Interview With Kate James From Only Fair

Only Fair is an online shop specialising is Fair Trade and environmentally sound products. We caught up founder Kate James to find out a bit more.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to set up an ethical/environmental business?
Before setting up Only Fair, I had been working as a legal secretary and was on my way to qualifying as a paralegal. In April 2007, months before I was due to qualify, I had just left my job. I’d only been there for three months but I knew it wasn’t right for me. I was sat at home trawling through page after page of job searches and feeling very deflated. My partner and his family have their own business and they suggested that was the way forward. I chose the fair trade route because it was something I felt strongly about and without wanting to sound too corny, it offered me the opportunity to make a difference, however small. So, I went on to set up Only Fair and gained my qualification along the way.

Do the environment and ethics go hand in hand?
Absolutely and particularly with fair trade. Regardless of whether a product is ethically produced or whether it holds Fair trade certification, standards include environmental requirements. It would be very hypocritical for me to be selling ethically produced goods and not give a hoot about the environment.

What standards do you set for the products you sell?
Quite simply, all of my products are fairly traded or hold the FAIRTRADE Mark. Products that are fairly traded are sourced through suppliers registered with BAFTS and/or IFAT. This means that I know standards are being kept to and regular checks are being carried out. The range of products I have is quite diverse but I try to offer as wide a choice as possible. I love seeing how waste materials can be turned into something useful and beautiful, so some of them are made using recycled or waste materials.

Who are your competitors? Other eco-businesses or ‘regular’ retailers?
I would say eco-businesses as opposed to regular retailers. My customers are usually people who are either searching for something in particular or want something that is fair trade that they know they won’t find through a regular retailer.

What changes have you seen in the market and environmental/ethical world as a whole since you started?
While I’ve only been running up a short time, in those few months there has been a huge increase in the number of eco-businesses springing up online. For me, the most interesting change I’ve seen is the campaign against plastic bags. It appears to have really taken off and it can only be a good thing. I’m behind this campaign 100% and have been blogging about it since starting up.

Is it easier to source ethical and environmentally-friendly products these days?
Absolutely. More people are becoming conscious of their impact on the environment and want to have alternative options available to them. The most obvious source for this is the internet but supermarkets are slowly but surely increasing their ranges to reflect this.

Where do you see the market going?
Onwards and upwards!

Who are you customers?
Most of my customers are women who are either looking for a unique gift for a family or friend member or are looking to buy something for themselves.

One bugbear at Life Goggles is environmentally-friendly products in unenvironmentally-friendly packaging – is that a problem you face?
Unenvironmentally friendly packaging is a something of a concern for me, as well as excessive packaging. Unfortunately with some of our products, such as the ceramics, there is no choice but to use a lot of packaging. To ease the strain we re-use all packaging sent to us wherever possible. This includes our boxes. For some people, receiving an order in a nice, smartly packaged box is still part of the shopping experience so we will package goods in a new box if a customer contacts us.

How ethical and environmentally-friendly are you at home and in the office?
There’s always more that both individuals and companies can be doing and that includes me. I won’t claim to be perfect or that I’m doing everything I could be but I try to do my best and I’m a firm believer that small changes can help to make a big difference!

Most of it is common sense – not leaving things on standby, turning radiators off when the window’s open, using low energy light bulbs, not leaving the taps running. We’re extremely lucky with recycling in our area and take full advantage of this. We’re also in the process of setting up a polytunnel so we can grow all our own veg and be less reliant on supermarkets, which we try to avoid and support local farm shops instead.

In the office, again I use low energy light bulbs, recycle everything I can and make sure nothing is left on standby. I prefer to use email as I don’t believe in sending out lots of printed correspondence but where it’s necessary I use recycled paper and for any promotional material I use an FSC certified printer.


4 thoughts on “Interview With Kate James From Only Fair

  1. Adam,

    Thank you for your interview with Kate, who it seems has set up a promising business tapping into a growing demand.

    I particularly agree with Kate’s comment about the relationship between the environment and ethics. Business ethics, in my opinion, encompasses a broad range of issues, including practices relating to the environment, labor, product quality and safety, corporate governance, donations or participation in social projects, legal compliance, ethical sales and marketing, corporate etiquette and basic honesty and integrity.

    To neglect any of these areas, I believe, is to neglect business ethics.

    Accordingly, I fully agree with Kate’s comment in relation to the question.




  2. I am going to refer my students to read this article. I have one student going into competition with a greenhouse project that was designed with conservation and reduced carbon footprint as goals.


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