Missional fair-trade shop opens in US
By Tianna Haas | Ecuador in South America
Francesca standing behind The Hope Collection's checkout counter.
While many businesses have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, an SIM missional business that partners with Latin American artisans has opened a fair-trade shop in the US.
The shop had a small launch event on 5 September, since SIM worker and non-profit director Francesca Barbee and her husband Marco are both working and managing the remote schooling of their children.
Francesca and Marco Barbee joined SIM in 2015 to serve Ecuador, though they had done ministry there before. While previously on mission in Ecuador in 2003, the Francesca cofounded a non-profit called INTO, meaning Illuminating Nations Through Offering and Opportunities, which helped craftspeople get their products to the US market. Their shop, named The Hope Collection by INTO, is an extension of this original non-profit.
Francesca said, “For us in missional business, our goal is that the business would be a vehicle to share the gospel and open up doors to get places that traditional church planters might not be welcome.”
Marco and Francesca had planned to pursue a store later on, in two years’ time, but being back in the US to fundraise and with the onset of the pandemic, their vision took shape more quickly. Francesca said, “God just started putting all the pieces together.”
First, a flagship store in the town that had been around for over 40 years announced their closure in May and began selling fixtures. Francesca bought one item but hesitated to buy more without a strategy and location. In the final weeks of its closure, the store began giving away well-made decorations that Francesca had contemplated buying. Thankful and astonished, the Barbees loaded and stored them.
Then, close friends, who are also in fair-trade business, called Francesca to say their shop in Pittsburgh’s lease was ending and had decided to shut down. These friends offered their entire stock, amounting to thousands of dollars’ worth of wholesale merchandise, on consignment to fill out the store. They even rented a trailer to transport the goods to the Barbees.
Still, Francesca and Marco did not have a building to set up in. In June, a prime spot in a large sustainable building became available. Francesca asked the owners about the possibility of a six-month pop-up shop.
Francesca said, “They said, ‘Yeah! That’s great.’ I thought, ‘Okay, Jesus, I guess we’re doing this.’”
Francesca and Marco’s missional business has grown to also act as a method for mission workers from non-traditional backgrounds to supplement their financial support by becoming consultants. A portion of the proceeds from their sales can keep them funded, since many struggle with gathering enough money for missions.
One SIM Ecuador couple, who has assisted the business, is pioneering this model, which has opened the possibility for other Christian workers globally. Francesca said, “It allows them to offset some of their financial support and still do ministry.”
The Barbees intend to equip others around the world to participate in this framework. But for now, they are busy establishing The Hope Collection.
The store is now opened four days a week and carries INTO vendor’s jewellery, personal accessories, table linens, jackets, blankets, and ceramics. Their additional products come from 15 other countries.
They hope to have the Oberlin community, a college town, involved through volunteer and internship opportunities, which will be another chance for them to share the kingdom focus driving their business.
• The shop to be successful, so the Barbees can continue declaring the good news of salvation through Christ, building relationships, and helping mission workers with financial support.
• Francesca and Marco to have discernment in their next steps, as they consider when and for how long they should return to Ecuador.
• The Barbees to make the right connections as they set up a board for The Hope Collection.
• Peace for their family in the overwhelming but exciting work of running The Hope Collection.