Seaside Magazine Starfish

Christine Downing: Latin America [LA] Local [LO] Caribbean [CA]

– by Deborah Rogers –

This is part of a rotating series of articles on members of Sidney Meet Up Women’s Networking Group, featuring women in business on the Saanich Peninsula.

With its warm terracotta walls and some eclectic beats coming from the stereo, new Sidney store Laloca is an appealing place to spend some time. It is filled with beautiful Fair Trade items from around the world. Owner Christine Downing talked me through the process that led to Laloca’s opening a month ago:

“I like building things; that’s what I’ve done for years.” With work in community development , adult education and cultural diversity as well as a lot of travel, Christine’s experience all seems to have culminated in this new venture being the next natural step. Christine spent a lot of time in Central and South America and the Caribbean looking at the way that co-ops were operated, and learning from them. Impressed with the efforts of those communities to create a fairer, more human community and Earth-centred economy through social enterprises, she hoped to adapt those ideas to her own setting.

Christine clearly has a soft spot for Peru and Bolivia, where she came across Artesania Sorata. “I fell in love with it,” she says, showing me two large wall hangings on display behind the counter. Many of the store’s vibrant textile pieces are made by this Bolivian group: cushions, purses and dolls all in distinctive colours and incorporating traditional dress and landscapes. Shearing, weaving and spinning – it’s all done from scratch by the artisans. Christine stresses that her principles mean that she buys products up front from the foreign producers, allowing them a fair price for the goods they produce. “They’re supporting me, I’m supporting them – it’s a fair trade.”

The Fair Trade Federation has a set of nine conditions which dictate what can and can’t be sold as a Fair Trade product. These include supporting safe and empowering working conditions, ensuring the rights of children and cultivating environmental stewardship. They also require a respect of cultural identity and this is something I sense Christine is passionate about. The items on sale in Laloca are primarily pieces of art, not tokens representing a country. You won’t find an “African section,” just beautiful items selected for their quality and uniqueness.

Applying Fair Trade principles, Christine has also selected some local products that sit well alongside the spices, teas and coffees, jewelry, scarves and home décor items from around the world. Shea Butter Market is supplying Island-made skin care products and there is artwork from First Nations artist Virgil Sampson.

Christine is proud to support both local and international producers who care about and give back to their communities. She says “that’s a movement that can change the world.” LALOCA in Spanish also means Crazy Woman, so there’s a great sense of humour on offer too!


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