Thursday, March 12, 2015

Interview: Fair Trade Mr. Turtle from Trades of Hope

Trades of Hope fair trade backpack
How to style a maxi dress skirt
beyoutiful hope peru
OOTD sustainable fashion for women
fair trade backpack carissa simmons
latin america lima peru
Trades of Hope Fair Trade backpack
peru travel blog

How to Style a Maxi for Traveler
Crochet Top || Marshalls
This top is 7 years old, and I was bored of the design. Instead of giving it away, I simply changed up the design with a few snips and stitches! Upcycling is the best.
5 Way Maxi Dress || Seamly.Co via c/o Fashion Revolution
Sustainably made in Colorado, USA from recycled jersey knit!
Shoes || Tieks
Bespoke from premium Italian Leather
Dangle Earrings || c/o Trades of Hope (rep Carissa Simmons)
Handmade in Cuzco, Peru, fair trade, empowering women out of poverty
Turtle Backpack || c/o Trades of Hope (rep Carissa Simmons)
Handmade in Guatemala, fair trade, empowering women out of poverty

Okay, so about two years ago I saw this blogger with a turtle backpack purse. Ever since, I have wanted one. When I saw this turtle purse from Trades of Hope, I thought, "Yesssss!" now I can have a turtle backpack purse. Mr, Turtle (named by me) is actually meant for children, so I replaced the straps with some lovely aqua ribbon I found in the basement. This is perfect for traveling too, because it is small and stays very close to my person. Okay now, enough of that, let's think more critically.

Aside from the aesthetics of this purse, hand-made by a women's group in Guatemala, today I am going to look into the company behind it.  This week I came across an article negatively critiquing social good brands/ "rescue brands."  I do agree with some of the points, such as the importance that the heart of an organization which works with artisans should be that of the artisans, and that misleading marketing leads to assumptions about the brand(ex: whitewashed models). Thinking about this, I went to the TOH website. When you first go onto their website, there are two types of photos. 1)  the sales representatives who are (majority) white or Latina and 2) the artisans themselves. Is there a reason for this, like a particular target market or just a particular person interested in selling this product? (With that said, I am planning a follow up interview with Trades of Hope.) This made me think about the brands that ethically sourced, and focus on the product, not the artisans as a part of their marketing. Is it wrong to share words from the artisans and not the artisans' photos? Is it wrong to focus so much on the origin of the product that it teeters the line of exploiting the story of the artisans? Sharing the story is part of sharing the product and providing transparency. The article also begins with incorrect assumptions which round-up labels businesses who work directly with artisan groups in developing nations as "rescue brands," assuming that the wage paid is under living wage and that people purchase and sell these products for self-fulfillment and a pat on the back.  Lack of website transparency, including sharing actual numbers and financial impact values is critiqued. How should we know if the organization is legitimately making an impact if it does not share it upfront? For those of us (unaware of or too lazy) to look up the NGO registered financial statements on the Foundation Center website, this is a good point. To further investigated social good brands with partnerships that this article calls "rescue," I am interviewing Carissa, from Trades of Hope, one of the fair trade brands that was mentioned.

Trades of Hope creates fair trade partnerships with artisan groups in developing nations and pays the artisans sustainable wages. The products are then solely marketed in the USA through Trades of Hope. When I first found this brand a few months ago I first I loved that each product supports women in developing countries and provides long-term investments. Second, I liked that these are beautiful product that I would have wanted to purchase because of it's beauty and level of quality. Why not trade up a purchase from Target for a purchase which is transparently traded and supports artisans in rural areas of developing countries worldwide?  Please join me in today's interview a I look into what an artisan relationship looks like for this social good business!

Interview with Independent Sales Rep Carissa Simmons of Trades of Hope:

1. What type of impact does Trades of Hope have on the communities they work with?
It is different for each artisan group we work with because it depends on what their specific needs are. In general, by partnering with Trades of Hope our artisans are able to provide housing, food, medical care, and education to their families. We also have helped to provide clean water for some communities as well as a school with a library. It just depends on what our artisans need.

What we have found is that when we work with an artisan group, the women take what they learn and bring other women from their community in to learn as well. So when we help one woman, she in turn ends up bringing approximately four other people (family, friends, neighbors) with her to help, and it just keeps growing and growing. So we are not just helping individual women, we are helping their families and their communities. I like this quote from our Uganda artisan, Ms. Florence,

“I don’t beg because I don’t want to be a beggar. But I want to get money out of the work I do. And it has helped many of these women in the community who are not really having a job, but now they have a job. I train them free of charge. These women, they are earning money, and if they are earning money, there is peace in their home. They are happy. Their husbands are also happy. And if there is peace in their family there is peace in their community. And if there is peace in the community and that means economically we are supporting also our nation, Uganda. I really thank all those who buy our jewelries. I thank you for supporting us.”

2. How does TOH choose which communities to work with? How do they discover them?
We have an artisan application located on our website that artisan groups can fill out. The Home Team reviews the applications and makes a decision within 30 days.

Artisan groups can apply on their own to partner with Trades of Hope, or people can recommend groups as well.  The groups need to meet our qualifications to be considered. Here are some of those qualifications:
** We require that there be someone on the ground organizing the artisan group. We prefer the person to be a resident of the US and speak English. This will make it easy to understand product ordering and sales.
** We require that Fair Trade Principles be implemented as detailed at the bottom of this document.
** The organization/product must be marketable in the United States. What kind of material do you have available to you? Google and Pinterest have some great ideas for products, and we are always looking for more in style jewelry for up coming seasons.
** Organizations/ministries must be able to access the material for the product on a regular basis. We sell in bulk, so we always buy in bulk. We also need each product to look the same. If a product is in our catalog, we must be able to provide that same product that a photo pictures each time we sell it.
** We also ask that the artisan group provide us with photos and stories of the women periodically.
** Artisan groups must have access to shipping and exporting to America from their country.

3. I am aware that the women are being paid fair trade wages for their work. What is the importance of paying a fair trade wage?
Yes! Fair Trade is soooo important.  I am embarrassed to say that I really didn’t know too much about Fair Trade until I joined Trades of Hope.  When you join Trades of Hope there is a Training Track for you to go through to help you understand every part of Trades of Hope and how it works. One of those training sections is on Fair Trade and our Artisans. Here is what that section says. I think it explains it perfectly…

Fair Trade is so important because many workers around the world are treated and paid very poorly. Approximately, 40% of the world's population exists on under two dollars a day or less and often times women bring home less than that. You might wonder how some products in the market place can be offered at such a great “bargain” like that $5 shirt or $1 pair of flip flops that says “made in China”. The answer: Often times the workers producing your bargains (men, women and yes, even children) are employed in slave-like conditions in sweatshops and if they are paid at all, it is significantly less than a human being, let alone a family can survive on. In short, Fair Trade is the key ingredient to empowering women, children and families out of poverty.

Fair Trade tends to make a positive impact on whole communities. Adhering to Fair Trade principles affects change at the grass root level of a society which ultimately gives hope for permanent change. By empowering local artisans, the end result is ultimately the empowerment of a whole community! The ripple effects of community empowerment are quite staggering as future generations are born into a society of freedom and hope!

Here are the Fair Trade Principles we abide by…

Living Wage  Fair Trade guarantees sustainable, livable income for the artisans, meaning it sustains their basic needs. This includes but is not limited to food, shelter, education, and health care for the artisans and their families. TOH pays artisans promptly and, if necessary, will help them with access to pre-production financing. Oftentimes we pay 50% of our product order up front to allow the artisans to buy the material and tools needed for the order. (We also pay for shipping!)

Long Term Investment Fair trade is about building direct, long-term and stable relationships between us and the artisans. We want our artisans to have consistent work and job security. I love that our founders seek to build relationships with our artisans. They take trips every year to visit as many of the artisans as they can. And they take 1-2 vision trips a year with a selected group of CE’s so that they CE’s can meet, work with, and build relationships with the artisans as well.

Environmental Sustainability Fair Trade actively encourages environmentally friendly production by promoting the use of local and recycled materials, sustainable techniques and organic practices.
Empowerment for Women Fair Trade provides employment without discrimination and ensures equal pay for equal work for both women and men. According to the Fair Trade Federation, 70% of Fair Trade artisans are women who are often the sole wage earners in their homes. Fair Trade not only allows women to earn an income while attending to their daily tasks, but also provides them with leadership positions and an equal voice in decision making.
Safe and Healthy Working Conditions Fair Trade means a safe and healthy working environment for artisans and no forced or exploitive child labor. 
Transparent Trade Terms Fair Trade ensures transparent trade terms throughout the supply chain.
Artisans are paid a fair wage within the context of their community. This requires a delicate balance. For example, if an artisan is not paid enough money, the lack of wages continues to feed the cycle of poverty. On the other hand, if an artisan is erratically paid a large amount of money with no sustainability behind it (sometimes seen with charity) this can upset the economic balance of the community and does very little for the artisan’s work ethic and sense of worth, causing more harm than good for the individual and the community.

Our artisans make approximately 3-6 times more than they would normally make in the context of their country. Remember, these wages provide a livable income for the artisans. These artisans are able to provide food, shelter, education, and health care for their families. However, wages are also determined according to each product the Artisan makes. For instance, a basket may require more skill and resources and take longer to make than a pair of earrings. Therefore the artisan will get paid a higher wage for the basket than they would for the earrings. Either way, fair trade guarantees that the wages will contribute to a sustainable lifestyle.

We pay our artisans 100% of their asking price so they can make a fair wage. We do not mark up the products until after we have paid the artisans in full and the products have been delivered to our TOH Distribution Center.  The mark up covers such expenses as customs and shipping costs (from the artisans to us), the percentages needed to pay our Home Team and Compassionate Entrepreneurs and business costs such as printing materials, packing and shipping supplies, and online services (such as the Back Office, Online Store and Website). 

Fair Trade & Our Artisans…
4. Do these groups sell these products in their home countries as well, or are they in a program where they exclusively create TOH products?
Almost all of our products in the TOH catalog are made exclusively for TOH, however, many of our artisan groups sell other designs/products in their communities and have other contracts with other companies selling them exclusive designs as well.

This is one of their partner groups. Learn more about this women's group from Nepal!

5. Do all of these groups comprise of women?
Most of our artisans are women, but some of the groups we work with do have men too. For example, the tin art makers in Haiti that we work with include men.

6. Who trains the people creating these products?
It depends on the artisan group. In some of the smaller groups, the founders of their group/organization will train them, while other groups might have people from the community train the artisans in different skill sets. This was the case for our southern Californian artisan group. Local artists came together and brainstormed with them for their products and then taught them how to make the pieces.  In the larger, more established artisan groups, the artisans themselves do the teaching, training, and product control. As the artisans grow in experience and empowerment they become the ones to brainstorm and create new product designs. That is what we saw happen with one of our main Haiti artisan groups.

7. What is TOH's long-term impact goal? How do they plan to achieve this?
I know that we definitely want to grow because that will enable us to help more women…more artisans…add more artisan groups and countries to the list of those we currently work with and support. We want to do this through our continued efforts in long-term sustainable business partnerships.  It is important to work to develop a partnership that will grow and flourish long-term so that the women can count on that income for future planning with their families.

Right now, TOH is also working on expanding our distribution center so that we can handle more orders.  They are also looking into more mobile options to make shopping and sharing Trades of Hope more mobile friendly.

They are also constantly building relationships with our current artisans and new potential artisan groups. I believe we are going to be having one or two new groups join us in the summer or fall so that’s exciting!

For me personally, I would love to somehow find and connect an artisan group from Cochabamba, Bolivia. My husband and I did orphanage mission work there for a week back in 2009 and the women made so many beautiful things. I am hoping that we could develop a partnership with them in some way in the future too.

8. Why did you become involved in TOH?
I have been a Trades of Hope customer for a couple of years. My friend from high school is a Trades of Hope Compassionate Entrepreneur (CE) and I heard about Trades of Hope through her and through parties that my mom hosted. I always liked the idea of buying products that actually helped people so I would buy Trades of Hope items for my friends for their birthdays or for Christmas gifts.  Last summer, I was put on bed rest due to pregnancy complications.  I had to stop teaching for the Summer and Fall semesters. I wanted to find some work that I could do from home while pregnant and taking care of my two-year-old. I looked into a couple of direct selling companies. It was then that Trades of Hope came up as an option. 

I started researching the company and talked with my friend who was a CE and asked her some questions too.  I started reading about the artisans, listening to their stories captured on video and I fell in love with the mission of Trades of Hope.  It broke my heart to hear stories of the women in Haiti who would show up in tears at the orphanage because they had no other choice but to give their child up due to their extreme poverty. It devastated me that women were having to make this decision. Then when I learned about how working with our artisan groups was giving these same women an opportunity to have a sustainable job that was allowing them to not only keep their children, but also provide housing, food, medical care, and education I was sold – I was no longer simply looking for a job, I was looking for a way to help these women, and Trades of Hope solved both of these problems.

I was so excited to learn that many of the artisans we work with are able to do their work from home or bring their children to work with them. For example, one of our Haiti artisan groups has a day care on site where the kids are able to go and thrive. The parents are right there and can visit their children any time.

Personally, I have been involved with short-term international mission programs (building homes, working with orphanages, etc.) and local missions (bringing food to the homeless, community projects), I have a huge heart for helping people who are in need. I felt that Trades of Hope would give me a chance to help other women and their families, while at the same time allowing me to help my family.  Every time a product is sold it is helping so many people. It provides work for the artisans who make and create each piece, it provides work for our Trades of Hope home team staff at our headquarters, it provides work for our home staff distribution center, it provides work for the Compassionate Entrepreneurs who sell the products at home parties and through internet sales. How could I not join? 

And the kicker for me was that there is not a minimum monthly quota that we have to hit for sales. To stay an active CE, you just need to sell a minimum of $150 per year. And you can easily hit that goal if you have one or two parties. I love that it is completely up to each Compassionate Entrepreneur how they want to run their business, how many hours they work, if they do home parties vs. online parties or both, if they want to build a team and turn this into a career or if they just want this to be something they do on the side. Plus, this job is just fun! It is fun having house parties and chatting with new people…getting to share about this awesome company and our awesome artisans. It is fun getting to hear people become excited about helping others and becoming aware that how we spend our money matters.

This job allows me the freedom to work as much as I want/need, and to do that work when it fits best for my family’s schedule. For me, I am working with Trades of Hope as a side business. After I had my baby in November, I went back to teach part time for this current Spring semester. I am able to continue teaching and at the same time help to create and sustain jobs for women and their families in the U.S. and in other countries around the world. I feel like we are all in this together to help each other out. We each have our role to play and when we are working together, then we all benefit….we are all empowered to live better lives.

10. Take this backpack for example, aside from being super cute, what does it mean to you?
We have a graphic that represents exactly how I feel when I look at any of our Trades of Hope products: “These aren’t just products, they represent people with a story” – Krystal, CE.

Of course, I love our products and think they are super cute, unique, and well-made. BUT what I see when I look at each piece is the woman who made it. I think about the fact that one of our artisans held this piece in her hands while she created it. I think about her story.  I think about the fact that making this piece helped to bring her peace as she knows she has a job that is allowing her to provide a home, food, clothing, education, and medical care for her family. I think about all the good that each product is bringing to the artisans and their communities.

11. What is your definition of beauty? 
Something pure…something that can involve a beautiful & peaceful appearance, but that can also transcend it and go much deeper….

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

God Bless,


  1. Christine what an amazingly detailed article... I have learned so much about Fair Trade and being paid fairly for the work that they do .... which I totally agree with as all people should be paid a fair wage so they can live with dignity and not just survive. Most people don't mind putting in fair work for fair money... Very interesting article girl ♡

  2. really apreciate this info , im totally agree with her, tnx for share

  3. AMAZING babe!!! I love that bag you are wearing! SOOOO special and amazing!
    xoThe Beckerman Girls

  4. this is such a good idea ! There should be more actions like these in the fashion industry !
    And thanks a lot for your comment, it's always nice to know someone actually reads you :)

  5. You look so chic and stylish. I adore this combo and you did a fantastic job styling. I especially love your lace tank!

  6. Great look, you did a fantastic job at changing your top, one would ever know :) Like the skirt too, and of course the turtle knapsack!

    House of Illusions

  7. LOVE this post! You bring up so many great points and critiques of the ethical fashion industry and the way that they advertise their products, sharing stories of POC and selling to a white audience. I think you did a really great job of highlighting this. As a fellow fashion and social action blogger (it's always so nice to find another fashion blogger who cares about ethics!) I love this post! Keep up the great work!

    <(') Hoda | JooJoo Azad

  8. Beautiful! I love with your top!

  9. Oh this turtle bag is soo cute and I love your boho vibes outfit!
    Thank you so much for visiting my blog :)

    See you xx


Thank you for the lovely comment. God bless & stay Be-you-tiful!