Few concerts inspire people to change the world. They might inspire you to drink another beer or grind ferociously on some guy in a flannel shirt, but to actually change the world? Remarkably, that’s what happened to Reegan Hill, owner of Covington’s It’s Only Fair, a gift shop specializing in fair-trade jewelry, clothing, accessories and other ethically sourced items.
Up until six years ago, Hill and her daughters had never heard of fair-trade products. It wasn’t until the end of a David Crowder concert at Bogart’s, when he encouraged audience members to send fair-trade Christmas gifts, that her curiosity was sparked.
“It was some of the things he shared that night that propelled me onto this journey,” Hill says. “When I started to go to the websites he recommended, one of the things I kept seeing was products made by women who were survivors of human trafficking…I reached the point that I knew that I had to do something.”
Although there is no universally accepted definition of “fair trade,” the basic requirements for an item to be considered and labeled fair trade are that the workers who produce the good are treated fairly, paid a living wage and work in a safe environment. Basically, it ensures transparency and greater equity in international trade with developing countries while at the same time providing for the ethical treatment of employees — no sweatshops, no child labor, etc.
Just months after Crowder’s concert in 2008, Hill and her daughter Marissa purchased their first fair-trade items from NightLight Design in Thailand and Hagar International in Cambodia — organizations that work with formerly exploited women to provide them with skills, safety and an opportunity to make a fair wage selling their goods.
These income-generating companies hire women to make these products, then sell the products internationally to people like the Hills.
Armed with jewelry and purses made by women across the globe, the mother-daughter duo began their journey of saving the world one pair of earrings at a time — at concerts, festivals and in-house parties (think Tupperware or purse parties).
Fast-forward three years to a trip to India, when Hill visited 10 income-generating projects for survivors of human trafficking. She was introduced to the very women whose products she’d been selling and a new awareness was born.
“Prior to that time I didn’t really get the connection between fair trade and human trafficking,” Hill says. “It’s that gut-wrenching poverty that makes a woman vulnerable to being trafficked in the first place. If a woman in India is able to make jewelry and sell that for a fair wage, she’s not going to fall victim to a trafficker and end up in a brothel somewhere.”
After the trip, the Hills thought the next natural step was to start looking for a storefront and obtain the necessary permits to run their business officially.
The doors to their first store on Ninth Street in Newport, Ky., opened in 2012, selling everything from baskets and photography to jewelry and clothes that directly benefit victims of poverty and human trafficking. A year later, they moved to a nearby building on Monmouth Street and then relocated to MainStrasse this February.
Throughout this six-year journey, Hill has worked full-time in a restaurant in addition to running her store and is currently on the board of directors at the Partnership Against the Trafficking of Humans (PATH). With the help of local festivals, events and MainStrasse foot traffic, Hill hopes she will eventually be able to put her full focus on running the store. Ultimately, she would like to employ local women who have been affected by human trafficking.
“Initially, I thought our goal was to make a difference somewhere else, but I’ve come to realize I was called to make a difference here,” Hill says.
Today, Hill offers an array of ethically minded products that are either certified by a fair trade organization or sourced from people and companies she has visited personally to ensure fair practices.
It’s Only Fair’s tagline is “Changing the world, changing the way we shop.” Many of the items in the shop come with a signature or photo from the person who hand-made it. Everything we buy has a story behind it. The stories of the products at It’s Only Fair are stories of survival, overcoming and beating the odds.
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