Fair Trade vs. Charity

Image“When we take a charitable approach to poverty, we are often hurting the world rather than helping,” stated Gretchen Huijskens, fair trade company co-founder. In 2003, Huijskens co-founded Three Angels Children’s Relief in Haiti, a non-profit orphanage, school, and medical clinic. “We touched many lives in many ways,” says Huijskens, “but I started wondering how Haiti would change if we enabled parents to keep the babies they were bringing to us.” She was finding that a community’s physical, economical, and cultural health are severely altered when people attempt to use charity as poverty’s solution. Micro-financing and sustainable business was heavy on her heart when Haiti’s earthquake in January 2010 shook up Three Angel Children’s Relief’s plans. “The earthquake gave us a clean slate after all of our orphans found homes in America just days after the disaster,” Huijskens recalled. She took that clean slate as her opportunity to pursue a long-term, sustainable solution to the poverty and founded fair trade company, Trades of Hope.

IMG_9142“Charity has its place. For example, orphanages are necessary, but only for parentless orphans. Orphanages are not for children whose parents cannot afford to keep them. Many make the mistake of charitably giving when we often do not know what would be best to give. Rice is an example of this,” said Huijskens.


A long time ago, sweet potatoes were a staple in Haitian’s diets. A sweet potato nourishes the body and can help one survive impoverished situations. However, America donated tons and tons of rice to Haiti as a way to “help.” Therefore, now rice is a staple of Haitian’s diets, a grain that does not nourish the body so the population is not surviving; but this food is free. Free food, however, puts those who sell sweet potatoes or rice out of business because there is no longer a market. Not only did this “charitable” American donation disrupt the country’s overall health, but dismantled it economically. This is only one way that helping has in fact hurt.

IMG_9072Crocks is known to have donated tons and tons of shoes to places of natural disasters. What Crocks did not realize is that only a few days after the natural disaster, the shoe cobblers are back out on the street trying to make money for food or medical care for their families. Unfortunately, because there are free shoes available to those in the market for some, the shoe cobblers are unable to take care of their basic, or now urgent, needs.


“Who would buy something when they could get it for free? No one in American or Africa would do that,” Huijskens observed. What is left a week after said natural disaster? A community still physically and financially broken with thousands of shoes littering a disaster scene. “It is short sighted to authoritatively decide what a country or community needs after a tragedy without taking time to ask and truly heal the issue,” she said.


“We litter their land and their livelihood,” Huijskens stated in reference to Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child, “I would not want a stranger giving my children a box of trinkets and toothbrushes.” In December without parental approval,Samaritan’s Purse annually sends children around the world shoe boxes of tiny toys and utensils, all the while pushing our materialistic view of Christmas on cultures very different from ours. Who decided children in South American could not possibly be happy without receiving disposable gifts on Christmas day?


All of the time, money, and energy used to ship these shoe boxes around the world could be used to create sustainable income in the developing world. Huijskens said, “How does giving a child a Barbie doll on Christmas compare to giving his or her parent a job every day of the year? Maybe by next Christmas, their parents can buy their family’s own Christmas gifts.” Often people want to “help” in an immediate way (like sending gifts) so that they can see how they are helping and feel accomplished. But donating to chase a good feeling is not changing lives. Taking the time to find out what someone truly needs and being patient to see the fruits of an investment is what transforms lives, communities, and the world.

IMG_9008Fair trade companies and businesses create a market place for entrepreneurial artisans in poverty stricken countries around the world to sell their products. When these fair trade companies pay them for their work, artisans can then provide for their family’s needs, save money, and buy more materials for their business. These artisans are more than capable. They do not need us to be their parents, change their diets, steal their customers, or manipulate their cultures. The dignified, sustainable cycle of earning an income is the single successful method to heal poverty’s wounds and welcome hope for the future.



Christella: The Story of a Fair Trade Artisan

IMG_6011“When I was 16 years-old I had to bring my first baby to an orphanage.” said Christella, a woman born into the heaviness of Haiti. “I had no job and no house and could not take care of him.”  Not only did she lack shelter and resources, but her body was too malnourished to feed and nurture her newborn.  “I had heard of an orphanage on the other side of town,” she remembered, “so I walked all day to bring my child there.”


Today, years later, when she tells her story, she has a glimmer of hope in her eyes because of the promising future she gained when she was hired to create fair trade products.  “The orphanage I brought my child to told me about a job making jewelry,” Christella explained, “and now I roll beads that will be turned into jewelry.”  Because of this job, she can provide for and educate her two children (whom she did not need to give up for adoption!), live in her own house, earn a sustainable income, and create the future she wants for herself.


“I was ashamed and sad to bring my son to the orphanage when I was 16,” Christella reflected.  After her first son, Christella gave birth to twins, a son and a daughter who are now three years-old.  This time, she can keep her children, take care of them, and watch them grow up — a right every mother should be able to enjoy.  Her sustainable job not only changes her life, but it touch the lives of her children and her children’s children. It is a long-term solution that ends the struggles of her past and opens doors for her generations to come. Even in Haiti, sending children to school is very expensive, therefore she is very excited to send her twins to school soon with the money she has been able to save up upon opening her very own savings account.

247Also with her savings account, Christella bought her own house.  Her home is not bigger than an middle class American bathroom, but she smiles when sharing about how she painted her house and hung decorations inside on the walls. In addition, her house holds the first bed in which she has ever slept, where she tucks in her children every night after they eat dinner.

230Health insurance was another first for Christella.  “Because of my job, my children and I will always be able to see the doctor when we get sick. I was the first person in my village and the first generation in my family to get health insurance,” she said. This would not have been possible in such an impoverished country like Haiti without the sustainability of fair trade. These life-changing, future-transforming opportunities are not a possibility through charity hand-outs.

IMG_9306“I am very thankful for my job because I want to be financially independent for my family,” Christella said.  Many people in America do not realize the shame some feel when accepting donations from non-profit organizations. Though their circumstances are different than ours, they are just like us, harboring the same desires to provide for a family, feel safe, and feel purposeful. They do not want charity. They want an opportunity to make their ambitions a reality. Through fair trade, artisans like her can earn their own income indefinitely and with dignity!  For the first time in her life, Christella now feels respected by those in her village and in her community.


This sense of community is new to Christella. “Before my job, I had no friends,” she explained. But now she has co-workers to laugh with her, encourage her, celebrate with her, and mourn with her. Christella shared that one morning, a co-worker walked into work after being physically abused by her ex-husband. All of her co-workers, including Christella, rallied around her passionately willing to offer help and support. “We can all relate to where each other have been, and we share the motivation to work for a better future,” said Christella.


One day, I would like to design the jewelry I make the beads for,” Christella dreams. She has many dreams, dreams of raising educated, ambitious children, working toward promotions at work, bettering her community, and maybe even purchasing a passport. She shares, “My life and future is completely different now that I have this job.”

IMG_8380That glimmer of hope never leaves Christella’s eyes. The hope remains because, with sustainable business and fair trade, opportunity always remains. There is no more worrying where the next meal is coming from. There is no more worrying about what will happen if illness arises. There is no more worrying about shelter, education, or what the future will hold. With fair trade those in impoverished situations can create their own future.249

Fair Trade on the Runways

Jane KatashubeThree weeks ago, a hopeful, creative Ugandan woman sat in a chair rolling paper into beads. One after another she rolled beads, hung them to dry of their wet varnish, and then strung them into a necklace. But today, those beads are halfway around the world in L.A., hanging on a model’s neck. Lights are flashing, people are bustling, and the crowd is humming in anticipation to see this new statement piece all the way from Africa. A synchronized gasp quickly followed by a round of applause erupted as those beads reached the top of the runway.

“Every product has a story of where it’s been and where it’s going.”

IMG_3644Nakate has these words branding their website. Their African products are made deep in the heart of Uganda by women working their way out of poverty; and they are making their way to American runways. We learned how fair trade products are designed for the runway, but how do they get there?

IMG_3645Nakate founder, Shanley Knox, talks about Nakate’s partnership with L.A. celebrity stylist Antonio Esteban, “I get to focus on the causes I care about, and he does the work with producing amazing visual branding.” This is the beauty of fair trade, the collision of our desire for fashion and our heart for ending poverty.

Knox describes the high-fashion partnership, “He’s amazing, down to earth, one of my favorite people. Some nights that looks like wine on his couch laughing our faces off about something stupid I did that day, and other times it looks like shipping out pieces priority for him to do a shoot and then detailing the vision we’re driving for. Good partnerships are seamless, I think, and that’s us.” This “seamless” partnership produced the Knox-Esteban collection, a statement piece bib-shaped necklace made of up-cycled paper beads. Their work advances past the original paper bead jewelry which came out several years ago. The Knox-Esteban collected mimics the stunning structure of America’s high-fashion jewelry, but replaces our Chinese, sweatshop-made beads with the up-cycled beads offering opportunity for Ugandan women to turn their lives around.

DSC_3996-2Knox shares how the artisans in Uganda respond to these high-fashion partnerships, “The girls are really cute about seeing their work published or on the runway… Sometimes they say ‘I can’t believe that’s my work!’ Other times they want to print it out and get it up on the wall.” These women transformed their circumstances of poverty into the lives of accomplished business women, giddy over seeing their pieces on a platform. How many of us can say we’ve reached such a feat?Knox explained how getting Nakate’s pieces in the hands of stylists and on the runways is about networking; “Most the people that I’ve ended up working with, such as Antonio, I’ve met through others and its been an authentic partnership that came out of mutual love for Nakate’s mission.” She lists authenticity, quality, and relentless drive as necessities when bringing in partners. Nakate even has new partnerships “in the works” to be revealed in the future.


“I see vision coming together…” Knox expressed. Women are receiving a dignified opportunity to provide for themselves and receive a steady income for their families. Charitable donations fade. Money is spent, food is consumed, TOMS shoes wear out. But teaching a woman a trade and offering her a job creates a cycle of sustainability that will never end while she is being empowered. “[These] women are beginning to understand where good business and responsibility can get them. With that comes hope and with hope comes drive, and quality work,” reflected Knox,  “I see all of these components coming together.”

Product Development: Designing Change

IMG_9028What if America’s passion for fashion trends and latest styles could perpetuate a revival of transforming lives and ending poverty? Sound too dramatic and romantic? Believe it or not, it’s already happening.This integration of fair trade products into the lines of big name designers like Dana Karen and Chan Luu is weaving together our country’s materialistic world and our heart for people in the impoverished third world. Though the development of fair trade products is different than that of American “mainstream” products because of limited resources and first-time designers, fair trade is definitely and wonderfully influenced by our beloved and European and American trends!

IMG_9001Chandler Busby lives in Haiti to work with women at Haitian Creations who are designing and creating these fair trade products. “I do design and development for Haitian Creations, but really direct all the operations for Haitian Creations in Haiti,” says Busby. She earned her degree in Retail Design and is using it to bring hope back to the eyes of the people of Haiti. However, she knows the difference between designing for fair trade and for the mainstream.

When I was studying design in the states the process was very different because I essentially could get anything I wanted or needed for a design with a quick drive or an online order,” Busby remembers. Resources in Haiti, however, are very limited. A designer can’t send her assistant out to fetch fabric. Chandler has spent time in busy, crowded market streets where fabric lays among newly slain cattle for sale.


Unpredictable resources make it difficult for businesses like Haitian Creations to fulfill wholesale orders to America, but they manage. Busby explains, “for our wholesale orders we can strictly work with the materials we know we have in abundance or can get consistently.” A lot of Haitian artisans make products out of tin from oil barrels, recycled cereal boxes, and fabric that they can get continually.

Another big factor in the design process is the artisans who create fair trade pieces. “Many of them [the artisans] have varying skill levels and limited to no experience. Many came to our program without knowing how to read, write, measure, or use scissors,” says Busby, “so some days I am training our office managers on how to work excel, do product costing, how to do product mark up; and other days I am training in how to do visual displays in our stores.” By “training” she empowers the Haitian women to run Haitian Creations; for by training and teaching those who are willing to work for a steady income, we create a sustainable cycle and solution to their circumstance, eventually making poverty a thing of the past for them.


Busby explains that their designs are very much influenced by the trends from Europe and America, which is exciting for the fashionistas of the American culture who want to keep up with the latest trends and change lives. Because of their unique product development process however, she adds, “we try to create products that are distinctively ours. Many of our products were the fruits of creative challenges that were then refined to work in the American market… I love spending time with our jewelry and handbag designers, showing them trends happening in the States or new fun styles and ideas; it inspires them. But at the end of the day, we just do the best we can with what we have, and have fun while we are at it.”

Enjoyment of and gratefulness for their job overflows from the artisans. Busby reflects, “I remember many of them on their first day; maybe slightly nervous, thin, no sparkle in their eyes, that dull glazed-over look that happIMG_9012ens when a person sees no light at the end of the tunnel… There is something magical that happens when this person is given a purpose to get up in the morning, to get dressed, a reason to leave their house. When this happens I see that person gain confidence, receive encouragement, make friends and relationships, have a safe place where they know people actually care about them. This is amazing to see.”

What is Fair Trade?

IMG_8662Deep in the heart of Haiti a woman sits on a wooden stool in her home as she watches her two children play. As she sits, she tightly rolls strips of cereal boxes into beads. When the children notice her watching, they run to her, covered in dirt and sweat, asking if it is time for dinner. The Haitian woman thinks back to a time when their stomachs were left empty, but not now; for the beads she was rolling she’ll make into a statement piece necklace. Then, through a fair trade company, she will sell it to be worn down an American high-fashion runway. She is a jeweler. She is a designer. She is an artist and a business woman. With dignity, she changed her circumstances of poverty to circumstances of hope. She provided for her children food, a house, and a sustainable future.


This business transaction is a part of fair trade. Fair trade is a growing industry that fulfills our culture’s materialistic needs while offering people in impoverished situations a steady income. It is empowering individuals out of poverty; and unlike charity, fair trade is a long term solution that changes the lives of generations to come.

Gretchen Huijskens, co-founder of fair trade company, Trades of Hope, defines fair trade as, “a set of principles to help to ensure that workers [called artisans] are getting proper compensation in a safe working environment.” These workers create products from jewelry to clothing to home décor and more. If there is a demand for something in developed countries, fair trade companies offer people in the impoverished, developing world opportunities to create it!

“We feel that purchasing fair trade products is the perfect way to merge sustainable development and our desire for fashion. This is the answer to ending poverty around the world,” says Huijskens. “More and more high-end designers such as Donna Karan and Chan Luu are purchasing fair trade products to add to their lines. This is truly the wave of the future.”


Not to mention fair trade draws in the “green” crowd. A lot of fair trade products are made of recycled items. Jewelry beads made of rolled magazine pages and cereal boxes was one of the first recycled fair trade products to make it big. In Haiti, artisans are using recycled oil barrels to make tin home décor or statement medallions. In Nepal, scarves are being woven from scrap pieces of silk from the floors of factories which otherwise would have been discarded. Even in the United States women coming out of rehab are making lip balms out of lavender and vanilla.

Not only are our materialistic needs being met, but now people around the world who were once in desperate situations are now providing for themselves and their families by earning a steady income. As opposed to a one-time donation, short term missions, and charity (which all come to an end), fair trade is job creation. This job creation is a dignified way to empower people out of poverty. Just like you and me, many people in third world countries don’t want charity, they want an opportunity to provide for themselves and their family. Also, through her experience in fair trade, Huijskens has seen that women who earn a steady income use it to take care of her children’s needs before their own.


As an adoptive mother to a daughter from Haiti, Huijskens says, “While adoption has its place, many of today’s ‘orphans’ are not actually orphans, but merely children whose parents don’t have the money to take care of them. My daughter has a living birth mother. Fair trade emphasizes the importance of keeping families together.”


Also, when a woman in a third world country continually earns the money to give her child an education, fair trade not only changes her life, but also that of her children and her children’s children. It is a multi-generational, long term solution to end poverty.

To see fair trade products first-hand, go to Huijskens’ fair trade company, Trades of Hope, at http://www.tradesofhope.com.