Our history

Once upon an advert...



"In the 1960s the thought around development was that all the knowledge was in the West and experts would go and teach people how to do things the right way in developing countries. But at the beginning of the '70s people were beginning to say if you impose your ideas on others, they won't work and that we should base our business on listening to the perspectives of the poor - this was a huge shift."

VI COTTRELL, TRADE AID CO-FOUNDER

Vi, pictured above in the '70s with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and her husband and Trade Aid co-founder Richard Cottrell.


Over 40 years ago a young Kiwi couple from Christchurch went looking for adventure. They had no idea that their drive and vision would lead to the founding of a fair trade organisation unique in New Zealand.

In 1969, when Vi and Richard Cottrell were in their early 30s, they saw an advertisement for an adviser to a resettlement scheme for Tibetan refugees in Northern India. This certain adventure sounded just too alluring...they applied and were sent a cable that read simply: "proceed to India".

Two months later, Vi and Richard, a teacher and a lawyer from Christchurch, together with their two young children, found themselves living in a rambling flat in Northern India - far removed from New Zealand.

Many of the Tibetan refugees were carpet weavers. "And so I inherited a pile of stained, crooked carpets," says Vi, who worked for free. "My job was to find customers all over the world.". Without a buyer, of course, the Tibetan refugees' prospects were bleak.

After two years in India, the Cottrells returned to New Zealand. They wanted to go on supporting the Tibetan refugees, so they ordered $1000 worth of carpets and hung them in the CSA Gallery in Christchurch. Within 15 minutes of opening, all the carpets were sold.

Even though their adventure was over, they had no idea that this would be the beginning of an aid organisation unique in New Zealand.

In 1973, the Cottrells, along with another ten like-minded members, formed a small not-for-profit society. This was the start of what was to become the Trade Aid Movement - a group with a vision to create a more just world.

This initial group included a number of people with experience in development work to help establish an appropriate trading style. "In the 1960s the thought around development was that all the knowledge was in the West and experts would go and teach people how to do things the right way in developing countries," says Vi. "But at the beginning of the '70s people were beginning to say if you impose your ideas on others, they wont work and that we should base our business on listening to the perspectives of the poor - this was a huge shift."

Trade Aid's philosophy grew quite quickly from these initial meetings. Since then, Trade Aid has been as much a development agency as it has a retail chain.

Today, Trade Aid continues to support Tibetan refugees with carpet exhibitions and now also imports over 3,000 products from over the globe. These products are sold to a network of over 30 Trade Aid shops, and increasingly to the likes of organic retailers, supermarkets and cafes. Trade Aid now works with over 75 producer partners working throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America to create opportunities for disadvantaged communities through sustainable income generation.

Read more about Trade Aid's history in our Trade Aid timeline