With masks as the new normal and quickly becoming a fashion statement, Elizabeth Paganelli, owner of Fair Trade Décor, quickly sold out of the ‘must have’ item shortly after reopening her store after the stay-at-home orders were lifted about a month ago. “Masks have quickly become our best sellers. I ordered 70 masks and they sold out immediately, so I have now ordered another 150, which will hopefully arrive soon,” she says.
After her son and daughter left for college, she was looking to transition from her career as a special education teacher to something new that would combine her love of interior décor and design, gardening and helping others. When her husband and business partner Jude discovered the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) and told Elizabeth about it, she immediately knew it was the perfect fit for their new business venture. It was a family affair with her son, daughter, and nephews all chipping in to source items and sell them at Farmers’ Markets throughout San Diego County. Her son, now a fashion designer, was especially helpful in getting her business up and running. After a successful two years, they opened a Fair Trade Décor store in Del Mar in 2012, the first of its kind in the county. After five years, they decided to change their lives and relocated to Coronado. “When we came across the bridge, I was taken with how beautiful it was. It reminded us of the East Coast, where we both grew up, with its unique houses and quaint towns,” she remembers.
Not certain of what the future held when the COVID-19 crisis hit, she shut down her store about a week before everyone else did, and she and Jude drove to Seattle, where they enjoyed babysitting granddaughter Vanessa for eight and a half weeks, before returning to reopen the store. While she was gone, Sasha Wong, a CHS senior, assisted with the business by helping to expand the website and increase their social media presence. She also delivered orders and handled pick-up sales for customers. Elizabeth has been amazed at how supportive local residents have been since she opened her shop in November 2018 and especially during this crisis.
Elizabeth loves knowing that every item in her store helps support families in a multitude of developing countries. She has visited the workshop of artisans Saul Aragon-Ramirez and Alma Arreola in Oaxaca, Mexico, where they make hand carved alebrijes out of copal wood. She also hosted events where they gave demonstrations of their craft in the store. The story has held other celebratory events in the past, featuring musicians and snacks, but Elizabeth doesn’t know what the future looks like for hosting those again. “We are taking this one step at a time,“ she comments. She has implemented a myriad of safety precautions, including adding an additional cash register so people don’t have to wait in line and touch-less payment, is following the distancing and face mask rules, supplying hand sanitizer, regulating the number of customers, and sanitizing the store on a regular basis.
Her best-selling items include colorful capiz windchimes from Indonesia, made from jingle oysters that grow on the sea floor. She points out that not only are they gorgeous, they help support fishermen’s families on the far away eastern Java Coast. The luxurious alpaca blankets are handwoven by artisans in Ecuador and are hypoallergenic. An array of candles from South Africa or slim, mailable candles made in Lithuania will light up any room. Quilling cards from Vietnam have proven to be a hit with customers, as well as soapstone items from Kenya, and jewelry and clothing from India.
Selecting things from more than 35 countries around the world is now taking longer, and she is being cautious in her ordering by sticking with best sellers but also adding some new unique items. Always on the lookout for eco-friendly, sustainable products that help those in need, she has new items arriving weekly. Elizabeth says that Coronado feels like a true community with the abundance of community involvement and positive energy. She adores the coastal vibe and walkability and is happy to see customers returning to the store.
From whimsical to inspirational to practical to wearable things, shoppers are sure to find something in the vibrant store that catches their eye and makes a statement for their home or the perfect gift for a friend, while helping the economic growth of a family or community around the world. Located at 828 Orange Avenue, between Rite Aid and the movie theatre, Fair Trade Décor is open Sunday through Monday 11 am to 4 pm and Saturdays from 10 am to 6 pm. More info can be found on Facebook, Instagram or their website www.fairtradedecor.com.