The early history of Fair Trade is linked to Christian faith-based groups, as it is they who originated this movement.Most people agree that it all started in the United States. What is now Ten Thousand Villages and other associations first sold handcrafts made by disfavored people in the 1940s.To be more specific, it is credited to Edna Ruth Byler to be the first Fair Trader. By 1940 she was volunteering in her Mennonite community and traveled to Puerto Rico; she met there some women living in poverty who were able to produce a quality linen needlework. Six years later, she herself, along with her colleague Ruth Lederach, took some items to a Mennonite world conference in Switzerland and sold them there, becoming the first persons to actually trade fairly.For a number of years she sold the needlework from the trunk of her car, devoting her time and energy to this cause. Their first shop was opened in Akron (Pennsylvania, U.S.A) back in 1958. Later on, in 1968, this activity became "SELFHELP: Crafts of the world" and opened the first american World Shop in Bluffton (Ohio, U.S.A.) in 1972. They became financially self-sufficient and some years later, in 1996, changed their name to Ten Thousand Villages, which still keeps blooming nowadays.


As for the term Fair Trade itself, it was first used by Michael Barratt Brown in 1985, during a Trade and Technology Conference in London, altough during the early days some other names existed: "Alternative trade", "Alternative commerce"... and some of them are still in use.


The history of Fair Trade certification labels goes back to 1989, when a sharp crisis on coffee prices pushed growers to poverty in spite of being producing a nice coffee, well above average quality. By then, the dutch organization Max Havelaar was working with them, on Chiapas (southern Mexico), and father Franz Vandelhoff had the idea of differentiating that coffee, charging the final customer a little more, cutting off the middlemen and providing farmers a fair wage. The Fair Trade certifieed label was born.