By Erin Crowell
In Northern Michigan, you get kudos for shopping local and are
encouraged to do so. After all, by supporting local businesses, you
support your neighbors, community and, in turn, yourself. Everybody
So what about imports? Is it wrong to purchase products from Vietnam,
Hong Kong and the Philippines? Well, it all depends on where you buy
Small Planet of Traverse City is a locally-owned retail shop that
carries imported goods from over 50 countries all sweatshop-free and
fairly traded, meaning the producers of that good have been paid a
Tucked behind the City Opera House in a small, narrow building off a
one-way alley, Small Planet is proudly owned and operated by Vicki and
Art Kinney, with the help of son Caleb and daughter Daisy.
A FAIR START
Four years ago, Vicki got onboard when a friend presented the idea of
a fair trade shop.
I was very interested when she talked about the idea, says Kinney.
A trip to India in college sparked my interest just seeing an
impact of when people were provided an opportunity to start a little
business, what impact it had on their families. For me, the idea of
fair trade started 20 years ago.
The two friends started the business together, but in November 2007,
Kinney was offered to purchase the business and take it on herself
which she did, with the help of Art.
He kind of gotI dont want to say got drug into it, Vicki laughs,
but he got onboard. Art is totally my right-hand-man, QuickBooks kind
FAIR TRADE, LOCAL AND ABROAD
Small Planet carries products from all over the world including:
natural fiber (and sometimes organic) clothing; pure ingredient body
care products, bags, ceramics and linens; books on peace, social
injustice and environmental sustainability; housewares, incense, made
with natural resins and essential oils; pet items, peace flags and
food, including coffee, tea, chocolate and olive oil.
Sometimes its easier import-wise to get something from a certain
region, says Kinney. We get a lot of clothing and jewelry from India
and that region in general Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, Vietnam we get
quite a bit. We get nice textiles from Guatemala; and a lot of our
instruments and baskets come from West Africa. Those are probably some
of our bigger sellers.
Small Planet also carries music, both world and local.
We do support local artists. We have a lot of local music and some
clothes by a local clothing designer, says Kinney. Were a local
family. We live a mile away from the shop and ride our bikes. So we
are very involved in the community. We shop at local stores here and
support whatever we can locally. So it all just keeps getting
People get concerned about the economy in the U.S. and shopping at an
import store; but then I point out to people if they go to Wal-Martor
wherever they mostly shopif they look at the labels, most of what
they buy is imported anyway. So this is an assurance that the people
who made it are being paid fairly.
LOTS OF RESEARCH
Before Kinney finalizes a fair trade deal, she does her share of research.
I start by going and looking at members of the Fair trade
Organization and read their stories and see who stands out to me.
There are a lot of people importing in the fair trade world.
I want to be able to ask those questions of the people Im buying
from and how and what theyre putting back into their own community.
When it comes to pay, Kinney says the process is personal.
Because its so culturally different from region to region, it has to
be very personalized. Its really based on respect. If I was someone
who wanted to import something, I would go and meet with a cooperative
of, lets say weavers, and they would talk and negotiate that process
of what their costs are, what they need to make. So its a real direct
relationship-based process. Part of fair trade, too, is that the goal
is to create sustainable income, so its not just a fly-by-night kind
Does Kinney believe Northern Michigan has fully embraced the idea of
fair trade or could we be doing more?
Both, she says. I think that once people hear about it, theyre
very eager to embrace it. Its still just not very mainstream in this
part of the country. Some people come in during the summer saying, Oh
this looks like it could be in California, you know? Where people get
information more quickly than we do.
Even though were not a nonprofit, Im looking at having a community
outreach program. Getting out and talking with people about fair trade
and what it is. We want to be sustainable so we can educate people;
and its just an easy way to do something good.
Small Planet is located at 113 East State Street, behind Union Street
Station and the City Opera House, in Traverse City. Their winter hours
are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Thursday; and
closed on Sunday. Call 929-4228 or visit them online at