By Jocelyn Moye
21st Century Media
COLLEGEVILLE — Tracy Fredericks never liked home sales parties. The triple-digit price range for single items, and the pressure put on an attendee to buy, didn’t feel right. When Fredericks began looking for ways to support her passion to bring relief to the devastated nation of Haiti, she never thought she’d become a saleswoman. But Trades of Hope goes hand in hand with her desire to serve.
The Collegeville resident describes the company as a “puzzle of people and organizations helping women all around the world,” and the home parties she hosts sell products made by impoverished and often abused women. With a price range of $18 to $50, each sale helps a woman begin a new, financially sustainable life.
Through Trades of Hope, women are able to make the kind of profits that their own country can’t give them. Typically, they would have to sell their creations for just a few dollars, but Trades of Hope offers up to six times that price and returns much of the profits to the artisan and the artisan’s community. The products are made at fair-trade co-operatives in Costa Rica, Nepal, Cambodia, Peru, Bangladesh, Guatemala, The Philippines, India, Uganda and Haiti.
The founders of Trades of Hope, Holly Wehde, Gretchen Huijskens and their teen daughters Chelsie Antos and Elizabeth Huijskens, wanted to empower impoverished women. With the human trafficking rate the higher than ever — 27 million people worldwide — Trades of Hope-affiliated co-operatives offer women an alternative. Women are often forced into sex slavery, or believe that it is the only way to avoid starvation.
While financial donations to the poor offer temporary relief, Fredericks said, “these people have dignity and they have desires.” Giving them money that will run out isn’t always a permanent fix. While helpful, she said, it can lack the power to create a sustainable lifestyle.
The founders of Trades of Hope travel to find sweatshop-free organizations that help women start businesses. Through organizations like Haitian Creation and The Apparent Project, women can literally walk into the co-op and discover a skill. Often, they are seeking refuge from abusive relationships, prostitution, or sweatshop labor. With the help of the fair-trade organization, they can create a sustainable life style for themselves and start a new life. The go from being impoverished and desperate to becoming a financially secure artisan.
Fredericks, titled a “compassion entrepreneur” rather than saleswoman, says the fair trade co-operatives help women free their creativity.
“Under oppression, they can’t find that part of themselves,” she said. With help, “they discover their creativity in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t.”
Fredericks remembers one trip to Haiti during which she met a woman named Esther, who came into the co-op where women were making jewelry and other crafts. Esther stood quietly in a corner and watched. After a few visits, she timidly showed someone her drawings. The other women there helped her apply her creativity to craftsmanship. Esther returned regularly and became an artisan. After the group helped her stand up to her abusive boyfriend, she was able to start a new, financially independent life.
Trades of Hope also works with one co-op that employs men, as well as organizations in the United States. Thistle Farms in Tennessee and Cherished in Southern California rescue women from abusive homes and from the sex industry and teach them trade skills.
Fredericks plans to make her third trip to Haiti this fall. This time, she will be taking materials to the women there. Packages are often stolen in the mail, so she will take 500 pounds of cardboard that will be used to make colorful beads seen on many Trades of Hope designs.
“Women really need each other, and we need to help each other,” Fredericks said. Through Trades of Hope, anyone as young as 18 can become a compassion entrepreneur with no monthly sales goal to reach. While Fredericks receives a 20 percent profit, the rest goes to the artisan, their community and the Gifts of Hope fund to purchase supplies and machinery for the artisans.
What resonated most with Fredericks when she found the organization was the thought of “buying something that would help women around the world win their fight against poverty and injustices,” she said. Trades of Hope is bringing people out of poverty, one undiscovered artisan at a time.