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In the business of fair trade

Petaluma Argus Courier, CA

In Lebanon, Noelle Marshall says people are warm and giving, that front doors are always open and children can go off on their own for several towns over. She takes these childhood principles and pours it into her new store, Petaluma’s first exclusively fair trade establishment.

Marshall said that when she migrated to the United States it was difficult at first to adjust to the different culture and even harder to understanding American mentalities. She said that here she fears for her children, and friendships are different.

“There was a real community in Lebanon,” Marshall said. “Here, you have to call your friend two weeks in advance to set up a get-together.”

Marshall, 45, credits her father as the link to her success. Her father obtained student visas for her and her siblings to come to the U.S. She earned a B.S. in international business from Sonoma State University, which she considers her greatest accomplishment. She also speaks Arabic and French.

Marshall has lived off and on in Petaluma since she was 19. Her greatest inspiration is her grandparents, who raised her. They were farmers, and they grew pears, grapes, walnuts and olive oil. She loves olive oil and loves to cook Arabic food with it.

“They were humble, easy-going farmers,” Marshall said. “I’m a very giving person. I’m very content. I don’t ask much — that’s what my grandparents taught me.”

She said she received encouraging and enthusiastic feedback for her fair trade store from her friends and acquaintances in the community.

“They’d rather buy fair trade items than buy products from China. They say it’s about time,” Marshall said.

Fair trade is a partnership between Western and developing countries for many varieties of handcrafted items. Nothing made by sweat shops and child labor is accepted.

“You don’t have to be exploitive. You have to be kind,” Marshall added.

Besides being fair traded, the items that Marshall sells in her store have to be handcrafted, and they are made by artisans from many developing countries.

“It’s better for the environment, it’s better wages,” Marshall stated. “It’s the socialism (that attracts participants) — everyone makes the same amount. And, by selling their goods here in the U.S., they (non-U.S. artisans and workers) can earn above inflation rate.”

Her two-month-old store, One Planet Fair Trade Handcrafted Store, was in development for a long time, and it celebrated its grand opening only two weeks ago. It is located inside Michelle Wellington’s Soft Shell Annex at 10 Kentucky St. Marshall also recently completed an internship at Kindred, another fair trade store in Santa Rosa — an experience that was very exciting for her.

Marshall’s business ambitions are to eventually get rid of the middle man that she buys her inventory from and instead buy directly from the foreign businesses and artists. She especially wants to go on buying trips in West Africa.

“Don’t postpone today’s work until tomorrow,” she philosophized about her passion for the store and the fair trade industry with a laugh. She applies this even to her private life, staying busy also on her own time by translating a book into Arabic.

Marshall said she puts her two sons first before the business, but luckily, her oldest son likes to help around the store. Marshall doesn’t bank on him following her footsteps and taking it over one day, however. He plans to pursue a software engineering major.

“I only work enough to pay the bills so I can spend enough time with my family,” she said, recounting how she and her sons set “dates” together. “You can’t always have family, but you can always have a business.”

(Contact Cheyenne Kent at argus@arguscourier.com)


  1. siba

    your report is fantastic we are a group of teens like to make an activity to teach children about fairtrade
    can you support us by small ideas
    thank you

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