Left: A model shows off garments from Ilava, a fashion label by Rahel Mwitula Williams and Mwasi Mwitula, two sisters who moved to Kenwood from Tanzania as teenagers. Right: Whitney Young High School students hold signs about fair trade chocolate and pop-ups during World Fair Trade Day in 2018. Credit: Provided

HYDE PARK — A free, citywide open house in honor of World Fair Trade Day this weekend will highlight shops and makers who promote economic and environmental justice.

Open House Chicago Fair Trade is 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, showcasing local fair trade businesses through markets, tours and giveaways.

The day’s lineup features about 25 stops across the city and suburbs, including:

For a full lineup of events, neighborhood-based itineraries and an interactive map of participating locations, click here.

Attendees can register for a virtual “passport” Saturday to show at stops, and those who visit three or more locations will be entered into a raffle.

The raffle prize includes a $100 shopping spree at a future fair trade pop-up and free items from participating businesses.

Organizers will also be “giving out a whole lot of fair trade chocolate” at stops Saturday, as well as holding giveaways of tea, coffee and other products, said Katherine Bissell Cordova, executive director of the grassroots Chicago Fair Trade coalition.

The open house event “brings together a lot of people that are doing good work under one umbrella,” Bissell Cordova said.

The featured business owners share principles of paying fair wages, using environmentally sustainable production methods and building lasting relationships with their workers and suppliers, she said.

The University Church pop-up in Hyde Park showcases five businesses that work with fair trade makers in Guatemala, Tanzania, Ghana, Haiti, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan.

One of the vendors is Y’abal Handicrafts, which sells handwoven accessories made in Mayan artisan cooperatives in Guatemala. Y’abal’s director, Allison Havens, grew up in South Shore and lived in Hyde Park, and her mother is an active member of University Church, Bissell Cordova said.

Another business featured at the Hyde Park pop-up is Ilava, a lifestyle brand selling fashion, jewelry, handmade cards and home decor.

Founder Rahel Mwitula Williams and CEO Mwasi Mwitula are sisters and Kenwood High School graduates who moved to Chicago from Tanzania in their youth. Through Ilava, they work with a Tanzanian cooperative to create outfits using traditional fabrics, Bissell Cordova said.

Fair trade companies like Y’abal and Ilava build “long-term relationships” with international cooperatives and makers so “they’re not just buying from them — they’re really invested,” Bissell Cordova said.

“They’re promising [makers] fair wages and consistent orders to the best of their ability,” she said. “They’re not like a lot of businesses that will move to another area [in search of cheaper labor]. The people making the products can count on steady incomes, which provides a lot of stability and is really key.”

Fair trade can also contribute to neighborhood development in disinvested local communities, Bissell Cordova said.

For example, the Bee Love Café on the West Side was born out of the North Lawndale Employment Network’s workforce development programs. The programs aim to help job seekers and entrepreneurs overcome barriers to employment — particularly if they were once incarcerated.

“They’re working mostly with people with criminal histories, who are now working with bees, making honey and [making] other products using the honey,” Bissell Cordova said.

From events like Saturday’s citywide open house and an annual holiday pop-up shop to an “ethical entrepreneurship” youth program through After School Matters, Chicago Fair Trade works to “get people excited” about ethical production, Bissell Cordova said.

“We see things springing up and we embrace them, lift them up and hope they inspire more,” she said. “They stand as models so other people see this can be done, and it sparks other people doing it.”

Katherine Bissell Cordova, executive director of Chicago Fair Trade, at the group’s 2021 holiday pop-up. Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago

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