After nine years, Trades of Hope is continuing to add more artisans and compassionate entrepreneurs to their team.
In the early 2000s, Gretchen Huijskens spent eight years in Haiti where she co-founded a nonprofit that included an orphanage, school and medical clinic. While good was being done, she felt like a new approach to helping others was needed after the earthquake in 2010. She watched mothers abandon their children — not because they didn’t want them, but because they couldn’t feed them.
“We really wanted to get to the root of some problems,” she said. “The root of the issue was that there were no jobs.”
In 2010, Huijskens launched a business called Trades of Hope, with Holly Wehde and their respective daughters, Elisabeth Huijskens and Chelsie Antos. The headquarters, with now over 20 employees, is in Marvin’s Garden Business Center in Bunnell.
“I fell in love with the idea of empowering mothers so they could keep their children and care for them well,” said Huijskens, a Palm Coast resident.
Trades of Hope now impacts mothers across 16 countries. Hand-crafted jewelry, accessories and clothing are purchased from about 1,500 artisan crafters around the world, including in Haiti and India, two countries where the artisan partnerships started. Over 7,800 “compassionate entrepreneurs” across the United States, who are mostly women, then sell the products in their own markets online and through parties.
“A lot of the countries that we work with are third- and fourth-world countries that have no marketplace,” said Chief Operation Officer Jeremy Cundiff. “They really don’t have a local economy; it’s survival by scale. So, what we do is, we give them the opportunity for consistently supplying and producing the artisanal crafts they’ve been known for — for some of them, centuries.”
The origin of the crafts and the story behind the women who create them are included when someone purchases the product, which creates a meaningful experience with each sale.
“I fell in love with the idea of empowering mothers so they could keep their children and care for them well.”
- GRETCHEN HUIJSKENS, Trades of Hope founder and CEO
“That’s an important part for us — because we could just purchase things and sell things, but it’s really about creating a safe working environment for women to thrive,” Huijskens said. “So, we follow fair trade principles. And we’ve just seen lives of women completely change.”
The Trades of Hope founders and the recent product designer all travel to the artisan groups each year to see the impact it makes on these women and communities.
“We work with them out of our product development and our artisan development teams so we can help them actually develop their business and grow their business so that they can employ and sustain more women in their area as well,” Cundiff said.
Huijskens said that the artisans they buy crafts from are now not only just able to just feed and clothe their children, but that they’re able to send them to school — and some even build their family homes.
“We’ve seen women who own beds for the first time in their lives,” Huijskens said. “They’ve been able to come out of abusive situations. And we’ve seen women who were literally going to give up their child, and now they have their child, they’re living a full life and can even plan for tomorrow.”
Trades of Hope artisans are made up of about 80% women and 20% men, she said.
“It’s incredibly fulfilling,” Huijskens said. “I can only imagine what it’s like to send your kids to bed hungry every night and really have no idea what you’re going to do the next day. That is one of the most incredible gifts that we can give to other women, really our sisters around the world, are to partner with them in a way that’s healthy on their end, meaning it’s long-term, it’s sustainable, it allows them to grow and develop.”
Now, the business’ goal is to invite more women and men to become compassionate entrepreneurs, to sell the crafts from the artisans and make commission themselves.
“That’s how we can create a marketplace so that other women and can come and work, because literally there are women waiting outside gates at the artisan groups wanting jobs,” Huijskens said.