ONE OF FREDERICTON’S MOST POPULAR DOWNTOWN STORES STARTED BY ACCIDENT NEARLY 25 YEARS AGO.

It was Christmas time and the YMCA of Fredericton’s international department put on a fundraiser selling beautiful and sustainable fair trade products from around the world.

 “The rest is history,” says Elaine Peters with a smile, standing next to a display of clothing at Cultures Boutique off York Street. From its humble beginnings, Cultures now sells a wide range of clothes, jewelry, crafts, coffee, tea, and musical instruments that bring the world to the city.
 As store manager, Elaine takes care of day-to-day activities including buying inventory. “When we buy, it’s mostly fair trade,” she says. 

Fair trade businesses aim to make a difference in the lives of artisans by ensuring they are paid fairly within their local economies, and that labor conditions are safe and non-exploitative. Products are also made from sustainably harvested materials and manufactured in an environmentally friendly way. When Cultures started, it was one of the first shops in the city to consider ethical buying practices to be important. 

Last year, Elaine travelled to Mexico with Just Us Coffee, one of Cultures’ suppliers and a supporter of fair trade. “I saw how we change our suppliers’ lives, but they also changed mine, because I saw how they live. I’ll never look at a cup of coffee in the same way again,” she says. “When you buy coffee it goes through 32 people’s hands, from that little bean to your cup.” 

When Elaine doesn’t buy directly from craftspeople she goes to a gift show in Toronto to buy from vendors who travel around the world to find fair trade goods. “The store is always fun, bright and welcoming, but I’ve got to keep it interesting so I look for new things all the time,” she says. 
While Cultures isn’t housed in the YMCA’s York Street location, it is a visible representation of the Y values of respect, inclusion, partnership and integrity. Cultures helps our community understand how consumer choices can make a difference in changing the world. 

The YMCA has many ways of helping people whether it’s by working out, daycare, employment services, or education. Cultures adds an international dimension to the Y by making available some of the beautiful crafts made in faraway places while aiding families in developing countries. 

Elaine says, “A lot of people come in and tell me it’s their favorite shop in Fredericton. When someone buys a product at Cultures, this means the artisan who made it can feed their family or buy bicycles for their children. Because I know where the items are from, I have stories to tell about the things we have and who made them. That’s priceless!”