Photo of Sabeena Ahmed, The Little Fair Trade Shop

Sabeena Ahmed

Sabeena Ahmed is the Founder of The Little Fair Trade Shop, which supports highly skilled artisans, suppliers and manufacturers of fair trade and naturally recycled products and resources.

She describes herself as ‘a proud Mancunian, fair trade campaigner, educator, social entrepreneur, ex carer, breast cancer supporter and fair trade chocoholic.’

Sabeena adds “Our mission is to promote self-reliance, empower artisans and their local communities and give them the dignity they so rightly deserve.”

Who have you helped?

“For the past 10 years I’ve been patiently raising the profile of fair trade producers, ethical living and consumerism in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, London and my home city of Manchester.

It has been my passion to educate children, consumers and business about compassion, fair trade artisans and ethical living by promoting the principles of a living wage, self-reliance, empowerment, transparency, environmental sustainability and dignity and self respect for all.

It’s my ambition to physically visit as many fair trade producers as financially possible. I’ve been fortunate to visit artisans in Bangkok, Cairo, Bali, Haripur, Karachi, Kegalle, Kurunegale, Pinnawala and Rawalpindi.”

What’s worked?

“The Little Fair Trade Shop first started trading at the Covent Garden Market, Jumeira Beach Residences. Since then, we have traded at the Ripe Organic and Craft market and at specialist events such as the Festival at Masdar, the Swiss Business Council Christmas Market, WOMAD Abu Dhabi, DUCTAC and the Arabian Travel Market.

I’ve received a warm reception from hundreds of local expatriates and like-minded international tourists who I call my ‘Fair Trade Angels’.

I was proud to become an individual Associate member of The World Fair Trade Organization in 2011. Since then, I’ve taken advantage of the opportunities that have been presented to me. In 2012, I attended the first fair trade postgrad course at Liverpool Hope University, led by Prof. Bob Doherty, the former head of marketing at Divine Chocolates UK.

Then, in 2013, our two short films were listed on the RSA website in a series called ‘Pakistan Calling.’ In 2016, I attended my first international fair trade towns conference in Lebanon. On my return to the UK, I arranged a meeting with The Muslim Council of Britain to discuss how fair trade could be adopted by their 500+ affiliates.

I won Middlesex University London Business School’s International Social Innovation Challenge 2016. And this year, I’ve been selected to participate in a pioneering social entrepreneurship programme with the School for Social Entrepreneurs London/Cornwall and the Badiri Academy, Sharjah, UAE.”

What have you learned? Any challenges?

“My fair trade journey has been fraught with personal and professional challenges and financial limitations. I believe we shouldn’t be labelled and stereotyped by our appearance, command of English and or culture and traditions. We should be recognised for our achievements, ingenuity, strength and wisdom.

I’ve encountered discrimination and criticism from family members, the Pakistani community, and aggressive, misinformed customers who’ve suggested I was responsible for the atrocities on 9/11!

My siblings and I were devastated when our beloved mother was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer aged 60. Her health and wellbeing was my priority and for the next four years, my business became a secondary concern. Mum courageously fought breast cancer but sadly returned to her maker in 2016.

My mother was a single parent (I was 15 when my father was officially diagnosed with mild schizophrenia – they separated when he refused treatment and medication). A determined woman, she was a vocal advocate for women’s education, empowerment, financial independence and a staunch supporter of fair trade.

She wanted all of us to be high achievers, to see us graduate from university and become financially independent. So, despite my setbacks, I’ve never lost heart and am more determined than ever to dispel the myth that fair trade is not ‘charity.'”

What’s next?

“Before my mother died, she gave her blessings for me to continue to raise awareness for fair trade and campaign for social and trade justice.

I hope to work with fair trade producers around the world and create a fair trade slow fashion and accessory range in memory of my beloved mother. I envisage inviting cancer patients and survivors to model the range in fair trade fashion shows in Manchester and London.

I want to raise the profile of breast cancer, mental health and bereavement within the Asian communities in the UK and UAE and encourage a healthy dialogue and invite those affected to talk openly about their experiences.”

What advice, contacts or resources would help?

“It would be a dream come to true to visit fair trade producers and farmers in India and design my fair trade slow fashion range in memory of my mother. I would like to request the support of fair trade producers and the Fair Trade India Forum to support my visa application.

I’d like to collaborate with Labour Behind The Label, Fashion Revolution, the Sustainable Angle, British Association of Fair Trade Shops,  Islamic Fashion and Design Council and Social Enterprise UK.

Any other individuals and experts who could offer their expertise, advice and guidance with social enterprise grant proposals, funding streams and fashion design.

I’m working to establish a fair trade educational and interfaith network. With the support of educators and parents, it would give young learners from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to learn about fair trade producers and the impact fair trade has had on their lives and communities.

This would be done through interactive puppet shows, videos, interviews, live Q&A’s, webinars, workshops, dramas, books, visits, fashion shows and songs.”

Why we’re sharing these stories

An individual or organisation from each of our five categories will be recognised at our Igniting Inspiration recognition event in November, but we want to publish all relevant stories to spread awareness of all the positive work that goes on in the North!

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