Community compiles people from diverse backgrounds into one family — where people discover their creativity, their identity and their sense of belonging. Although the world’s population rate increases by the minute, hundreds of women in poverty currently face isolation and loneliness.
Cultural stigmas can unfairly portray women in society, often confining them to a place where they are deemed unwanted and unworthy of life’s opportunities. The community we surround ourselves with speaks volumes about the vision we will carry out for our own lives and our children’s lives, which underscores the importance of creating healthier community alternatives for women in these kinds of impoverished circumstances.
Recently, we had a conversation with Elisabeth Huijskens, co-founder of Trades of Hope, who seeks to bring relief through innovative craftsmanship. All around the world, Trades of Hope employs thousands of women to hand-craft fashionable goods.
Instead of sacrificing their bodies and safety for consistent income, they are being given an opportunity to provide for themselves and to provide a future for their families.
Below Huijskens shares more about how the organization continues to grow and to find new ways of liberating women from oppressive labor conditions and environments:
Darling Magazine: What exactly is Trades of Hope, and how did you develop this international fair trade movement?
Elisabeth Huijskens: Trades of Hope (TOH) is a socially-conscious brand that sells ethically-crafted fashion accessories. Our accessories are made by women who otherwise wouldn’t have a safe way to earn a fair and consistent income.
Poverty oppresses millions of women in slums, sweatshops and the sex trade; it’s unjust that their thoughts, intelligence and creativity are silenced simply because of where they were born. When we slowed down and really listened to the hearts and needs of these women, we found that they don’t want charity. These women want an opportunity to show the world what they’ve got. We love creating opportunities for women to work with pride and dignity in safe, honorable working conditions. We empower them to be the heroes of their own stories.
Our work grew into an international movement because of our Compassionate Entrepreneurs. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to a digital store or a storefront, at the mercy of how many people walked through the door that day. We wanted to do more for our artisan partners. Our sight set on something bigger — a movement.
… they don’t want charity. These women want an opportunity to show the world what they’ve got.
DM: How many countries and how many contracted artisans are impacted by TOH’s entrepreneurial platform?
EH: We employ artisan partners in over 16 different countries. People in countries like Guatemala, Haiti, Jordan, India and Thailand are experiencing freedom in their lives for the first time. This year, we started working with an artisan group in Pakistan, freeing them from bond slavery and social oppression.
In 2016, we helped to hire 13,340 artisans. After having deeper discussions with our partnered artisan groups, we found out that the work of those 13,000 people helped better the lives of 42,884 people in their families and communities. These numbers make our hearts soar as they rise every year.
DM: What are some challenges or difficult realities you have learned through the business that might surprise our readers about how women are viewed in other parts of the world?
EH: One reality that I was the most surprised and heartbroken by is the practice of attacking women with acid in Cambodia. It is a common occurrence for women to have acid thrown on them if a man feels disrespected or if another woman feels wronged. The survivors of these attacks endure multiple painful surgeries to rebuild their features, are forced to live with scarring on their faces and bodies and are ostracized from their communities because their scars send the message that they did something wrong to deserve punishment.
Trades of Hope works with these women to provide work after being rejected by their society. In the midst of difficult situations, our company continues to witness joy and hope re-enter their eyes as they find purpose and pride in their lives again. This is just one reality women are facing right now.
Mothers in Haiti have to relinquish their children to orphanages simply because they can’t buy food to keep their babies alive. In Bangladesh, prostitution is generally the only income option women have in most communities. In addition to reality, over 10,000 women and girls are trafficked from Nepal into the international sex trade, too.
DM: Socially-minded companies are becoming the norm these days, which is great! But that also means it can be harder to distinguish which companies are truly making an impact beyond sales. How does TOH measure its success?
EH: At Trades of Hope, we always prioritize the long-term good we can do over the short-term gain for the company. Our mission has been, and always will be, empowering women out of poverty. Sometimes this means if we get a shipment of accessories that weren’t made according to our original design, we accept and use that shipment rather than sending it back. This also means we don’t sensationalize our artisans’ stories for sales because of how much we honor them. However, most of the time, they love sharing their stories and how our partnership impacted their lives.
When we see those numbers representing 13,000 and 42,000 real people, our excitement grows! Our company energizes from women we hear about, [those] who are now free to pursue their dream and influence the world in a positive way.
Through her work, Shirley in Haiti adopted a baby who needed a mom in her own community. Ilma in Guatemala is the wealthiest in her family; instead of her family absorbing all her money, she bought them land to farm so they could be sustainable themselves. Ms. Florence from Uganda was a war refugee, but today she is the leader of our artisan group there and a local political leader promoting environmental care and hygiene. These are some of their success stories, and their success stories are our success stories.
DM: What core values does your teamwork to instill within the people you reach?
EH: We focus on empowerment, respect and having fun! I grew up serving in nonprofit work in Haiti ever since my family started a local orphanage, school and medical clinic. I witnessed both heartbreaking and hopeful things. Even as a child, something I couldn’t get past was how some adults’ survival was contingent upon whether or not I spent my free time in charity work. It didn’t seem like a long term solution to poverty.
However, through Trades of Hope, we center everything around our artisan partners changing their own circumstances through our partnership. With the help of our Compassionate Entrepreneurs, we empower and created a sustainable opportunity, but they can go to sleep every night proud of what they accomplished for themselves and their families. From that empowerment and respect, we all enter into a new realm of life: one that brings hope, laughter and vision.
DM: What does community mean to you, and how has TOH shaped community, specifically, for women who may be lowered or ostracized in their society’s culture?
EH: I think the words of many people echo when I say that community walks us through the darkest seasons of life. Together, we are our greatest gift to each other. Trades of Hope serves as such a beautiful place of community and belonging. Just like the women in Cambodia who found a new community by working with Trades of Hope after being ostracized, communities all around the world are being strengthened and supported by one another.
In Kenya, a lot of our artisans have been cold-shouldered because of their disabilities. But in their new workplace, they have found a place where they are empowered to change the world through their art. In Haiti, our artisans pooled resources together to form an insurance-like system: if one of them has to pay rent or a medical emergency happens, that person gets the pool of money that month. I love Trades of Hope because our partnerships empower women to be influencers in the world. And when more women influence communities, we reach new heights of healing, prosperity and hope.
I love Trades of Hope because our partnerships empower women to be influencers in the world.
Women here in America can be a part of Trades of Hope by becoming a Compassionate Entrepreneur. These are women who share about the hope and change Trades of Hope brings around the world, sell our ethically-crafted accessories and earn an income from those sales. They enter into a dignified partnership with our artisans. From different colors and shapes, women all around the world lean on each other to make their dreams come true.
When we seek to selflessly uplift one another, we help make the world a better place. Connect with Elisabeth and her team by visiting their site HERE.
Images via Trades of Hope