Latitudes now operates three year-round retail locations—in Warrenton, Fredericksburg and Staunton—and acquires products from dozens of countries from Haiti to Sri Lanka.
On a Thursday night in December 2010, Terry Owsley and his wife, Lee, packed their pickup truck with bookshelves and rolled into downtown Warrenton to meet a few friends, who promptly helped them transform an empty retail front into a pop-up fair trade store set to open the next day.
“It was really kind of amazing for us because we thought about it on Thanksgiving, and then within a week, we had a business license, insurance and a key to a store,” says Terry Owsley, who started the Latitudes Fair Trade Store chainlet with his wife as a one-month venture for the holidays. “There always was the mission of fair trade, but how we got there somewhat evolved.”
Lee, who taught English as a second language for Fauquier County Public Schools, had recently visited Guatemala on a teaching grant and studied Mayan weaving while there. On the plane ride home, she realized the scarves and tapestries were an ideal addition to the items the Owsleys had been selling at craft shows. They quickly ordered some and set their eyes on a storefront.
Latitudes now operates three year-round retail locations—in Warrenton, Fredericksburg and Staunton—and acquires products from hundreds of groups worldwide that operate in dozens of countries from Haiti to Sri Lanka. Each year, the Owsleys travel to some of those countries to meet the artisans and ensure fair payment and the quality of their working conditions. They also purchase items from members of the Fair Trade Federation.
“People who are involved in fair trade are really not in it as much for the money as they are in it for the benefits of helping others,” Owsley says. As evidence, Latitudes is also active in local philanthropy, operating fashion shows for and donating products to area women’s shelters.
Framed photos of international artisans line the staircase to the second floor of the Fredericksburg store, where shoppers can consider a floral wrap dress from India ($58) or an Indonesian sarong ($24.25). On the floor below, accessories include geometric wood and brass earrings ($20) and vibrant Cambodian clutch wallets ($29.50).
“The concentration of fair trade stores in the U.S. is very low compared to other places like Europe,” says Owsley, whose shop is an alliance store with fair-trade chain 10,000 Villages. “There is a big niche there that needs to be filled, and we have found that there’s a huge response from customers in the community to support the products and the concepts behind it.” // Locations in Fredericksburg, Staunton and Warrenton