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I’m giving up retail for a year-who's joining me?

Yesterday, as I sat in church surrounded by three generations of family, I realized something. My life has been dictated and directed by love. I was born to a couple that decided to love each other, their family and most anybody who came along. Their example gave me the nerve to plunge headlong into love at the tender age of 15, marry the guy at 18, and still be passionately in love with this same man 35 years later. My husband’s unconditional love has enabled me to believe in myself and have the courage to love others. In turn, we were enabled by love to bring three little persons into the world. They knew from their first breath they were loved and that they would continue to be loved no matter who they were or what they did. Each one has amazed me in their own way with how they love and care for their world. During yesterday’s service, I watched my son with his new fiance’ and considered the life of love they will one day bestow on their children. I was overwhelmed by the beautiful life love has given me and by the ripples of this love that continue to spread out into the world. How incredibly blessed I am! As soon as that thought passed through my head, however, a voice reminded me,

“To whom much is given, much is required”.

Family Christmas Dinner 2018

Family Christmas Dinner 2018

I know there are many hurting and wounded people around the globe that were not given the advantages of love, nurturing and material abundance I have known. Even now, there are women much like me attempting to save their children from life-threatening situations. They’re living in refugee camps or homeless shelters or maybe even giving their children up to an orphanage. Women much like me are forced to dig through garbage heaps to find things to sell. Some labor in unsafe and unhealthy working conditions for little pay, or even sell their own bodies, because this is the only way they know to feed themselves or their children

Syrian refugee children in a camp in Jordan.

Syrian refugee children in a camp in Jordan.

The world can be a scary and troubled place. It’s easy to get overwhelmed; to feel it’s impossible to bring any help or healing when the need is so great. Still, I know what causes so much of the anguish and what it is that can bring true healing. Wars, hunger, prejudice, violence; these are all the result of an absence of love. Our world needs an ever-increasing response of love from those willing to share it with courage and generosity. We don’t have to wait until we’re able to fix the whole world. We have the capacity to love those within our sphere of influence. Love your family and your immediate community. At the same time, recognize you can also love on a global scale by offering a helping hand to those in need.

I don’t delude myself into thinking I can save the day for these women. I’m not the answer to their troubles. I do, however, want to be part of empowering women so they can help themselves. If I was living in poverty without means to provide for my family, what would I want? I would want an opportunity to work in safety and earn a fair wage for my work so that I could provide for my family’s needs. I want to live by the golden rule of treating others the way I would want to be treated. With that in mind, I will continue to love my global sisters in the best way I have found. Through the efforts of Elevat, I will provide them opportunity to pursue honorable work and earn a fair wage. As of today, that means helping women in the slums of Nairobi, impoverished women in Guatemala, Syrian women fleeing for their lives, Thai women escaping sex trafficking….

Nairobi mother with her child making paper bead necklaces.

Nairobi mother with her child making paper bead necklaces.

Not only do I want to love others by providing safe jobs, I don’t want to be a part of helping enslave them. That’s what happens when we purchase cheap, mass produced clothing and items made by women in Bangladesh or elsewhere who aren’t paid a fair wage or provided safe working conditions. I’ve continued to research the effects our consumer society has on the rest of the world, and I don’t want to be a part of the problem. So, 2019 will be a year without retail for me. I did this several years ago, and it felt so good! I want to commit to it again. What’s more, I’m hoping there will be those who join me. Go ahead, commit yourself to only purchasing fair trade items or other socially responsible products that are handmade and/or manufactured in an ethical manner. There are SO, MANY WONDERFUL opportunities to spend our money with a clear conscience. Of course, we can also find the items we need at thrift stores, garage sales and other outlets that serve to recycle items.

My sister and I shopping at our favorite thrift store last week.

My sister and I shopping at our favorite thrift store last week.

May 2019 be a year of shopping ethically, relieving the burden of others, and giving and receiving much love that will then continue to ripple throughout our world!

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Finding Christmas Spirit


It’s (almost) that wonderful time of the year again…or the most stressful!  Whichever way you look at it, Christmas is just around the corner.  Research shows that more than half of Christmas shoppers in the U.S. start researching gifts as early as October. Those same consumers plan to spend more than $650 on gifts this Christmas season.  That’s a lot of money!  With all this in mind, I wanted to chat with you for a few moments before you finish your Christmas gift giving plans.

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If you’ve spent any time around me, you know how much I believe in fair trade.  The first principle of fair trade is to create opportunities for the economically disadvantaged.  Can you think of anything more in keeping with the Christmas spirit? Add in factors like economic transparency; no child or forced labor, good working conditions, fair wages/profits, and you have a lot of great reasons to shop fair trade.

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Christmas seems the perfect time to offer opportunities to those who don’t have as many financial advantages.  So, since you are going to be spending money on gifts anyway, why not give gifts that multiply a positive impact?  This year, I’m doing my best to give gifts with heart.  That includes fair trade but also handmade gifts.  I want to shop with small businesses, local makers and of course, buy gifts made according to fair trade practices.  Let Aunt Sarah shop at Macy’s and Target and other big chains, not me. I love gifts that have been made with care and that carry a story with them.  So, will you consider joining me in purchasing fair trade or handmade gifts this Christmas?

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There are many wonderful arts and crafts show around this season to help us do just that, and Elevāt will be at many of them!  Stop by and say, “Hi”, find some treasures and support local and global makers:

Nov. 3rd 9am-4pm-World Jubilee Fair Trade Market

Colonial Church of Edina, http://www.theworldjubilee.org/

 

Nov. 8th 4-8pm-Holiday Open House

A Beautiful Pause, Avalon shops, White Bear Lake

http://www.downtownwhitebearlake.com/events.htm

 

Nov. 10th 9am-3pm-Concordia Academy Holiday Craft Fair

Concordia Academy in Roseville, http://www.concordiaacademy.com/giving/craftfair.cfm

 

Nov. 17th 10am-4pm-Holiday Fair Trade Market

New Life Presbyterian Church in Roseville http://www.newlifechurchroseville.org/home

 

December 8th-10am-2pm-Elevat Showroom Holiday Open house

4900 Hodgson Connection

Shoreview, MN 55126

 

Come and visit the newly designed showroom featuring all of Elevāt fashion gifts in one place! Free coffee and holiday cookies and chat with Elevat’s buyer to hear the stories behind each item.

Gift openings will be much more exciting this year as you share about who and how each present was made! 

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We are Braver and Stronger than we Know

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We are Braver and Stronger than we Know

After first hearing Nid’s life story, I couldn’t seem to shake it.  How different would I be if I had been forced to leave home at the age of 12 to make my way in the world?  My daughter Cierra, who has lived in Thailand for 3 years now, introduced me to Nid’s daughter, Khem, on my first visit to Thailand. She was a bright, friendly High School student who spoke English well. 

Cierra and Khem become good friends

Cierra and Khem become good friends

Cierra first met Nid when taking a long truck ride with Khem’s family to visit her home village in the northeast part of Thailand.  The village was remote and rustic with no department or grocery stores at which to buy food, clothing or household goods.  Most everything eaten was grown or raised locally, and most clothing was handmade.  Cierra’s white skin was a novelty to those who gathered to meet this foreigner; several pinched and stroked her arm to see what skin that pale felt like. 

Cierra visiting Nid's village in Northeast Thailand

Cierra visiting Nid's village in Northeast Thailand

Khem’s mother, Nid, grew up in this village, the oldest daughter of poor farmers.  She went to school as a child, but at the tender and vulnerable age of 12, her family sent her to the city to earn money instead. She found work in a factory, earning just enough to send money home every month while still covering her own expenses.  She continues to faithfully support her parents to this day, even after getting married and starting a family of her own.  Nid eventually found work in a leather factory and became a skilled artisan.  As time went on, she was proud to see Khem excel in school and become the first in her family to attend college.  In 2016, however, Nid and her husband (who also worked in the leather factory) lost their jobs due to downsizing. Nid’s father became ill, and she was asked to return home to care for him.  Always an obedient daughter, Nid returned to her home village.

Nid making jewelry by hand

Nid making jewelry by hand

Once Nid returned to her home village, there was no way to continue earning a living sufficient to pay for Khem’s education.  Even so, she was determined to do so.  It was at this point Khem remembered that Cierra’s mother worked with women artisans from developing countries.  Khem asked Cierra if I might be interested in helping Nid sell her leather jewelry in the US.  When I heard about the opportunity, I was thrilled, of course.  This is exactly why Elevat exists; to help women bring their handmade products to the US marketplace.  This past January, I brought Nid’s gorgeous leather bracelets back with me from Thailand.  I hope you can recognize the beauty and strength in these bracelets, qualities imparted by their maker, Nid.  I also hope you find strength in this story like I did.  We are braver and stronger than we realize.   These bracelets symbolize how women can reach out from miles away and give strength and endurance to one another.   Please join me in celebrating this beautiful and strong woman who has risen to the challenges life has given her and seeks to impart better opportunities for her children than she was given.

Khem and myself during my visit to Thailand in January 2018

Khem and myself during my visit to Thailand in January 2018

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Happy Fifth Anniversary, Elevāt!

I remember the exact moment Elevāt became reality. While riding in a car with my brother, Ben, I started sharing this crazy idea I had for helping ease poverty in some of the world’s poorest regions.  Even as I shared, I knew it sounded far- fetched and impossible, so I readied myself for a reaction of awkward laughter or some “common sense” meant to bring me back to reality.  Instead, Ben said, “That’s an awesome idea! I’d love to help you with that.”  That was the moment Elevāt went from being a dream to becoming a reality.  I’ll never be able to thank my brother enough for his initial response of encouragement and support.  It’s simple, but powerful, this idea that regular, ordinary people can make a real difference.

Left to Right:  Creative Director (son) Brennen Johnson, CEO and Co-Founder Julie Johnson, Support Staff (sister) Leah Ashford, CFO and Co-Founder (brother) Ben Peres

Left to Right:  Creative Director (son) Brennen Johnson, CEO and Co-Founder Julie Johnson, Support Staff (sister) Leah Ashford, CFO and Co-Founder (brother) Ben Peres

In recent years, a lot of people have told me Elevāt is a great idea.  They talk about how the concept of bringing handmade artisanal products from the developing world to the US marketplace is really cool. Still, the reality is, ideas don’t put food on the table of poor families or provide dignity to women wanting a better life than what’s offered on the streets.   Elevāt would have remained nothing more than a “really cool” idea if many special and gifted people hadn’t joined the cause by volunteering their skills and resources to help make it possible.  We are a 100% volunteer-run company, and I love each and every one who has given of themselves to make Elevāt a reality; photographers, designers, interns, models, and most importantly, customers! Whatever success Elevat enjoys is a testament to the power of good people doing good things for a good cause. 

Photographer Guytano Magno with models (left to right) Megan Whiting, Piper Mork & Jenna Luttio

Photographer Guytano Magno with models (left to right) Megan Whiting, Piper Mork & Jenna Luttio

Every person matters.  Every purchase matters.  Small steps in the right direction take us where we want to be.

 

I can’t wait to join with all of you and celebrate five years of taking small steps in the right direction and making a difference. You are invited to this free event on August 5th at 10am featuring:

-Brunch with jazz music

-A fashion show highlighting the latest global fashion accessories

-Recognition and thanks to all those who have volunteered on behalf of Elevāt

-A clearance section of products to make room for new inventory

-10% off any purchase to those wearing an Elevāt item to the brunch

Whether you have been a part of Elevāt’s story or are interested in it’s future, come celebrate five years of dreams made reality. 

August 5th, 10am-12pm

Address1081 21st Ave SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414

Must RSVP to Elevat's Facebook event

https://www.facebook.com/Elevat.Online/

 

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Difference-Making Begins with Ordinary Stories

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Difference-Making Begins with Ordinary Stories

 

The Story of Elevāt: Difference-Making Begins with Ordinary Stories

By Amy Weiss

When Mary fled Burundi, she had no idea that jewelry would save her life. With gunfire flying through the air, she left her job as a professor and gathered her three children. They left their home, trying to live on the run. Survival came when Mary joined a jewelry-making cooperative. She was able to reinvent her life and support her family, working hard to take a hopeless situation and create something beautiful.

Women in Burundi making beaded necklaces

People like Mary are why Elevāt exists. Her story–and many others like it–affected Julie Johnson’s life, leading her to found Elevāt, a fair-trade marketplace empowering women around the world to support themselves and their families. By selling their handmade goods, Elevāt enables them to thrive. Difference-making can begin with an ordinary story.

Johnson, the ensemble tour director at a small Christian university in St. Paul, Minnesota, was not expecting to start a fair-trade business when she arrived in Belize for a mission trip–her first trip to a developing country. Heartbroken after seeing extreme poverty and mothers who couldn’t provide for their children, she told God, “I don’t want to go back to my normal life and forget what I know and understand now.” She asked God to show her how to empower these people–some of more than 950 million living in poverty around the globe.

Julie and Dolores in Belize

And He did. In Belize, she met a woman named Dolores who made beautiful jewelry by hand. Selling her products for a low price, Dolores barely made enough profit to support her family. Knowing the jewelry could be sold for a fairer price in the United States, Johnson started Elevāt. Now, Dolores’ children are in school, Elevāt is almost five years old, and stories continue to drive Julie and involve people with Elevāt.

Connected with missionaries across the globe, Julie is often a middle person, linking the friends of missionaries to Elevāt and the marketplace in the United States. Because her husband is a pastor, Julie has been able to travel on missions trips and meet artisans in different countries. Traveling has shaped her passion to be part of these women’s stories. “Through travel, I’ve come to realize that even though we look different, sound different, and act different–we’re all the same,” she encouraged. “There’s more that connects us than divides us. Our heart values don’t change because you live in an Ethiopian desert.

Despite this inspiration, there have been moments Johnson has questioned: What am I doing? How am I doing this? Is it worth it? In these moments, God has reminded her that every sale makes a difference. An ordinary story is still a significant story, and Johnson believes even one empowered life is worth it.

In fact, something as small as a bracelet can connect the story of a mother in Minnesota with a mother in Haiti. Johnson explained that many Haitian women have to put their children in orphanages because they can’t afford to feed or provide for them. Motioning to the bracelet on her wrist, she elaborated: the income from these bracelets allows them to keep their children. Sold around Mother’s Day in the United States, a gift to your mom can empower another an ocean away.

Haitian Bracelets made by mothers from recycled cereal boxes

When customers connect their stories with artisan’s lives, Johnson believes change happens. “They’re given a sense of their own ability to change the world,” she mentioned. “They’re connected in ways they wouldn’t have been connected before.”

Connecting these stories in new ways is one of her dreams for Elevāt. Someday, she hopes her role directing choir tours and Elevāt will combine to create trips, allowing women to visit the artisans who made their products. They will see each other’s stories firsthand: Guatemalan women weaving scarves, ladies doing embroidery work in Jordan, and Syrian women creating earrings in refugee camps may someday meet people helping their stories thrive.

Syrians make scarves at a refugee camp in Jordan

In the meantime, Johnson is happy to do what she can. Traveling to Spain this month for her job, she’ll meet a missionary to pick up bags embroidered by a Moroccan woman. After all, our lives are connected. We can make a difference by living faithfully, weaving our stories with other’s lives along the way to create something beautiful.

“When Mary from Burundi told me, ‘I wouldn’t have been able to feed my family if you didn’t send the money...’ I know that actually made a difference,” she smiled. “And I’m just a little cog in it all. I’m just being faithful to the vision God had given me.”

Simply being obedient to God’s call has led Johnson to new places, and she encourages everyone to do the same. Sometimes our society emphasizes big, dramatic difference-making, but the best place to start is with what’s around us–with our simple stories. Look at the people in front of you: reach out and make a difference in the ways you can, right now.

Julie and Deb selling Elevat products at a fair trade sale

Her best piece of advice? Just do it. Step out and make a small difference. Even a simple step in the direction God may be calling you to use your story is better than doing nothing because you waited for something big. The stories of Julie and Elevāt impart wisdom for our own lives: common, small things matter, too.

 

 

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