If you are looking for a Birmingham shopping spot that supports fair trade and developing communities, Sojourns Fair-Trade is your store. Eleven years ago, Melissa Kendrick opened Sojourns Fair-Trade after traveling the world and experiencing new art, music and traditions.
1. How would you describe Sojourns?
I tell people Sojourns is a little bit of everything from a little bit of everywhere, but we are best described through the principles of fair trade: no sweatshop labor, no child labor, environmentally-sustainable and culturally-sensitive. We work with artisan cooperatives in 57 countries.
2. What inspired you to make Sojourns Fair Trade?
I worked and lived all over the world and love learning about people through their art, music and traditions. So, when I moved back to Birmingham, I needed a job and a fair trade store to shop in. I solved both by opening Sojourns. It keeps me connected to the people and places I love and lets me be part of the Birmingham community — rather than living out of a suitcase, as in previous jobs.
3. Why did you choose to open your store in downtown Birmingham?
When I opened the store 11 years ago, it looked like downtown was revitalizing, and I wanted to be part of that. Fair trade is about developing communities through sustainable income for the artisans. I figured we should be a part of helping to develop our own community.
4. Who are some of your biggest supporters/partners in the Birmingham area?
Our biggest supporters are our very loyal customers. I was injured in an accident last year and many came to see me in the hospital — they really are not just customers; they are family. The people who shop here bring their friends and invite us to their church or civic group to speak or host a sale. And Jim Reed at Reed Books — he sends every customer in his store our way. Small businesses reaIly do try to bolster one another. Organizationally, we work closely with Alabama Environmental Council, Alabama Rivers Alliance, the Riverkeepers (Warrior and Coosa), and we give 10% of our profits to non-profits that mirror fair trade values locally. Plus, these are people who really get fair trade and support us. We also work with the New Americans Chamber of Commerce, the Birmingham Multicultural Association and participate in ArtCrawl.