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Photo: Trades of Hope co-founders and home office staff gather for fun and fellowship.
Founded: June 2010
Headquarters: Bunnell, Florida
Founders: Chelsie Antos, Elisabeth Huijskens, Gretchen Huijskens, Holly Wehde
Products: Ethically produced fashion accessories and home décor
Five years ago, two moms had an idea: What if we could work with our daughters to create a business that changed the lives of women around the world?
Both women were at a crossroads in their own lives. Holly Wehde was a pastor’s wife who had just survived a heart attack at the age of 40, and Gretchen Huijskens was struggling over the limited impact that she felt she was making through a nonprofit that she co-founded in Haiti. The two met in a home school co-op meeting and instantly bonded over their common faith and their shared commitment to service.
Soon thereafter, Wehde went to a home party sponsored by one of her friends. As she looked around at all of the people who were having fun eating and looking at jewelry, her thoughts turned to the women that Huijskens had described to her. Instantly, she had a vision for how she could build a home party business that could make a sustainable impact on Haitian women’s lives. She soon shared that vision with Huijskens, and they agreed to invite Wehde’s daughter Chelsie and Huijskens’s daughter Elisabeth to join them.
Trades of Hope launched in June 2010 with the mission to “empower women out of poverty through sustainable business.” The company utilizes home parties to sell handmade fashion accessories and home décor that are created by women artisans from around the globe. The company now has almost 2,000 distributors—called “Compassionate Entrepreneurs”—in 49 states throughout the country.
A Sisterhood Built on Social Media
The founders initially focused on their local market by hosting home parties in Palm Coast, Florida. The enthusiastic reception for the products, and the way that customers embraced the stories of the artisans, confirmed that the company was on the right path.
A simple step then allowed them to transform the future of their business: creating a Facebook page to promote Trades of Hope as a missional opportunity.
“The four founders were out shopping at a fair trade store to brainstorm ideas and discuss next steps. And suddenly, my husband starts texting me to say that his phone is blowing up because he is getting Facebook messages from people all over the country who found our page within two days of going online,” says Wehde. “And we looked at each other and just said, ‘Wow, we have a real business!’ ”
Today, more than 11,000 people are following Trades of Hope on Facebook. The company typically posts several times per day, not only with updates on its products but also with stories about its artisans, links to articles related to the mission of lifting people out of poverty, and inspiring posts that carry messages about the founders’ faith. In fact, other than Facebook, the company’s only source of marketing has been word of mouth.
“We have a wide range of women who want to be a part of Trades of Hope,” says Huijskens. “The diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and ages are something that we really enjoy about our sisterhood. More than a certain age or demographic, we want people who have a heart for helping others.”
Erin, a top CE was provided the opportunity to meet with artisans in Haiti, including Gina and her baby, Christnelle (pictured).
A Global Vision for Women
The leaders of Trades of Hope are unabashed about the higher calling that drives them to grow their company.
“We believe that God called us to start this business,” says Huijskens. “There are hurting people around the world because they lack the same opportunities that we do simply because of where they were born. Charity is a bandage that sometimes makes situations worse for people in developing countries. We don’t want to be a bandage: We want to be a solution for struggling women and their children.”
Huijskens first traveled to Haiti about 13 years ago. Taken aback by the intense poverty she encountered, she decided to co-found a nonprofit that included an orphanage, school, and medical clinic. She ran the organization for eight years as its president but decided that she needed to do something else after the earthquake in 2010, when she realized that the depths of poverty in Haiti could not be addressed through charity alone.
Faces of Hope
Ya, a Cambodian artisan, shows the detail of her work.
Trades of Hope’s social media channels are filled with moving images and gripping videos about their artisans. In one video, Co-Founder Gretchen Huijskens interviews women in Cambodia who have survived acid attacks. As a result of the permanent disfiguration of their faces and bodies, these women are ostracized by society and even put out on the street by their own families.
“The women who are now Trades of Hope artisans have a way to earn money for themselves and their children where they are valued and treated with respect. They are regaining their self-confidence and feel purposeful about helping other survivors find hope for the future,” says Huijskens.
In Bangladesh, many of the artisans came to Trades of Hope after escaping the sex trade. The company engages them in making soap, which symbolizes a clean break from their old way of life. They imprint each bar with their thumbprint in wax to create a very clear symbol to the buyer of the connection between the purchase of the soap and the “hand up” that they have given to these women.
Artisans typically make far more selling through Trades of Hope than they would selling in their local market. Being able to make a fair wage allows them to take care of their families, send their children to school, and have real hope in a better future.
She explains, “I believed that sustainable business was the long-term solution to poverty. Through Trades of Hope, we offer sustainable incomes that have changed lives over the past 4.5 years. We very often hear stories of women who were able to own a bed for the first time. Women who are sending their children to school. Women who are building their own houses. These women motivate us every day.”
Trades of Hope offers women in developing countries a way to provide for their families by selling their handcrafted products through an army of direct selling consultants. The products are marketed as “ethically produced” using fair trade principles as outlined by the Fair Trade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). The WFTO sets standards for organizations and also monitors and audits them to ensure compliance.
Currently, Trades of Hope works with groups of artisans in countries such as Guatemala, India, Uganda, Haiti, Costa Rica, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Peru, the Philippines, and Nepal. They also work with a group of artisans in the U.S. who are part of a nonprofit that supports women who have survived lives of violence, prostitution and addiction. Working in partnership with local artisan co-ops and nonprofits, Trades of Hope provides the artisans with a chance to earn a living wage that is estimated at six times the amount that they would otherwise make. For example, in Haiti more than 50 percent of the country earns less than $1 per day. The minimum wage is about $5 per day. The artisans in Haiti are able to earn around $15 per day—enough to provide adequate shelter and food, and put 2.5 children in school. Through Trades of Hope’s partner organizations, the artisans also have access to additional community outreach programs such as water purification systems, medical clinics, and assistance with educational expenses.
The artisans are not employees of Trades of Hope, but they are independent artisans who are paid by the co-ops and nonprofits from whom Trades of Hope purchases the products. To work with a group, Trades of Hope requires that they have someone on the ground, preferably an English-speaking resident of the U.S., to organize the artisans and to facilitate product ordering and sales. The groups also are required to sign a Fair Trade Principles Agreement that guides all areas of their production and business practices, from how they treat artisans to how they protect the environment. Several of the groups also are able to provide health care to their artisans. All local operations are managed by the local contact with whom Trades of Hope maintains weekly communication to ensure that everything is running properly.
“Charity work, ministry and an entrepreneurial spirit, mixed with a strong desire to make a positive impact on others, lead to Trades of Hope,” says Huijskens.
A Solid Financial Opportunity
A Generational Impact
Along with its focus on lifting its artisans out of poverty, Trades of Hope offers its consultants a compensation plan that is competitive within the direct selling industry. These Compassionate Entrepreneurs (CEs) can earn up to 37 percent on their own personal retail sales in addition to what they can earn by building a team. Huijskens reports that the company already has identified women who have replaced their full-time salaries through Trades of Hope.
“Through the party plan model, Trades of Hope creates a dignified partnership between women in the United States and women in 15 developing countries around the world,” she says.
CEs purchase kits between $99 and $399, which provide them with an array of samples to market at home parties. The company does not require an auto-ship, as the items are intended to serve as display items so that CEs can take orders.
“Because of direct selling, our Compassionate Entrepreneurs are creating an end-to-end economically sustainable business and changing the world for thousands of families,” says Huijskens. Although the company does sell products directly to customers through its website, the vast majority of its sales are through the distributors themselves.
One of the key incentives offered by Trades of Hope is called a Vision Trip. Several times a year, the leadership team takes groups of 12 to 16 CEs to Haiti, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. The trips provide them with opportunities to meet and spend time with some of the artisans who craft the products that the CEs sell in the U.S. This offers them a chance to hear directly from the artisans about how the partnership with Trades of Hope has positively changed their lives. These experiences frequently become life-changing moments that further fuel the CEs’ determination to build direct selling teams through purposeful recruiting.
Putting a Face to a Mission
To engage customers in supporting its broader mission of alleviating poverty, Trades of Hope produces videos that introduce the world to the artisans who create the company’s products. Several feature the company’s founders or their local partners in countries like Uganda or Haiti, but most are centered on the women who are at the heart of their mission: artisans like Florence.
Sitting outside of a plain brown building, Florence is brightly dressed in a red-and-gold scarf while holding bracelets that she is crafting for Trades of Hope. As the video begins, one of her daughters cheerfully bounces in and out of the frame while wearing a huge smile. Florence, a 45-year-old Ugandan artisan who is also a former Sudanese refugee and a war survivor, beams with pride as she shares her story:
“I feel so happy about my business. I want to be really financially independent, for the welfare of my children and the orphans I take care of. It’s something which makes me become… so free. It’s my own money. I’m also one of the local leaders of the government. When I see the beauty of women putting on these things that I make, the jewelry and the bags, I feel so proud. I see the real beauty of the ladies out of the work of my hand. And when I see it all over, I really feel I am also a great woman in this nation.”
She shares how, thanks to Trades of Hope, she is able to put her children through school. Her only son is now attending college, and she also is able to take care of many of the orphans who are unfortunately prominent in her part of Uganda.
“I don’t want to be a beggar,” she says. “I want to get money out of the work that I do and help other women in the community to have a job. I can now train them free of charge. 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 the community; and if there is peace in the community, that means that economically we are supporting our nation, Uganda.”
Through Trades of Hope, women like Florence are rewriting their stories. They are no longer victims or survivors: They are international designers and business women.
Planning for Growth
Trades of Hope has been growing at an average rate of 300 percent per year for each of the past three years, with 100 percent of its sales in the U.S. The company anticipates gross revenue of $8 million by year end.
Currently, the company’s four leaders share the same title of co-founder. Wehde and Huijskens serve in more of an executive capacity, allowing their daughters to focus on their own areas of expertise: Antos oversees operations, and Elisabeth Huijskens handles the graphic design and branding initiatives.
“We see that soon we will need more clear lines so we can be more effective. We are growing rapidly this year, and we completely expect this path of exponential growth to allow us to be a wave of change in villages around the globe,” says Huijskens. “We have a team of Compassionate Entrepreneurs who are passionate about empowering women around the world.”