Around the World in one shop

Fair trade store encourages students to explore cultural diversity, travel

The Spectrum

Most students would probably shudder at the thought of managing and marketing a store while double majoring. Junior Todd Lozo, however, loves the experience.

Lozo balances double majoring in psychology and linguistics with working at Around the World Imports in the Walden Galleria Mall. It is his passion for the store's values that keeps him motivated.

Around the World Imports seeks to do just what its name suggests: sell imports from all around the world. The products it sells vary from perishable cookies and confections, to sculptures and flags, to decals and more.

Around the World Imports is different from the average store. It is a humanitarian experience that supports fair trade, cultural diversity and travel, Lozo said. He urges UB students to learn more about the world and to find a little bit of themselves inside of the shop.

Originally located in Destiny USA - then known as the Carousel Mall - in Syracuse, Around the World Imports has grown from a small neighborhood shop to a chain store that now has a location in Buffalo.

"We started small," said Kevin Dabit, a co-owner and founder of the store.

He explained that the store was primarily a small market, serving only a few customers. But its products, he said, are rare and oftentimes handmade, so they are irreplaceable. That is what led to the store's increasing popularity.

Kevin Dabit and Janet Jaworski, co-owners of Around the World Imports, travel all around the world searching for products and learning about different cultures. They work with cottage industries and different families in the countries they visit.

When Dabit and Jaworski find products they are interested in buying, they often offer a family one or two years of income in advance. This could double a family's income and keep their children off the streets, they said.

"We like to think of ourselves as philanthropists," Jaworski said.

Around the World Imports has three goals. The founders hope to spread the magnitude and understanding of fair trade, inform people of the significance of cultural diversity and encourage travel. Fair Trade USA's website states: "Fair Trade goods are just that. Fair. From far-away farms to your shopping cart, products that bear our logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated."

Lozo believes that many American citizens have "blinders" on when it comes to learning about other cultures.

"We are a nation of cultural diversity, so I think that understanding cultural diversity is imperative to understanding this country," Lozo said.

Without the awareness, Lozo believes that racism, bigotry and separatism will continue to plague communities around the United States.

Around the World Imports' employees are trained to be teachers in order to create a "ripple effect" with customers, Lozo said. The employees are coached to have conversations with customers about the products in which they are interested. Each of the store's visitors is given the unique experience of learning about the different cultures, products and nations around the world.

The customers also get to contribute to the wellbeing of the items' producers.

"When a customer buys a product, we emphasize that they are helping support communities around the world," Lozo said. "[We] not only make the customer understand the value of the product, but [we] also make them feel that their purchase is going to a greater contribution to the world."

Dabit is hoping to expand and take his stores to the West Coast.

Around the World Imports can bring its customers to exotic places that they've never seen before, Lozo said. The store is adorned in elaborate kites and mood lighting provided by Himalayan salt lamps, which are natural ionizers.

Many of the loyal customers have traveled all around the world, so they appreciate the shop's products and values, Lozo said.

UB is now among the top 20 U.S. universities with international student enrollment, according to the school's admissions website. Because of the immense ethnic culture these students bring, Lozo wants to start making students aware of Around the World Imports.

Lozo suggests international students take a look at the store if they are homesick. The products, styles and home-like feel of Around the World Imports can provide a relaxing and educational experience.

Dabit said people are all interconnected and the store can help students realize that the world is a very small place.

"People want to feel like they're contributing to something greater than themselves," Lozo said. "With a school full of culture, there are bound to be students interested in a store that provides for its producers."

Lozo implores his fellow students to explore this eccentric shop the next time they are shopping at the Walden Galleria.