IT WAS the smile of a young girl in a photograph taken on the other side of the world that led Rita Verity to start her own business.

“I was talking to a friend who had just come back from Peru and was showing me some photographs,” she recalls. “One was taken in the market square in the town of Cusco and showed three girls - the one in the middle was aged about eight and seeing her face, and her smile, did something to me, it was a lightbulb moment.”

Rita asked who they girls were and was told they were selling beautifully crafted knitted socks. “They had armfuls of them, and he said he had bought a pair for just £1. I knew then that I wanted to do something to help people like Sonia.”

That was back in 1992. Rita had been through difficult times and was in no position to act, “but I thought about how wonderful it would be to open a shop and sell things that would help people like Sonia and her family to make a living.”

The idea was sown, but it would be another decade before Rita would fulfil her dream.

Living in Haworth, she heard about a shop on Main Street becoming vacant. “I found out who the landlord was and told him I had been holding on to an idea for ten years.

Amazingly he said ‘if you think you can do it, give it a go.’ Aware of the risks, he allowed me to take on the premises even though I had no assets. I owe him so much - he trusted me and took a chance on me.”

So Rita, along with a friend, opened a shop and filled it with ethically-traded goods. She called the shop Sonia’s Smile.

When she first had the idea Fair Trade - which ensures better prices and decent working conditions for farmers and workers in developing countries - was in its infancy and she was unaware if it. But by the time she opened her shop it was gaining momentum. “I bought fairly-traded local crafts made by people like Sonia,” says Rita.

Today Sonia’s Smile - which celebrates its 20th anniversary in September - continues to thrive.

Rita buys products through the British Association for Fair Trade Shops (BAFTS), which works with UK-based independent shops and disadvantaged producer groups in developing countries.

“Anything else we have is chosen for its ethical or environmental credentials or occasionally hand-made locally,” she says.

Alive with the eye-catching colours and imaginative designs that go hand-in-hand with ethically-traded goods, the shop stocks items ranging from clothes and accessories to home furnishings, gifts, wooden toys, Fairtrade chocolate, coffee and incense.

The crafts come from countries including Nepal, India, Guatemala and, of course, Peru.

“We stock a huge amount of woollies - hats, gloves jumpers and other knitwear made in Nepal and they are extremely popular - visitors from the south of England can underestimate our chilly moorland setting.

“We sell bamboo socks all year round and as we have loads of unusual items people often come to buy gifts and end up getting something for themselves as well.”

“Customers are really interested in where things come from and it’s good to have some knowledge of the maker” says Rita. “There is a lovely story surrounding Dalit candles, for example, about the Dalit people of India - previously called the ‘untouchables’. We can explain the meaning of Fair Trade and telling people about such things we see as part of our mission.”

Adds Rita: “At the beginning there were not many shops selling the sort of items we had, often we were described as a ‘hippy’ shop.’ Over the years the phrase Fair Trade became more well-known and understood, although we are probably more ethnic than many Fair Trade shops.”

She feels immensely rewarded by the knowledge that her business is part of a global movement challenging unfair trading practices.

“It is wonderful knowing that the people who make the products are not exploited, have safe working conditions and fair pay, and also that they are able to access the market to help keep traditional skills alive.”

Her bond with Fair Trade does not stop at running the shop. Rita was among a small group of local residents who encouraged other local businesses to sell and promote goods carrying the Fairtrade Mark, and in 2002 Haworth became the world’s first Fairtrade Village, fulfilling the goals set by the UK-based Fairtrade Foundation.

She has worked closely with her good friend Bruce Crowther, who was the inspiration for Garstang in Lancashire becoming the world’s first Fairtrade Town, and has accompanied him to many International Fair Trade Town conferences. Bruce has visited Haworth several times.

Rita also served on the board for BAFTS for four years and represented them at the AGM of the World Fair Trade Organisation in Rio de Janeiro.

And she spearheaded the twinning of Haworth with Machu Picchu, the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Peru.

“Lots of customers ask us about the road sign at the entrance to the village which alongside Haworth , says ‘twinned with Machu Picchu’ which people find astonishing.”

The twinning even prompted coffee company Cafe Direct to produce a limited edition Haworth Celebration Coffee for the tenth anniversary of the twinning with Machu Picchu.

It was on Rita’s first trip to Peru in 2004, to discuss the twinning, that she met the girl whose smile put her on the path to running the business she loves.

Then aged 22 and married to a coffee farmer, Sonia was traced through a relative who still worked in the square in Cusco. She lived a ten-hour bus ride away but was visiting family in Cusco at the time.

“It was quite emotional, she was a bit overwhelmed when I told her my story,” says Rita.

As a small business, Sonia’s Smile has had Government support during lockdown, so was able to continue placing regular orders with its suppliers.

“We also used the time to updated our website a little but it isn’t really where we focus, we prefer having the shop open, greeting customers and sharing our passion and belief that a fairer world is possible,” says Rita, who runs Sonia’s Smile helped by her much-valued staff member Rosie Corcoran.

Adds Rita: “We started out with the sole aim of trading fairly and ethically. This principle runs throughout our business using Ecotricity for renewable energy and Triodos banking for example and using our social media campaigning for causes and charities we believe in, such as Toilet Twinning, Choose Love and the Peace Pledge Union.”

Haworth is the perfect place for the shop, says Rita. “We have a close, supportive community but also visitors from all over the world, along with spectacular scenery and the added attractions of the Bronte Parsonage and steam railway.

“After being here for so long we have seen the street go through many changes, there is always someone retiring and others just starting up, it keeps the place fresh.

“We support local events - the 1960s weekend is our favourite as our shop lends itself to that time. We have had a John and Yoko-style peace bed outside several times, and a mock-up Abbey Road crossing.

“Usually in May, it is 1940s weekend, when we take the opportunity for a break to empty the stock and hand over the space to Churches Together who run a pop-up charity shop. It coincides with Christian Aid Week and they raise about £2,000. We are happy that the shop can be used so positively at the busiest time of the year.”

Her shop, and Fair Trade, are Rita’s passions. “If you have a good idea which inspires and moves you, stick with it and keep that vision alive, when the timing is right the opportunity will present itself.”

*Sonia’s Smile, 85 Main Street, Bradford BD22 8DA. W: