel sources its apparel and accessories responsibly.

While Yobel buys direct-trade goods, the company isn’t certified by Fair Trade USA. Ray says that’s because the number of artisans Yobel works with has made certification cost-prohibitive, and while she says it’s gotten easier to earn Fair Trade certification, she’s ultimately decided against it every year, feeling Yobel’s existing commitment to transparency is enough.

Despite her social enterprise’s rapid growth, Ray has no illusions that what Yobel does will fix global poverty. It’s a small bandage on a big wound, and corporate demand for the cheapest disposable consumer goods possible drives workers’ wages down, opening the wound wider. She says systemic change will require a lot of effort from a lot of people, and it takes a long time. But buying fair- and direct-trade goods helps real people, in measurable ways, now. And that isn’t nothing. Visit yobelmarket.com to shop online and learn more about its mission.

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