by Renice Jones January 12, 2016
If you believe that things happen serendipitously, then Gifts With Humanity is certainly one of those things. The co-founders met in the principal’s office of Kisumu Polytechnic in 1999 – I was a Peace Corps volunteer and Kevin was a VSO volunteer; both were assigned to teach computing. We both left careers in our respective countries (I was an IT professional in the US and Kevin was the head of computing at a UK college) but realized it was time to do something that might make a difference in the lives of others.
Many people in our community in Kisumu made their living as artisans and craftspeople and asked us if there was a way to market their handicrafts outside of Kenya. The Internet was just becoming a place where people shopped so we created an ecommerce website featuring the artisans’ products. When our volunteer service was complete, we relocated to Florida (Kevin said, “If I have to go to the US, it has to be somewhere warm”) and opened a retail shop in 2002 selling fair trade handicrafts, coffee, and chocolate. The Gifts With Humanity bricks-and-mortar store still exists in the sleepy beach town of New Smyrna Beach.
While in Kenya, Kevin often mentioned the term “Fair Trade” to me. When he finally explained that Fair Trade was a worldwide movement and not just a way of saying everyone in a supply chain should be paid fairly, we designed the mission of the business around it. After a few years in business, we realized that building sustainable relationships with artisan communities in developing countries and importing and selling their handicrafts wasn’t all there was to Fair Trade; rather, we determined that we had an obligation to provide access to the handmade market for as many as we could.
So here’s where serendipity really gets going. We both happen to have strong IT backgrounds, have built relationships with artisans and craftspeople around the world, and have made a lot of friends in the Fair Trade movement worldwide. Gifts With Humanity is the culmination of our desire so long ago to make a difference, our belief that Fair Trade is the way all international trade should be conducted, and our confidence that the handmade products we carry are the ones that you will want to wear, look at, use, and treasure.
I look forward to introducing you to the artisans and craftspeople whose heart and soul is reflected in each piece that they make and am sure they will become your friends as well.
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