By Kristyan Pak
Kristine Gentry ’95 is making a difference in womens’ lives. From her home in Houston, she serves as a spokesperson and vendor, selling handmade crafts online for Trades of Hope, a fair-trade organization composed of women throughout the world who are trying to build a better life for themselves and their families.
Fair-trade is a social movement that gives people in developing countries an opportunity to earn a living through selling their handmade crafts and food items internationally at fair prices that allow them to make a profit. Instead of selling bargain items created by workers in sweatshops that can destroy the environment, those who work in fair trade sell handmade items at a slightly higher price that gives the workers more profit while reducing harm to the environment. With these products and prices, countries can find stability and better trading policies.
Gentry has been interested in fair-trade since her high school days, and she continues to actively research new vendors and organizations. “Houston has Ten Thousand Villages [a fair-trade chain store], and I volunteered there while I was working on my PhD,” she says. “I’m excited about Trades of Hope because it’s based online and you can shop any time.”
Trades of Hope is a fair-trade, missional business founded by four Christian women, two mothers and two daughters. It empowers female artisans from Uganda, Bangladesh, India, Haiti, Guatemala, Peru, Philippines, Nepal, Cambodia, Pakistan, and the USA, who have been abandoned by family members. Gentry works as what Trades of Hope calls a “Compassion Entrepreneur,” a vendor who established her own online store and hosts fair-trade parties.
These artisan women are given what Gentry calls “a beautiful ending” where they are able to survive and take care of their families and their medical conditions. Through Gentry’s online store, people can buy some of the items these women make, such as knit berets, Christmas ornaments, household decorations, and jewelry.
The artisans at Trades of Hope make approximately six times more money than they would normally make in their country. Trades of Hope stresses that it is not a charity or a not-for-profit. They are giving these women opportunities to support themselves and their families though their own hard-earned profit. Trades of Hope pays the artisans 100 percent of what they ask for, and only when it is imported to the United States is a shipping cost added as well as a 20 percent revenue for the Compassion Entrepreneurs and other business expenses.
Gentry first heard about Trades of Hope last July through her friend’s Trades of Hope Facebook page, and she immediately became involved as a vendor. Even with her full-time job at a consulting firm in Houston and raising her two children with her husband, Alex ’94, she sets aside time every day to check on her store, manage purchases, and plan fair-trade parties.
Although she has yet to meet the women of Trades of Hope, she has seen the benefits fair trade has had on other women. “I traveled throughout Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala, and I visited people who worked in painting and sculpting co-ops,” Gentry said. “I met people doing similar work, and I know people personally who are supporting themselves from this type of work.” She hopes to return to Central America one day and see first hand how fair-trade is changing lives.
Even with the hundreds of women in eleven different countries benefitting from Trades of Hope, it is still a relatively small company that Gentry believes is taking all the right steps in the right directions. The organization is two years old, and there are currently about 200 sellers, with more being added every day. The company’s founders insist on natural growth with no money wasted to make sure they can meet the daily demands. No money is being spent on advertisements right now, but Gentry hopes that with the manageable growth, Trades of Hope can reach more and more women in the future.
Gentry is not sure where Trades of Hope will take her, but she is sure that she is doing the right thing. “I felt compelled and called to do this,” she says. “Do whatever you can to help and encourage more people to sell and mentor.”