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Lisa Ostroff combs the world for socially-conscious wares.
After years spent raising her four children and doing occasional marketing or writing work, Lisa Ostroff was ready for a new challenge, something that would allow her to do good for others. She’d studied international relations in college, and was interested in the concept of fair trade. Then, one day in the summer of 2012, she was walking her dog and noticed a “For Lease” sign in an empty storefront in Westover Village in Arlington, Virginia.
“I thought that’s a perfect place for a fair-trade store,” Ostroff said. “Eight weeks later, I was open.”
The store that resulted is Trade Roots, a gift shop, boutique and café all rolled into one. All aspects of the business promote the values of fair trade: environmental stewardship, safe production conditions, transparency and fair wages.
The shop’s products are all made from recycled, upcycled or sustainable materials, creating a colorful and eclectic mix, Ostroff said. Brilliant saris are recycled into blankets, scarves, and even earrings. There are animal sculptures made from recycled bottle caps and distinctive bowls woven from recycled telephone wires or shaped from reused magazine pages.
The items she sells, Ostroff stressed, are practical and beautiful; they are things one would want to buy even without the adding allure of the fair-trade mission.
Ostroff sources her items from artisans around the world, from Bangladesh to Haiti. But for her, stocking the store is about more than just placing an order, she said. She has traveled to Turkey, Ecuador and Israel to meet with the men and women who produce the wares she sells; she has trips to China and Guatemala planned for the coming year. These meetings, she said, help her and the craftspeople figure out how to make their relationship the best it can be for everyone involved.
“It’s working with them on getting the prices right and making sure they’re paid fairly,” Ostroff said.
When the store opened, it occupied a 650-square-foot space. Then, last year, the dry cleaner next door closed up shop and Trade Roots was able to expand, adding on the café, which sells baked goods and fair-trade coffees and teas; the space also serves as a venue for local musicians.
Customers have embraced the expansion, and Ostroff is gratified to see what her shop has grown into.
“I have always felt that, as Americans, we are given a lot over here,” Ostroff said. “I feel like this is one tiny way to help people who deserve to have what we have.”