Fair Trade, Fair City #STLMade | Across STL


Fair Trade, Fair City #STLMade | Across STL


-Photo by David Treadway

“Between Zee Bee Market’s mission to promote fair trade and Trailnet’s efforts to improve biking and walking, our work is linked by the common drive to value people, promote sustainability and support communities. I’m happy to work with STL Made and Trailnet to help connect people to the great work happening in our region.” – Julio Zegarra-Ballon, owner of Zee Bee Market

As we increase our diversity in many growing industries, we’re also welcoming immigrants. St. Louis has been one of the top two fastest growing cities for immigrants in two of the past three years. One such immigrant is Julio Zegarra-Ballon. After meeting and marrying his American wife in his home country of Peru, he moved with her to the United States and took a job in retail — something he thought would be temporary. But it wasn’t long before Zegarra-Ballon found his spark, and thanks to his work with St. Louis-based nonprofit Partners for Just Trade, an organization dedicated to ethically connecting producers in poorer countries with consumers in the United States, he became passionate about fair trade goods as well.

Soon, Zegarra-Ballon planned out how a fair trade supply chain might look in his own future business, and today, he has two locations of Zee Bee Market, a fair trade store that sources products from about 33 different countries.

“I recognized almost immediately that if a customer is given the choice to either buy something that is mass produced in a conventional supply chain, or the same item that has been handcrafted lovingly by a human being in an impoverished country, you can make a difference,” Zegarra-Ballon says. “Your purchase power actually makes a difference in the world.”

Within the walls of his Zee Bee Market stores, you’ll find colorful dresses that were crafted in India, measuring spoons sporting quirky black cats that were made in Vietnam, messenger bags constructed from discarded cement sacks, coat hooks fashioned from bike chains and colorful scarves, among many other handmade items. But when Zegarra-Ballon looks at the items in his shops, he doesn’t simply see things to sell — he sees an opportunity for all. Because the creators behind these items are now able to pay for education and health care, they also achieve some peace of mind and dignity.

STLMade is a movement working to shine a light on the people, innovations, and ideas that are driving growth and change in our region so that residents and non-residents alike can better see the renaissance for themselves. Through stories on theSTL.com, the movement aims to highlight the work being done and the progress being made – from building communities that are more inclusive, to creating new industries and economic opportunities, to finding those ideal careers people never thought possible.

Across STL is a collaboration between the Katy Land Trust and Trailnet, telling the stories of the people and places that help shape the St. Louis community.

This article was first published in Across STL Volume 3, click here to read the entire issue.