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Inspiring Conversations with Stephanie Fujimoto of Trades of Hope

Today we’d like to introduce you to Stephanie Fujimoto.

Hi Stephanie, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
Discovering what pulls at your heart and having that then lead you to your life’s joy and calling is a long story and has many chapters. But I’ll do my best to keep it brief. It was my freshman year in college, and my friend and I had just been accepted into the Europe Semester for the following year. Within a week of that acceptance letter, the movie TAKEN first came out.

Naive at this time, I freaked out and asked my friend if something like Taken could happen to us while we were in Europe for School. My friend, who grew up in Sweden, calmly reassured me that traffickers don’t take Americans like that, only the locals. Well, that eased my mind for my safety at least, but this movie raised a lot of questions for me. How can another human see another as less than or even treat others like objects? Who would do such a thing? How could someone do that?

My heart was so broken for these women in trafficking that I drew a self-portrait of a woman in a brothel for my final drawing in Art class. I couldn’t imagine the pain “she” was going through, and I felt if I drew “her,” others would see “her” too. (“Her” representative for all of those currently trafficked) I attended Not for Sale conferences and participated in the End It movement every year throughout my college years. This was the start of my calling – being completely heartbroken and feeling completely helpless to do anything to make it better.

Fast forward to two years after I graduated college – I had my International Business degree under my belt, a steady job, and started a local non-profit to help International students with conversational English. I was representing this non-profit at a local missions fair in Santa Barbara when I came across a booth that read “Trades of Hope.” This caught my attention and so I asked the gal at the Table what this program was all about.

“We partner with women and families around the world to help them rise out of poverty and sex trafficking.”

Wow, this sounded too good to be true. Yet as the critic that I am, I remembered my business thesis paper on Tom’s Shoes. My rebuttal in that thesis was that these shoes weren’t as beneficial as the marketing said it was. So, I questioned further… “But how does Trades of Hope really do that? What is the business cycle?”

“We partner with Artisans under fair trade principles and in a wholesale manner. They create these beautiful accessories; we pay them upon shipment to the US and then women like myself sell these items and earn an income as well. It’s a dignified partnership. And through this trade, these artisan groups are rising out of poverty and finding healthy work for themselves after leaving a life of trafficking.”

Whoa! This information needed some time to simmer for me. My business studies kicked into high gear as I researched and dug into everything I could find about Trades of Hope. And after my findings, I began to shop with this gal I met for fair trade jewelry, home decor, purses, and coffee!

My first purchase was three bars of Soaps from Pakistan, and each one came with the artisan’s fingerprint in the wax seal and a card. Reading this women’s story brought me back to that feeling I had freshman year, but this time I held something that has given her Freedom. This artisan stamps her thumbprint in the wax seal of the soap to signify that she is a real person, receives respect, dignity, and hope again! I practically cried every time I washed my hands and anyone who visited, I would read them the story on the card.

Life events took place and I eventually moved down to San Diego. Three years had passed since my first soap purchase and I still shopped for gifts and the like with my friend Melanie from Trades of Hope. One Day she called me. We chatted for a bit and then she mentioned:

“I searched our database and currently, we don’t have an advocate for Trades of Hope in San Diego.” I was taken aback by that. San Diego seemed like the perfect city for this type of missional business to flourish! What can I do, I thought?

Called her back and asked – “can I become a representative for Trades of Hope?”

That was three and a half years ago, and I have loved every second of this joy job! Partnering with our artisans, learning more about fair trade principles and fashion design, meeting our artisans in person, seeing them share their hopes and ambitions with us… all of this has been sewing up that heartbreak I once held so dearly. Now my life’s joy is helping other people feel honored and respected for who they are!

Just like the poem of all the start fish that washed ashore – “I made a difference for that one.” That’s how I feel advocating for Trades of Hope.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Oh, I wish it was a smooth road. Starting a company or launching a branch in any location for the first time is challenging. I became a partner with Trades of Hope only about five months into being in San Diego, so I didn’t have a fully established community here yet. So, I had to build that from the ground up, both in making new friends but also sharing about our missional business.

I wanted to get in front of as many people as possible, so I figured street fairs, vendor events, and craft shows would be my best option. It was a lot of long weekends and late-night dinners to start to build some traction for the business. Eventually, it paid off, and a few of those I met at vendor fairs invited me to share about Trades of Hope at their churches and with small groups. This was how I built most of my customer base in the beginning. Since Quarantine, everything has gone online, so I’ve made a similar practice of being intentional on Facebook and Instagram to meet new people there and connect.

As you know, we’re big fans of Trades of Hope. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about the brand?
Trades of Hope is a missional business to use Fashion as a force for good. We are partnered with Artisans in 19 different countries, bringing their fair-trade designs to our online marketplace. We buy items monthly to ensure our artisans have a sustainable income flow. I specialize in the marketing and sales of these items here in San Diego.

What sets us apart? Besides our awesome mission is our impact and the tangible impact is shown in every item purchased. Each order comes with a card from one of the artisans sharing the impact you have made.

After three years, I am proud of the difference our local community has made collectively through Trades of Hope. I keep an annual record of all the charitable donations we as a branch have made both locally and internationally, and this list fills me with joy every day! We have donated chickens, birthing kits to expecting mamas, blankets to the local shelter, ultrasounds to mothers in Madagascar, education to women on Jordan, refugee packets, children’s toys, trauma counseling for survivors… the list goes on! This truly is how I believe we change the world! Everyday people, choosing to support where they can, collectively making a big impact!

Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
What do I like best about San Diego? The a vast amount of cultural cuisines and foodie restaurants here. For lunch, I could be having fish and chips in PB and, by dinner, enjoying Bao Buns in Mira Mesa.

What do I like the least? The traffic – Hands down dislike the traffic on both the 5 and the 15 Fwy. I would gladly choose any other form of transportation than a car during rush hour here in San Diego. I like to say “Have passport will travel (anywhere but in a car)”

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