A couple of weeks ago, I was extremely lucky for the opportunity to have a coffee and a chat with Qinnie Wang, the founder of Oz Fair Trade. Qinnie built her business from scratch after a life-changing trip to South-East Asia in 2012. I left feeling incredibly inspired by Qinnie’s passion, motivation, incredible work ethic and ability to learn. After meeting with Qinnie I want to read more, travel more, learn more and – perhaps most relevantly – shop more from her business, Oz Fair Trade.
Tell us your story: where did your Fair Trade journey begin?
In late 2012, I was on an a tour of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. We stopped at a village off the Mekong River where we saw women and children who had barely anything. We also stopped at the UXO Lao Visitor Centre where we learned about the problem of landmines and unexploded ordnance. This was a turning point for me. For the rest of my trip, I kept asking myself, “is there something I can do?”
It was at the UXO Lao Visitor Centre where I first saw bombshell products, products made from the remnants of bombs. I saw so many other beautiful products in Laos – amazing textiles, hand-dyed scarves… my partner soon became impatient with all the time I spent stopping to look at them!
Was this your first experience with Fair Trade?
I always loved Oxfam. But I had never met the people making the products. These are people with so much talent, they just need a market. I realised that without a market for Fair Trade, these talented, hardworking people would be forced to work in factories.
I was surprised by how much the people I met wanted to travel! Maybe it was because we were meeting them while travelling – but really it was a realisation that we all have the same dreams for things like education, and travel. To some degree, money does buy happiness.
How have you discovered the artisans who make the products you sell at Oz Fair Trade?
I now stock products made by more than 15 fair traders from around the world. Some of them I met during that trip and through Laos Fair Trade. Others are certified fair traders that I found through the World Fair Trade Organization. I also work directly with transparent suppliers. Google and Skype make the process of finding and meeting producers much easier! I want to support the process of suppliers trading more fairly. Hopefully one day factories catch up. If one day, ‘fair trade’ is no longer a thing because all trade is fair, that will be fine by me!
What is your favourite thing in your store?
The recycled bombshell products – these are the most popular items I sell.
What are your favourite Fair Trade brands?
Nick Savaidis, founder of Etiko, is right when he says “nothing is going to change unless it becomes mainstream.” I think these brands have done that so well.
What’s on the horizon for Oz Fair Trade?
I’m expanding the range at Oz Fair Trade. I’m looking at stocking tablet covers and I’ve just started stocking T-Shirts. It’s my first foray into selling T-Shirts online.
I’m hoping to use a site like Chuffed to crowd-fund engraving machines for some of my suppliers of bombshell products. The idea would be that my fundraisers would receive a bombshell product engraved with a personalised message. I think it would be a good development opportunity for my suppliers to upskill.
I’m also actively seeking consignment opportunities. Oz Fair Trade products have previously been stocked in the HOPE Collective Manly Pop Up Shop and the Australian National University and I hope to push our products out to other universities around the countries.
Oz Fair Trade is still a start-up, so when opportunities come up, I grab them!
What have you learned since starting Oz Fair Trade?
The biggest learning curve was the IT stuff. The Oz Fair Trade website has come a long way since I started it. My first website design was really bad, but it enabled me to identify, “what do I need from a site?”
What do you like best about Fair Trade?
People in poverty work so hard. Aid is great for major disasters, but I’ve found people in poverty want to work to improve their own lives. I love that Fair Trade give people the work, opportunities and fair pay to push out of poverty.
Speaking of hard work, how do you balance running Oz Fair Trade with full time work… and life?
My day usually consists of work and then, as soon as I get home, I do something related to the business – like calling suppliers, or website design. I take out some time for dinner and then work until bed. Lately, I’ve been trying to fit in half an hour of exercise. I’ve made a commitment on Promise or Pay! I like the stationary bike because I can multitask with answering emails on the iPad, or making product tags.
Thanks Qinnie for meeting with me and giving me the opportunity to pick your brain!
Have you checked out Oz Fair Trade yet?