Stacey Edgar started Global Girlfriend, an organization that distributes handmade goods made by women worldwide, with a $2,000 tax return and a dream to transform women’s lives in under-developed countries. In her book, Global Girlfriends, Edgar describes how she built a fair-trade marketplace for apparel and gifts, and the girlfriends she made in the process. Making a difference, she tells Kirkus, is surprisingly simple.
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Why did you decide to write a book about Global Girlfriend?
We all understand how important having a job is in the United States. We know what the unemployment numbers have meant for families, for mortgages, for retailers, just with our economic problems over the past year. So imagine if you’re living on less than a dollar a day, you have five children, you can’t send any of them to school. I don’t think that there’s enough information in the mass market about fair trade that [explains] how simple it is to help women in poverty by providing incomes and jobs.
How does fair trade work?
Our fair-trade formula is super simple—we work with the women on what the price is, because sometimes they don’t value their work enough, or they haven’t counted the price of the box or the tape or how they’re going to get it from their remote village to the port city…Then when we place their order, we give them a 50 percent microloan upfront. When the product is done, we pay the other 50 percent so we own the product outright, in full, before it ever leaves the country. Then we pay all the imports and the duties and mark the product up one time.
There’s more need than there is opportunity, unfortunately, but we try and be really good at working with the same groups over time, making sure that we’re sustainable for them. It’s also about making sure that the groups are run democratically, that the women all have a say in the process, that they have healthy and safe working conditions. A lot of them work from their homes, which, for the women we work with, is the best of both worlds, because they can work and they can take care of their families.
What are some of the challenges of working with women in poverty-stricken countries?
The problem for these women artisans is that things can be plugging along just great, and then if there is unrest in their countries—like there has been in Nepal, like there has been in Uganda—the governments have to sneak the products out. The governments aren’t always for the people doing well, or if they are, they want to take a huge chunk of it. There can be some serious export taxes.
There’s poverty all over the world, but some places are better off just in the fact that they have such a strong sense of community. Guatemala is a poor country, but it has a very tight-knit community, a really strong sense of family and tradition, and they’ve used that to their advantage in their crafts. In other places, like Haiti, there’s desperate poverty and a really low level of access to materials. The will to work and the desire to make crafts and have an income is just as strong, but there’s not that same sense of craft tradition.
Nepal is a great example of a country that has a lot of access to materials, lots of craft tradition like weaving, pottery and knitting that really gives them an advantage even though they’re a landlocked country and very, very poor, with a lot of political problems. That, to me has been the hardest thing—trying to find products in places where those craft traditions are not as strong or access to raw materials is not as simple.
In working with these women, how have you seen them evolve over time?
They’re great, they really are some of my dearest friends. A good friend of mine in Gulu [a district of Northern Uganda] started with a small, round, mud house, which is a traditional Acholi home that has a kitchen, and everybody lives in one round space. Then she was able to build a square, mud house with a tin roof, where they could sleep and still cook in the old house. Now they’ve built a brick house. They built it brick by brick. It took two years…
It’s so fun to see the changes in their lives and the pride. My friend knows that it wasn’t just her husband that did it. It was she and her husband together—both of their incomes—that made that difference.