Read Time: 8 min.
Celebrate International Women’s Day 2020 with Elisabeth Huijskens! Check out this latest interview with Elisabeth and get a sneak peek into the world of this Trades of Hope Founder, world traveler, and ethical fashion influencer who has dedicated her life to giving women power over poverty and human trafficking. Discover her heart for women’s equality and keeping families together, and let her passion for fashion as a force for good inspire you!
Kathy Thomas: What does being an ethical fashion influencer mean to you?
Elisabeth Huijskens: For me, advocating for ethical fashion is an act of feminism. Feminism as a term has received such a bad rap in a hyper-political climate. Removing all emotional charge, feminism solely is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. That’s me!
I’m all about that! When I learned that 85% of sweatshop workers around the world are young women between the ages of 15-25, I couldn’t let my shopping habits continue. Like, I was wearing their oppression on a daily basis.
These women are often left with no other option but to work in a sweatshop because many societies around the world don’t give women equal opportunity. So, they’re forced to work in an environment with child labor, unhealthy hours, or abusive managers. Some of them are even forced birth control so they don’t get pregnant and then are fired if they do conceive. Horrendous.
As a proud feminist – wanting to see women and men succeed together – I needed to advocate for better shopping habits that align with my beliefs. This is why I am so proud to have started Trades of Hope, where all of our Artisans are treated with dignity, paid living wages, and receive even holistic care such as education, medical care, counseling, and more.
KT: Having started Trades of Hope, why is International Women’s Day Important to you?
EH: International Women’s Day is kind of my Super Bowl. This day of recognition sums up everything we do: celebrating how far women have come and actively creating a world where more women can become the heroes of their own stories. I mean, I love fashion – always have. But I don’t work as much as I do for fashion. I do it because I believe in equal opportunity for women around the world. That’s one of my foundational beliefs, and it’s one of ours as a brand.
Look, I don’t want to sugar-coat it. I kind of want people who read this to feel uncomfortable: Women in desperate situations around the world are facing horrific circumstances. Mothers are leaving their newborn babies in orphanages, heartbroken because they know they can’t afford to feed their beloved kids. Women are being tricked into slavery because they don’t have a job. Some women even have to make the heart-breaking choice to work in brothels because their children are hungry.
But we don’t have to pity them. They don’t want our pity. They just want a dignified opportunity, and we can help them find it. They are so capable. But because of inequal societies and poverty that affects both men and women, safe and sustainable jobs are hard to find. That’s why we are passionate about creating jobs for those women, for them to create our fashion and lifestyle products in hopeful and fair environments so they can pursue their dreams as mothers and as women.
KT: As you’ve traveled the world, what is your most meaningful sisterhood moment?
EH: Immediately, my mind leaps to a moment in India with my sister and one of our Trades of Hope Artisans, Mosmeem. For almost a decade, I have been traveling the world to meet women, to hear their stories, their obstacles, and their passions. Through all of those meetings, our common thread of womanhood created comradery and a sense of sisterhood. But when I met Mosmeem, I felt like we were one spirited feminist soul – separated in two bodies – bodies that spend most of our lives on opposite sides of the world.
Standing in a sea of saris, painting the courtyard orange and red, even the busy Indian road’s blaring horns could not distract me from listening to Mosmeem’s declaration of her empowerment! “I don’t want to be dependent on a man, and I’m not!” she said. “We are capable and will go farther than men think we can!” Mosmeem’s co-workers where standing around her, nodding with beaming smiles. I was enamored and knew I had found a soul sister.
KT: What would you say to other women who want to follow in your footsteps and make a positive impact on women’s lives through fashion as a force for good?
EH: My advice is simple: Just do the next right thing. Don’t overhaul your life or throw out all of your fast fashion clothes. (Then you’ll be naked, and that would be awkward.) Just do the next best thing.
The next time you want to buy jewelry, instead of buying from Forever21, save up for a couple weeks to buy from an ethical fashion brand like Trades of Hope. (The delay of 2 weeks could have a life-long impact for women like Mosmeen.)
The next time you see (or feel) an injustice against women, speak out about it! Maybe doing the next right thing is using your voice. Amazing things happen when women come together.
Maybe the next right thing is sharing an inspirational quote on Instagram so the woman who follows you who feels discouraged can get through the day.
In 2010, I had the opportunity to help start Trades of Hope. That was my “next right thing.” And it has blossomed into a beautiful movement of women coming together around the world to celebrate and advocate for each other.
It all comes down to wearing what you believe. Poverty Ending. Women Rising. Hearts Hoping. Nations Healing. That’s what we believe in at Trades of Hope. Decide what you believe in and make the next right decision to support that.