Our Journey to Improving Livelihood of Families in Africa
Updated: Nov 22, 2022
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Inspiring Conversations with Zellipah Githui of Gitzell FairTrade International
Alright, thank you for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us how you got started? I was born in Kenya as the 8th child out of 9 of my mother and 16th out of 17 of my father. As a young child, I knew firsthand what hunger is and experienced what being without looking like. My father was a civil servant, and my mother was a subsistence farmer. While not farming, she was sewing, knitting, and weaving sisal baskets. At that time, the fence to our homestead was sisal-cactus lined for 3 reasons: 1. to put bad guys away with the thorns, 2. give privacy 3. provide the raw material for mum’s baskets.
Sewing I did not like, even today. Needleless to say, I started knitting and weaving baskets before I knew how to read and write. I learned to weave and enjoyed weaving sisal baskets. I also learned to sell at the markets primarily near our health center, where I sold bananas, sweet potatoes, baskets, etc. this was to supplement my mum’s income from her farm produce to help with food and school fees.
Fast forward, I moved to the united states in 1998 with a suitcase full of souvenirs from my family. With my love of community engagement, I started showcasing my souvenirs to the students and staff, and Soon souvenirs were sold in a cultural exchange activity in college. An idea sparked Mmm.
My dream became finding a way to share the beautiful work of the artisans- (passion with baskets) with others in a way guaranteed to benefit everyone involved in a fair and prosperous way. I started Gitzell Imports LLC(Gitzell Fairtrade International) focused on craft fairs and festivals. I later started wholesale and joined the Fair Trade Federation.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been fairly smooth? My business terrain has had some bumps. 1. Niche Market & acceptance – Identify the right market for the African handcrafts. I have leveraged this to create the niche market
2. Language and accent bias- The listener thought I spoke another language while I spoke English. This authenticity has been my superpower
3. Non-standard supply chain-Grassroot- because the baskets are done in rural, remote areas, getting goods to the city for export is not always easy. I have turned this into an opportunity where I train and speak on it.
4. Financing- access to funding for import business continues to be a great challenge.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Gitzell FairTrade International? Gitzell FairTrade has a selection of hand-woven baskets, home décor, hand-made jewelry, and a variety of zen gardens decor. Gitzell FairTrade International partners with weavers in different African counties and helps Improve their livelihood one basket at a time by selling various African Baskets in the global market and currently supporting over 220 families. We work under the principles of the Fair-Trade federation. Artisans use environmentally friendly and sustainable materials. We work with artisans to develop different ways of adapting to the changing market. Working with artisans in Africa is both rewarding and socially ethical.
Our specialty is the African Basket. All shapes, sizes, and colors of the basket. We are largely wholesalers and online retail. Gitzell FairTrade is well respected for the authenticity, partnering with producers, good quality, and training extended to the larger fair trade industry. I, as the founder, have a lot of passion for this as I know how it impacted our family with the woven baskets. I have the same joy in impacting a family’s life in Africa.
What does success mean to you? Success is when there will not be a single soul sleeping hungry. We each need to do our part. When I was young, I saw a lot of poverty and defined what success meant to me. I defined it as “having a distribution center in Kenya where lots of people would be employed so they can feed their family and improve their livelihood.” Almighty God determined the distribution center to be in Saint Charles, Missouri.
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