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 Month!

October is Fair Trade month! Here are three ways to celebrate this month:

1. Pray for the artisans around the world.

2. When you out shopping at the mall or at the grocery store, keep an eye out for things with fair trade labels. Know what your options are and how you can support sustainability.

3. Buy something fair trade and pretty! Surprise your lady, splurge with your friends! Go to to fashionably (and easily) change the world!

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.”