At The Free Woman, we love learning more about women and organisations that are doing good in the world. Let us introduce you to Trades of Hope, a fair trade company offering sustainable business to women around the world and a solution to poverty. We chatted with its lovely Co-Founder and Creative Director Elisabeth Huijskens.
Yes, the four of us founded Trades of Hope! My mom, Gretchen, and her friend, Holly, met at a homeschool co-op for their kids. My mom had 10+ years working in Haiti after she founded a nonprofit orphanage, school, and medical clinic in Port au Prince. But after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, my mom felt heavy on her heart that creating sustainable business opportunities for women was the true solution to ending poverty around the world. Holly, a pastor’s wife, at that time experienced a heart attack at 40 years-old and was motivated to more eagerly pursue God’s call on her life. They put their years of business experience and missional knowledge together, and out of that Trades of Hope was born!
The two mothers asked their daughters, Chelsie and myself, to join them in order to show us and women around the world that anyone, at any age, can do big, life-changing things to better the world!
Trades of Hope’s mission is to empower women around the world out of poverty through creating sustainable business opportunities. By selling ethically produced fashion accessories and home decor made by our artisans around the world, we have seen women come out of poverty, often bringing her family and members in her community with her. We have artisans in 16 different countries, all of whom are receiving safe working conditions and fair wages. While charity has its place, free food is consumed, free clothes wither away, but if you teach a woman a skill for a job – that is something that no one can take away from her! But it doesn’t end there. Our compassionate entrepreneurs (CEs), everyday modern American women, receive a commission on all their Trades of Hope sales. Our CEs are then able to bring in an income for their families as well. It is a sustainable cycle, benefiting everyone involved.
How has empowering the women, rather than donating to them, changed their lives so far?
At Trades of Hope, we believe that all women, including women who live in poverty, do not want charity but a dignified opportunity to provide for their own families. They are women just like us. They want their children to be safe, go to school, eat healthy meals and be able to dream of a prosperous future. They want to be the ones to bring their children joy, to make smiles stretch across their faces, to make laughter erupt from their bodies. These are privileges that should be shared within a family, not handed out from a stranger. Is it kind when strangers donate out of a heart to help? Yes, but it is not the most helpful way; and it does not have to be that way. There is a way for those womanly, motherly desires to be fulfilled: through creating opportunities for sustainable business. We have to see women be able to keep their babies rather than having to give them up at an orphanage because they cannot afford to take care of them. We have seen women buy their own houses, beds, and decorations for their homes for the first time in their lives. We have seen women open savings accounts and receive insurance – something unimaginable to others in their villages. We have seen women regain hope in their eyes as they, not only survive, but become dignified, strategic and creative business women.
Everyone involved with Trades of Hope, from the Founders, our home team, our Compassionate Entrepreneurs (CEs), to our customers, are a part of an army of marketers on behalf of our talented artisans. Our artisans have been silenced in their communities, often ostracized and shunned. Trades of Hope gives them a voice again to say, “I am here. I have value. I am powerful.” By marketing the products they have made, we show them, their community, and the world that they are amazing and that they are creating something amazing.
I am so thankful that as the Creative Director I can use art and creativity to be a part of giving a voice to the silenced. Every graphic, every website page, every piece of business collateral speaks on behalf of the artisans, which is not something that I take lightly. It is my job to make sure that the message Trades of Hope is sending is powerful, consistent and aesthetically exciting! The more successful Trades of Hope’s communication to the masses is, the more successfully our artisans can thrive! I am very, truly blessed to use the gifts and creativity placed inside of me to speak on behalf of these women. It is the highest privilege.
What’s been a personal highlight or favourite memory from the journey?
In addition to helping women and families around the world, through Trades of Hope, I have been personally blessed with the unexpected gift of friendship. Trades of Hope has attracted some very inspirational women to become compassionate entrepreneurs, women who I would not have met if this company didn’t exist. As a young woman, just out of college, it has been such a gift to have truly beautiful women in my life to look up to and learn from. Many of these women, ranging from 30’s to 50’s, have given me wisdom, comfort during seasons of trial, and shown me even more what it is like to be a woman, wife, and mother after God’s own heart. The Trades of Hope compassionate entrepreneurs make up a sisterhood where women support each other in business and often in each other’s personal lives. It was not something we anticipated when starting Trades of Hope, at least not to such a beautiful extent. I know it has blessed me as well as many other women involved with Trades of Hope.
The most life-giving way any woman can get involved with Trades of Hope is by becoming a compassionate entrepreneur (CE). Signing on as a CE ensures more business for our artisans as well as financial benefits for the CE herself. It is a sustainable cycle that creates the most change in the world.
Women can also host Trades of Hope parties and shop our collection of ethically produced fashion accessories and home decor online at TradesofHope.com.
– images provided by Elisabeth Huijskens