Women in Fair Trade – Elizabeth Kibue Bacon

We caught up with one of Fairtrade at St Michael’s shop founders – Elizbeth Kibue Bacon. She is a business woman with a social mission, Elizabeth was one of the first entrepreneurs who brought Fair Trade to Oxford.

Read on to discover her journey, inspiration and motivation.

Elizbeth Kibue Bacon

My name is Elizabeth Kibue Bacon and I like adding my maiden surname to retain identity and affiliation with my country of origin – Kenya.

I grew up in a big family of eight children on a small scale coffee farm in Nairobi. Dad was a civil servant and mum a primary school teacher.

My parents were very strict and expected all the children to be high achievers academically. This prompted an element of creativity and competition amongst the siblings.

Elizabeth Bacon Kibue at Fairtrade at St Michaels AGM in 2019

Leaving Home

I was very creative and good in art and this is where my interest for arts and crafts came from.  In 1985, I left home at the age of 19 to study and work abroad in Europe. Being away from home, was tough – I became home sick, and besides that everything was unfamiliar to me.

I vowed to recreate the African aspects wherever I lived and from then on started to import arts and crafts from organisations back in Kenya.

I made sure artisans were well paid for their goods. Little did I know that I was promoting fair trade principles.

Life in Oxford

I came to live in Oxford in 1991 to live with my brother.

Later joined Oxford Brookes University to study business. Two week after graduation I was employed as an administrator at Oxfam in Summertown.

Working for Oxfam is where my interest is to promote African artisans. At the same time I met my husband who had lived and worked in Africa and had the same interest as myself.

Pula: African Crafts in Oxford

We set up a shop – Pula, in North Parade in December 1999 to sell arts crafts from Africa and through our association with customers and other traders we were introduced to the Fair Trade movement in Oxford.

I attend group meetings once a month which aim to make Oxford a Fairtrade city. I participated in any activity that promoted Fairtrade in Oxford and that is how I got to know other founding members of Fairtrade at St Michaels. Initially Fairtrade at St Michaels was run by volunteers ; I volunteered two mornings a week and the rest of the week ran my business at Pula. 

Once a year I would make sure I visited one of our suppliers to encourage their work and to make sure fair trade principles were being followed.

Our busiest time during the year was at Christmas and Easter period into the end of the academic term when students came to buy gifts for their lectures/teachers.

Selling Fair Trade during challenging times

Running the shop involved my whole family, I would encourage my children to participate daily. At the beginning it seemed all fun but by the time the children were teenagers their interest declined and generally we were all tired of running the shop. 

Besides that, selling online become much more sustainable compared to running a physical shop.

Our decision to close the shop came just before the economic crisis in 2008 – we were very fortunate to pull out of the shop although it continued to benefit from online sales and referrals.

After closing the shop I started working part time and studied a degree course in Social Work part time and continued to support fair trade both locally and abroad.

Elizabeth Kibue Bacon at home, Nov 2021

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