When women have control of their own destiny, beautiful things can happen.
Truly sustainable international development occurs when women are included in the process, yet they are often overlooked as integral to the discussion. Many international organizations are addressing this disparity through microloans and training, but do not help women develop the skills and the products that will connect to the global market. We provide this missing connection, and in so doing create sustainable livelihoods.
We recognize that women all over the world share common experiences and want to connect our customers with the lives of the women artisans we partner with. By sharing their stories, on our web site and on information cards included with purchase, we emphasize that women everywhere are strong, resilient and proud. Our website additionally serves as a resource on women’s issues in the countries where we have partners, describing the work being done politically, legally and societally to improve the lives of women and girls. We provide links to organizations in-country working for the rights of women so that customers may connect directly with the issues that matter the most to them. Through our social media initiatives, we examine current global events affecting women, and the intersection between the personal and the political.
Global Sistergoods celebrates women as creative problem-solvers, entrepreneurs and agents of societal change. We believe it’s a beautiful world, and we invite you to come see it with us.
What we do
Global Sistergoods advances economic development among economically disadvantaged women artisans in fragile and emerging economies by investing in entrepreneurship, self-reliance and micro enterprise development through selling fair-trade, high-quality jewelry, handbags, home décor items, and children’s clothing and dolls.
We provide technical assistance to these artisans– when required –on issues concerning exporting, quality control, setting price points, product design and development and shipping. Our company then markets the products to consumers in the U.S. through our website, and through our growing nationwide network of brick and mortar boutiques and retail outlets.
Global Sistergoods sustains traditional craft-making techniques while providing high-quality products from around the world. We promote gender and economic equity in our partner countries and dedicate ourselves to long-term relationships with both the artisans with whom we work, and our customers.
Why we do it
Global Sistergoods was founded in 2006 by two sisters, Beth Kapsch and Kristi Jo (KJ) Lewis, who combined their professional backgrounds in living wage issues, international development, public policy and women’s equality and their personal love of beautiful, handmade goods to create a marketplace for women artisans from around the world.
The seeds of Global Sistergoods were planted when we were both in transition, in 2005. KJ was contemplating whether to accept a fellowship in DC or stay in Portland and begin planning a family. Beth had recently left a prestigious policy job, which she loved, but felt she was missing out on the growth of her young daughter. Global Sistergoods was born out of a desire for work/life balance and creating our own destiny.
It all began during one of KJ’s academic research trips in Africa. The image of the poor and helpless rural woman did not reflect the strong and resilient African women she knew. If only their stories could be shared, perhaps perception would change. As fate would have it, she met some San women making ostrich eggshell jewelry in a small town in the middle of the Kalahari. These women asked, “Can you help us get our work to women in the U.S.?” She was intrigued. She knew she needed a partner with different skills, but the same worldview, dedication to the mission and desire to succeed. She asked the smartest person she knows: her little sister.
Working with a sibling presents unique challenges, but we figured out how to resolve our differences a long time ago.
Who we are
We’ve both have long worked on women’s and family policy issues and equitable international development.
Beth Kapsch holds BA from Willlamette Universtity and an MS in Human Development and Family Studies from OSU. She spent the early part of her career managing Healthy Start, a statewide parent education program, at the Oregon Commission on Children and Families, and as an advocate/lobbyist for fair wage and responsible family policy issues with Children First for Oregon. Beth lives in North Portland with her husband, daughter Quincy (5), and son Baxter (3). She spends her free time quilting, baking and playing make believe with her children.
Kristi Jo (KJ) Lewis holds a BA from Mills College and moved to South Africa in 1994 to work for an international non-government organization launching domestic violence shelters in the Cape Flats townships. She then joined the Peace Corps, serving in Namibia until 2000. She holds a Masters in Public Administration and a Masters in Education Policy from PSU. She lives in North Portland with her husband David, an artist. They have a one-year-old daughter, Linden Charlotte, an incorrigible African dog, two cats and some chickens. KJ enjoys hiking, cooking and has a nearly obsessive need to preserve and can Oregon’s summer bounty.
KJ is an alumna of NEW Leadership Oregon, a recipient of the Portland Business Journal Orchid Award (2008), Soroptomist International’s Making a Difference for Women Award (2009) and was named one of “40 under 40” in 2010, again by the Portland Business Journal. KJ has chaired local boards of First Book and the Young Women’s Social Entrepreneurs, currently co-hosts the Development Salon with Irene Tinker and hosts a quarterly International Development Happy Hour for young people interested in meaningful careers overseas.
Perhaps it’s not odd that we ended up creating a business centered on women’s empowerment. We come from a family of seven children (six girls!). Our mother was a housewife until the death of our eldest sister in 1971. Her grief, combined with the rise of second wave feminism, convinced her she needed a life outside of the home. Our earliest memories are of her studying while cooking dinner, so she could obtain a college degree. She became a nurse, and her new profession brought her some economic freedom. She worked at night so she was able to see us off to school and be there for us when we got home. Her perseverance and her determination to build a better life for herself–and for us–is an incredible inspiration. Hopefully we model such strength and commitment for our children. We know our artisan partners do for theirs.
Global Sistergoods has been featured in the Oregonian, BUST magazine and World Pulse. KJ and Beth have spoken at the Oregon Native American Business Network, World Affairs Council, Development Salon, Mercy Corps, NEW Leadership Oregon, the AAUW and elsewhere.
We are delighted to speak about:
- Moms in business
- Working with siblings
- Working with children present
- Finding a business/personal mentor
- Using ‘the old girls network’ to build your business
- Fair trade and its effect on women
- Womens’ crafts and the global market
- Functioning on very few hours of sleep
- Conscientious consumers
- Discovering new markets in the recession
- The challenges and opportunities working across cultures
Our business philosophy? We treat our artisans as the entrepreneurs they are, not as recipients of our charity. We pay them upfront. They are paid what they ask for their product. We respect them as women much like ourselves: women who are doing what we are doing, raising children, trying to run a business, keep a roof over everyone’s head, spend time with friends, do something creative, have fun.
The work at home
In 2008 we launched a “Gifts That Give Back” section on our website, which allows customers to dedicate 5% of their sale to one of our U.S.-based partners, all of whom focus on women’s issues. Our current partners include the Rural Development Institute, which promotes women’s land rights; Hands to Hearts, which trains women orphanage workers in India; StoveTeam International, which provides healthy indoor stoves for households in Central America; the Women’s Earth Alliance, which coordinates international resources for women working on environmental issues; and Dress for Success, which provides professional attire for low-income and returning-to-work women in the U.S.
We also support the work of other institutions such as churches or nonprofits focused on social justice. We help them raise funds for their organization while helping women internationally by hosting a Global Sistergoods house party or consignment sale. A percentage of all sales are donated to their cause.