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Friends in need

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For Stacey Edgar, Global Girlfriend started as a dream — and is now changing lives around the world

By Emile Hallez

Stacey Edgar knows the importance of earning a return on investments.

Eight years ago, the former social worker and mother of three hosted a party in her Ken Caryl home, informally selling a unique array of wares to her friends. Despite her limited market, the $2,000 worth of inventory she had acquired with a tax refund was quickly depleted.

Bu unlike countless suburbanites who decades ago were swept up in Tupperware trends, Edgar wasn’t hawking kitchen gadgets and resilient plastic containers in living rooms. Instead, she offered environmentally friendly, fair-trade jewelry and clothing, all of which was made by hand.

She immediately realized the potential of her business model, and demand for her casual sales events grew exponentially.

The result was Global Girlfriend, a company that helps provide sustainable economic opportunities for impoverished women and a company that now has more than $2 million a year in sales.

“I didn’t necessarily think I’d start a business. I just had a big home party, like an awareness event for my friends,” said Edgar, whose new book, “Global Girlfriends,” recounts her journey to establish a business designed to benefit women who are artisans and entrepreneurs in economically disadvantaged communities.

As much as she has personally benefited from Global Girlfriend’s gargantuan success, Edgar, 40, said the business promotes opportunities for women who for various reasons lack adequate resources to bring their crafts to a complementary market.

It’s a dogma laid out plainly in her motto: Start small, dream big, change lives.

Simply, Global Girlfriend routinely places orders for simple items such as tote bags or handmade paper. The requests, of a scale previously unknown to the small communities, give immediate economic infusions, allowing women to provide better housing for their families and send their children to school.

“We work in a fair-trade business model. So we pay them a 50 percent advance up front at the time we place our order. So they never have to put out their money for our beads, our fabric. … The women are paid a fair wage up front, and they control their pricing,” Edgar said. “We are a for-profit business model. And I think that’s important, because what we’re really trying to train these women to do is have profitable businesses of their own. If the product doesn’t sell, what do you need to do to fix it?”

Though Edgar had pondered the endeavor for years, making connections and implementing a simple strategy took time. Her mother in law, who worked for the United Nations World Food Program in Africa, introduced her to a handful of artisan goods crafted by skilled women’s groups.

“She’d bring back souvenirs — necklaces and scarves. (She’d) talk about these poor women sitting all day in the sun trying to sell their handmade goods to aid workers. It wasn’t a large enough market,” Edgar said. “Suddenly I was loading up my minivan and going out four days a week selling at people’s homes and events. And then we were lucky enough to have a small article in 5280. And then Whole Foods called and said, ‘Why aren’t you selling to us?’ ”

Though the business now has mini-boutiques in about 1,000 locations and offers small-batch goods ranging in price from $4 to $88 on its website, the birth and burgeoning growth of Global Girlfriend are not necessarily the draw of Edgar’s book.

Rather, she gives accounts of women she’s met in Guatemala, Uganda and everywhere around the world.

Edgar, whose own style balances business with bohemian, stands out little in the background of South Jeffco, where she and a few employees operate Global Girlfriend from a small office packed with organic cotton dresses and handbags fashioned from recycled seatbelts.

More noticeable is her presence in photos taken with numerous women’s groups, where Edgar is a clearly welcomed outsider.

“A lot of the time, we think we’re so much better off because we have things. That’s not true — none of the women we work with are unhappy because of their situation,” Edgar said. “They’re just like us. They want better for their kids. They want clean water. They want clean food. They want their basic needs met. But they have great relationships. They have great families.”

Though individual tales of women who crafted necklaces or candles are on the items’ tags, the stories are far too brief to give consumers a full picture. That, Edgar said, needed to be addressed in a much larger medium.

“We’ve got just a little story tag on everything, which obviously does not tell the whole story. That was the piece for me that I felt was slipping away,” she said. “I really wanted to write the book in order to share those women’s stories, so people could really understand how their lives are impacted by our company and the support of other women.”

Impacted too are Edgar’s employees, some of whom travel the world with her on the three or four tips she makes every year.

“Some of the women have built homes. They are now the main moneymakers in their families. They’re happy. … They can take care of their kids. They can send them to school,” said fashion designer Hilary Dell, whose job bears little resemblance to the flashy, exorbitant labels where she once worked as an intern.

“A lot of our groups already have really incredible products, and we’re just trying to offer an outlet for them. Other groups have more limited resources (and) may not make products that would fit the Western market, so that’s where I come in,” Dell said. “It was kind of like my dream, especially after interning in New York in the more surreal, superficial part of fashion.”

For Mary-Michael Simpson, who makes purchasing decisions for Global Girlfriend, the experience has also proven fulfilling.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to travel with Stacey to Guatemala and El Salvador,” Simpson said. “It’s been very exciting to meet all these women that we buy the products from. … I know that (Global Girlfriend) is directly helping these women.”

While Edgar’s life may appear, on the surface, to be unchanged since she sparked the venture — she’s still the cheering mom at youth football and lacrosse games who notes carpooling as one of her most significant activities outside work — she’s gained a new perspective, an appreciation she learned from her own global girlfriends.

“I think I am more aware and grateful of both my own relationships — my friendships, my family — and also just how fortunate we are. I am also a much richer person for having been able to travel the world and spend time with wonderful people in their homes,” she said. “I think Global Girlfriend is kind of a way for women to connect and understand each other better, on both sides.”

Still, her book intends to nudge readers a bit, hopefully igniting socially conscious attitudes or at least fanning their flames.

“There’s about 900 million women in the world that live on less than $1 a day,” she said. “What if their income doubled? What if they had $2 a day? What if they had $4 a day? … All those small, collective things we each can do add up to huge changes. That’s kind of the theme of the book, and I hope people will walk away wanting to do something.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.