Our Journey of Fashion as a Force for Good

by | Founders, Missions

Read Time: 10 min.

I was a mother of two young children when I began looking into international adoption. Our life was great, and I was grateful. But I felt a restlessness knowing most people around the world weren’t as blessed as we were.

Have you ever felt that way? 

A little nudge in the pit of your stomach? Deep down, I knew I had to do something. Without knowing where it was on a map yet, I went on a trip to Haiti and was shaken by the corruption of so many orphanages there. I couldn’t un-see what I saw. I knew it was my responsibility to do something. Without any prior experience, I started and ran an orphanage in Port au Prince for almost a decade. During that time, we helped 100 children find forever families. I knew in my head that it was a good thing. Adoption is a beautiful act. 

But one truth kept tugging at my heart…

Her Battle Against Poverty

More often than not, the children given to our care had living parents, grandparents, or relatives. These parents loved their children but couldn’t afford to feed them. They were desperate. There were too many tears and heartbreaking goodbyes. It felt so unjust to me. I wanted a better way to help these families.

In 2010, I teamed up with my daughter Elisabeth and our friends Holly and Chelsie to create jobs for mothers around the world so that they could keep their babies. The four of us started Trades of Hope to empower women.

Empowering Her Out of Poverty

Helping Mamas Keep Their Babies

We began our journey of Fashion as a Force for Good in Haiti. Haiti is home to almost 500,000 orphans. The majority of these orphans have not been orphaned by parental deaths, but by parents who gave them up simply because they could not afford to feed them. We later discovered that poverty orphanages are common in areas of extreme poverty around the world.

We believe no mother should have to give up her children to save them from starvation.

Breaking Cycles of Poverty

As we expanded into more countries, like India, we discovered that in many of these countries, children who are born into poverty have little or no hope of ever rising out of poverty. Many cultures hold children responsible for the debts of previous generations. Discrimination and lack of education contribute to the hopelessness that many women and families experience. That’s why we partner to break cycles of poverty through providing safe jobs with fair wages for women.

We’re partnering with Artisans to create on-trend handcrafted designs that help families thrive.

Jobs for Women

Because women in areas of extreme poverty are often limited by a lack of education, skills, and opportunities to build sustainable businesses or careers, we began to realize the importance of creating sustainable jobs for women. So we intentionally partner with workshops around the world to provide safe jobs with fair wages and opportunities for women to expand their skills and careers, as Artisans.

“Pranee is the leader of our Artisan group in Chiang Mai. We spent the day with her, listening to her story, learning about the daily lives of our Artisans, and searching through fabrics like we were on a treasure hunt. It was such a fun day! Pranee is a strong leader, creative, innovative, and always looking for new product ideas (like face masks!) for her group to keep their business sustainable.” – Elisabeth

Providing Healthcare

We also recognized a connection between poverty and poor health. Poverty often prevents many women and families from gaining access to safe and affordable healthcare. In areas of extreme poverty, many common and easily treatable illnesses can become dangerous when medical treatment isn’t available. We partner to support Artisan communities who help provide nutritional education to promote a healthy lifestyle and help prevent diseases, and who help provide therapy for disabled children and access to lifesaving medical clinics and medications.

“We believe we need to use our business as a tool for change to make sure we help our own Guatemalan people. There is poverty, but if we don’t get involved as a local business, we won’t make a difference. By teaming up with organizations and universities, we procure medical teams that come and help coffee plantations’ workers take care of their health.” – Pablo

“Coffee can be used for so many cool things! In the end, the human value is what makes the difference, and we’re committed to making that happen.”
– Pablo, Artisan Leader in Guatemala

Her Battle Against Trafficking & Abuse

We exist to help mothers keep their children, protect them & provide for a better future. We’re committed to helping keep families together. We’re committed to fighting human trafficking. In every country around the world, families are being destroyed and human trafficking is on the rise in areas that share one common factor – poverty.

On almost every step of our journey to empower women out of poverty, we discovered a connection between extreme poverty cultures and the exploitation of women.

Many of these poverty cultures engage in the practices of human trafficking, domestic abuse, and child marriage. Vulnerable women are often exploited through sweatshops, oppression, discrimination, abandonment – even domestic violence and acid attacks. We’re committed to empowering women out of trafficking & abuse.

“One day in the marketplace, someone was angry with me and flung a container of acid in my face. It burned my face, and ran down my body, dissolving both my skin and my life. I’m gradually trying to rebuild my life and to make a future for myself. This isn’t just a job. I feel like part of a community that sees me and the Artisans and cares about us. It’s a matter of the heart, not just a business. And it brings me great encouragement.”

– Jariya (Ya), Artisan in Cambodia

Empowering Her Freedom from Trafficking & Abuse

Fighting Human Trafficking

As we continued our journey of empowering women out of poverty, we discovered a strong connection between extreme poverty culture and human trafficking, including sex trafficking. So we began partnering to support Artisan communities who provided safe houses and dignified jobs for women breaking free from sex trafficking.

“I love being able to reach out to the girls in the industry because I remember what that life was like. You are cherished!” – Kate, Artisan Leader in Los Angeles, U.S.A.

Trafficking Rehabilitation

But helping women break free from trafficking is more complicated than just providing them with a safe place to live and a job, making jewelry. As many of these women rediscover their self-worth, they want to pursue their lifelong dreams and build new careers as professional businesswomen. But since many of them have never had any opportunities to receive the education they need to pursue their dreams, we also partner with Artisan communities around the world who help provide opportunities for women to earn certifications and higher education.

“When I was in high school, I had to drop out of school and was trafficked into a brothel by a relative. I wasn’t sure if I would survive working there. One day, community outreach teams met me in the brothels and offered me a way out. Now I’m working as the accounting assistant for our Artisan community. I’m also studying for my bachelor’s degree and pursuing my dream of becoming an accountant. I’m so grateful for these new opportunities!” – Fay, Artisan in North Asia

Fighting Child Marriage

In many areas of extreme poverty, parents traditionally view child marriage as a reasonable solution to the financial burden of caring for their daughters. We partner with Artisan communities who are fighting against child marriage and providing opportunities for survivors of child marriage to become financially independent.

“My life has not been easy. I was married off to a man from another village at a very young age. Some years later, my husband deserted me. I was left alone with three children – with no security or dignity. The work I received as an Artisan helped me to stand on my feet and gave me confidence to face life. I’m happy that I’ve become independent and also able to support other fellow women – Artisans in my village.” – Mosmeen, Artisan in India

Her Battle Against Limitations

As we, once again, continued our journey to empower women out of poverty – and now also our fight against human trafficking – we also began to recognize that many women were discouraged by unique limitations that made it even more difficult for them to overcome poverty and trafficking. Many of these women were challenged by physical, mental, and emotional disabilities, including their own self-limiting beliefs about their human values, abilities, and possibilities.

Founders Gretchen and Elisabeth visiting our Artisan partners in Kenya.

Empowering Her to Overcome Limitations & Lack

Jobs for Differently-Abled Women

We partner with Artisan communities, like our Artisan partners in Kenya, to provide women and men with disabilities opportunities to rise above cultural discrimination and poverty through enjoying safe dignified jobs, as Artisans.

“Before I came to this workshop, I was unhappy and discouraged. I did not know where my meals would come from. I’ve been able to support my adopted daughter and niece who live with me. I can pay school fees, clothe them, feed them, and take care of their medical bills. I’m also able to save for the future and look forward to starting my own business when I retire. I feel free. I feel like a person!” – Alice, Artisan in Kenya

Adult Literacy Classes

Throughout our journey, we continued to meet grown women who had never had an opportunity to go to school. So we began partnering with Artisan communities who provided women with opportunities to attend adult literacy classes.

Salome received adult literacy classes in Pakistan through our Gifts of Hope giveback program.

Counseling Sessions

Even with opportunities to receive safe housing and job skills training, many women remained “stuck” and unable to rise out of their circumstances due to the effects of the trauma they had experienced. Trauma counseling for survivors of trafficking and abuse became an integral part of empowering women out of poverty and trafficking.

“My life was very bad before I became an Artisan. I was sexually abused my entire childhood by my father and was sold at 11 years old to a man I did not love. Now, I’m free, I’m happy and my life has changed. My four beautiful children will be the first generation in my family to grow up in a safe home without poverty, violence, sexual abuse or trafficking.” – Yocasta, Artisan in the Dominican Republic

Upcycled Materials

At Trades of Hope, we value “scrappy determination”. As many of our Artisan partners lack the financial resources to purchase materials, we began to recognize and support Artisans who upcycled discarded materials into expressions of beauty and art that helped them provide for their families.

We began our journey to Fashion as a Force for Good – 10 years ago in Haiti – with upcycled cereal box beads!

Her Dreams Becoming Reality

Along our journey of Fashion as a Force for Good, we realized that women needed more than food, shelter, and jobs. They needed hope. They needed to dream again! We partner to help many of these women pursue their dreams for themselves, their families, and their communities.

“Without this work, I would not be able to buy land and construct a house. It would be very hard to achieve my future plans and dreams. When Trades of Hope sent me financial support towards my house construction, I was very excited and happy! I felt appreciated for my effort!” – Ms. Florence, Artisan Leader in Uganda

Empowering Her Hope

Families Leaving Slums

In areas of extreme poverty, many families live in slums, which are often overcrowded and unsanitary housing units with poor drainage, little or no access to utilities like running water and electricity. The sustainable income Artisans can earn through continual sales of their products can help these families save toward their dreams of owning their own businesses and moving out of the slums.

Hannah is thankful she can still work to put food on her family’s table when so many parents in Kenya can’t. Her work is helping her save toward her dream of helping her family move out of the slum.

Educating Girls

In many cultures around the world, education is not free. Tuition fees, transportation, gender discrimination, and even something as simple as being unable to afford a required uniform can prevent many girls from being able to go to school. So we began partnering with Artisan communities, like our Artisan partners in Guatemala who help support a safe home for girls, where girls who have suffered from extreme poverty, neglect, and abuse can enjoy a safe stable home and a good education.

Education empowers girls with more than job skills. It helps empower them with confidence, creativity, and healthy self-esteem. “I’m more creative. I can think in a different way. I have goals. I’m independent and can take care of myself.” – Rosaura, Artisan in Guatemala

Wear Different Ways

We value and encourage creative expression and unique designs. We encourage women – many of whom never dreamed of becoming Artisans before – to explore their skills and talents and use them to create adventurous beauty and art that does good!

When Clara saw parents in her community needing to leave their families behind to search for safe jobs with fair wages, she built a workshop in her home and invited other Artisans to join her in her workspace. Together, they’re using traditional Guatemalan Artisan skills and materials combined with sustainable contemporary techniques and designs to create whimsical backpacks for children that are helping them provide for their own children.

Artisan’s Fingerprint

Every Trades of Hope product begins with a woman – with a name, face, and story. Every woman is unique and beautiful – and so is her story! We treasure each woman’s story and want every Artisan to know that she matters. Some of our Artisans, like our Artisan partners in Guatemala, “sign” their Artisan creations with their own unique fingerprint. Every unique fingerprint is a reminder that her story will be shared with countless other women around the world who support her.

Erica signs each piece of jewelry she makes with her own unique fingerprint. Every unique fingerprint is a reminder that her story will be shared with countless other women around the world who support her.
Together we’ve shared an amazing 10 year journey of Fashion as a Force for Good!
We’d love for you to join us for the next chapter of our journey of hope!

Become a Trade of Hope Partner & join us on our journey of empowering women out of poverty & trafficking!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Gretchen Huijskens

Gretchen Huijskens

Founder and CEO of Trades of Hope, Gretchen is passionate about helping mothers keep their children and for an end to modern day slavery.


1. similar in kind; related
2. a blog by Trades of Hope

Trades of Hope is an ethical fashion and lifestyle brand that helps women around the world escape poverty and trafficking through our fair trade designs. Learn how you can partner with Artisans around the world here.