Fair Winds Trading: Helping Rwandans Build Their Lives

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Supporting a Cause, Helping Real People

Shalit's latest high-profile partner is Starbucks. This summer the coffee giant will sell tote bags, cell-phone charms, and plastic drink tumblers decorated with colorful cloth -- all handmade by Rwandan women. The Starbucks order from Fair Winds Trading is the largest single export of textiles from Rwanda in that nation's history.

The two companies are a perfect match, says Julie Felss Masino, Starbucks's vice president of merchandising. "The wonderful thing about Willa is that she doesn't pitch the item, she pitches the idea of helping the women who made it," Masino says. "We knew we had to get on board."

Depending on how quickly they work, Fair Winds Trading's weavers can make the equivalent of about $6 to $8 per day in a country where the normal wage is $1 or less. Those few extra dollars make a huge difference in their lives, especially in rural communities where work opportunities can be scarce. "Lives are really depending on these sales," Shalit says. "When women are able to afford to feed and clothe their children and send them to school, those kids can grow up healthy, educated, and able to raise the next generation."

Shalit hopes that bringing Rwandan art to America will help bridge the cultural and economic gaps between the two countries and their people. "When someone holds a basket or bag in her hands, she may think of the woman who made it on the other side of the world. You realize that you're not just supporting a cause -- you're helping a real person."

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2009.


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