Fair Trade From South Tampa To South Africa, And Back

A large image of three African women hangs above Sita Monti's desk.

In it, Thoko, Constance and Bonsile are standing next to each other smiling back at Monti.

They are some of the women being paid fair wages for their crafts that are sold in LivAfrika, Monti's shop, the first and only fair trade certified retail business by the Fair Trade Federation in Tampa.

"I look at the picture of the women every day,'' Monti says.

A love of African culture led Monti to establish LivAfrika, where she sells handcrafted African jewelry and other items.

What Is Fair Trade?

Creating opportunity, prompt payment and respecting cultural identity are some of the nine fair trade principles. A business has to source all materials in compliance with the fair trade principles and code of practice to be certified by the Fair Trade Federation.

Certification also requires the business to go through a screening process and holistic evaluation.

The Fair Trade Federation formed in 1994 as a trade group promoting a sustainable economic marketplace. Their standards are adapted from those used by the World Fair Trade Organization.

Artisan's World Marketplace in Sarasota and Gifts With Humanity in New Smyrna Beach are the other businesses in Florida certified by the group.

Once accepted, members are expected to pay yearly dues and renewals. The process took about a year for Monti to complete.

"You name it, they cover it,'' she says.

A fair wage for fair trade items means women in these poor countries are able to create a source of income. The money helps pay for school fees, uniforms and food, Monti says.

Starting In South Africa

Monti started traveling to Africa with mission trips with her church in the 1980s. She got a masters degree in business administration at University of Tampa and spent years working in the investment industry until she decided to pursue her passion.

"I always had an obsession with south Africa,'' Monti says.

Monti started selling jewelry and crafted Christmas-themed items at farmers and fresh markets around the Tampa Bay region about three years ago.

She was running the business from her house when she found the small storefront on MacDill Avenue in July 2013.

Now, she spends three weeks, twice a year in south Africa searching for new items. She still brings toiletry and other items in addition to money to pay for the crafts she buys.

"It just grew,'' Monti says.

The walls of the small shop are full of authentic African handcrafted items. Animal pelts and wire sculptures of animal heads stand out.

Colorful jewelry made from repurposed items hangs all over. Some are made from telephone wire. Others from deconstructed magazines and previously discarded items.

Items are made using glass beads and signal, an African grass. Other jewelry is made from cow bones and horns. Many of the items are priced below $20.

She buys the crafts from 24 cooperatives in Africa. The women in these villages work at night by candlelight creating many of the items.

"I am amazed by the amount of talent,'' Monti says. "The quality and craftsmanship is really phenomenal.''

Thoko, Constance and Bonsile look at Monti and smile.

Jared Leone is a freelance writer living in Clearwater. He writes about all things Tampa Bay. Follow him @jared_leone on Twitter. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Jared Leone.

Jared Leone is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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