Devote Yourself to creating something that gives you purpose . . .

"So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning."

Tuesdays with Morrie, author Mitch Albom

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Bridge, a Holland based business

What started out as a career in retail soon became a passion. Sara Russell, manager of The Bridge in Holland, traveled to Kenya nearly twelve years ago and learned about making a livelihood on less than a $1.00 a day and the pride of the people who were able to sustain their lives by the work of their hands.

A mother of a friend convinced Sara, fifteen years ago, to manage a store for her based on seeing her interest in the retail environment. This business has been in place for nearly 22 years, but Sara beamed when she spoke of the past three years in business which has been "crazy - good". She attributes this to the increased awareness in the welfare of humanity throughout the world. People are interested in helping others.

From September - December 2008, Sara decided to add a line of scarves to her product offerings and quickly discovered that she was on to something big. Two thousand scarves later, she spoke with the rep that introduced her to these scarves from Nepal, and learned that the success of these scarves had allowed the women who made them to purchase five new looms from which to weave.

The Bridge on 18 West 8th Street has discovered handmade crafts from artisans in over 30 developing countries. There are also some U.S. made "green" products in the mix. The Bridge is a non-profit store, which is an outreach of Western Theological Seminary.

The Bridge works with Fair Trade groups in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. These groups pay the artisans a fair wage for their hand crafted goods and also help these groups with product development. This enables artisans to earn fair and stable income for their families while maintaining their cultural traditions. "Fair" is the keyword to the success of this mission. When abundant wages are paid, the outcome is not the same.

The store is run by volunteer staff. With only a few paid positions, equating to less than two full-time employees, Sara indicated that some weeks she works 35 hours and other weeks it is 55 hours.

It was easy to feel the enthusiasm behind the business, the environment is cheery and everyone there seemed truly interested in sharing the story of how this business is changing lives of women and children throughout the world. Products are labeled according to origin, and in most instances, information is provided about the materials, the methods, or the artisans behind the craft.

The store was full of browsers and shoppers (mostly women), each looking for unique, yet personal gifts. One woman spoke of traveling to Amsterdam with the gift she was purchasing from the store and shared how someone had given her free lodging. It seemed almost to speak of "paying it forward". Word of mouth is probably the best publicity that attributes to this business success.

What is Fair Trade?

  • Equality - Fair Trade not only brings beautiful hand made crafts into your home, but also provides fair wages and safe working conditions to the artisans.
  • Sustainability - Fair Trade encourages all people to work together in our global marketplace. Each Fair Trade purchase directly helps an artisan or farmer in a developing country.
  • Fair Trade - In the "Free trade" economy large corporations prosper and the individual suffers. Fair Trade encourages each individual and values his or her creativity.
  • Cultures - Fair Trade accepts and embraces the beauty of all cultures. Crafts represent the customs, traditions and hope of all artisans.

Although The Bridge does not currently have a website at this time, one is underdevelopment. They have started a blog at

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