December 13, 2012
by Jesse Crow

Jackson native Karen Parker is an educator, but not in the traditional subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic. As manager of Fair Trade Green, Parker is a teacher of all things fair trade and eco-responsible living. “Everyday we educate people,” Parker says sincerely with a smile across her face. “There’s so much knowledge to share.”

Fair Trade Green, located in the Rainbow Plaza, is the only store of its kind in the Jackson area. They exclusively offer fair trade and environmentally sustainable goods and celebrated their third birthday in November.  “Fair trade is an ethical way of doing business,” explains Parker. “It originated during World War II in Puerto Rico.  A group of Mennonite missionaries took crafts from locals to the United States to sell and sent the money back.”

Today, the Fair Trade Federation regulates fair trade. At the heart of fair trade is keeping the human element in business and being conscious of who made the goods and how goods are made.

To be considered fair trade, items cannot be made with child or slave labor, a certain percentage of the final sale must be given back to the artisans and sellers cannot practice price gouging. Educating and connecting buyers with the origins of their purchases is where Parker comes in. “People love hearing the stories of artisans–where they are from, what their community is like and how they make their crafts,” says Parker. “It’s important to be familiar with the stories and tell them to people who come to Fair Trade Green.”

“It makes a huge difference and allows people to get involved with what they are buying. They can put a face to the maker and see how their purchase benefits someone else,” furthers Parker. Working at Fair Trade Green has made Parker rethink her own buying habits and their implications. “I’m mindful and aware that where I put my money matters. Learning and teaching about fair trade has made me so much more aware of how important the money I spend is to the community,” she says. “Instead of shopping at huge corporations, which often support outsourcing and politicians who don’t hold ideals I want to back, I shop local.”

In addition to holding their business to fair trade ethical standards, Fair Trade Green also accepts donations for KIVA microloans and supports community projects like Cleaning Fondren and the Rainbow Green Team.  Running a business with such an emphasis on eco-responsibility has also caused Parker to live more sustainably.
“My husband and I are phenomenal powerhouses at recycling and we buy in bulk as much as possible to avoid packaging,” Parker explains. “I’m aware of where things originate and the impacts of shipping.”

Parker says she loves working somewhere so community oriented, as the community is what brought her back to Jackson. In the mid 2000s, Parker left the corporate world behind in Greenville, Miss. Parker had a light bulb moment and realized she didn’t have to work 8am-5pm every day–rather, she could spend her time doing something she loves in a place she loves.  Parker spent six months working at Rainbow in preparation to open a metaphysically-oriented shop, New Vibrations, at the current Sneaky Beans location on State Street.

“My main goal was for the shop to be in Fondren. It’s where the heart of Jackson seems to be,” she says. “I wanted to create a safe space for people to gather and talk and learn about the metaphysical. I wanted curiosity to be appreciated.”

When New Vibrations closed, Parker began managing Fair Trade Green. She still fosters curiosity and sees education as a vital part of her job. “It was important for me to get my finger in the middle of Jackson,” she says. “I have my roots here and working at Fair Trade Green in the same plaza as Rainbow just feels like I’ve come full circle. It’s like I’m coming home.”