THE FLOURISH MARKET, 713 Tucker Street, Raleigh, 984-202-5035

On my last day in Ethiopia, I visited a leather goods factory where women and men with HIV/AIDS make beautiful leather purses for the company Able. The Flourish Market sells goods from Able in its Raleigh store, where I had bought the clutch I was carrying, which was made in these very rooms. Everything was coming full circle. It had never occurred to me that a small boutique opening on the ground floor of my apartment building in Raleigh would lead me here.

Five years ago, I moved from Michigan to Raleigh, where I manage a team of consultants in the pharmaceutical industry. Two years ago, walking my dog each night, I saw a small, leased space in my building starting to transform. Returning from a Thanksgiving-weekend trip, I was surprised to suddenly find a store filled with beautiful goods made by artisans across the globe. As I read the tags on the garments, I realized the place had a larger purpose: Every purchase was helping someone change the trajectory of his or her life.

The Flourish Market began as a fashion truck before opening its brick-and-mortar store on Tucker Street in 2016. It partners with brands around the world that provide “dignified jobs and fair wages to inspiring artisans and makers in vulnerable communities.” It also donates a portion of sales from specific merchandise to Help One Now, a collective of churches, businesses, and individuals that financially support local leaders of populations in extreme poverty, especially those caring for orphans.

I loved the idea that my purchases could have a greater purpose. Why buy a shirt that was possibly made in a sweatshop when I could buy one made by a woman who has escaped human trafficking in Nepal? A new scarf that supports orphanages in India? A candle that provides meals to those in need? That Christmas, I bought all my gifts from The Flourish Market. It became the biggest monthly expenditure on my credit card. As I got to know owner Em Sexton and her crew of amazing women, something started stirring inside me. When The Flourish Market partnered with Help One Now to build a home in Kairos Village in Peru for girls rescued from human trafficking, I realized that even a small stone can help build a home.

Em told me about the potential for a trip to Ethiopia to meet women my purchases had helped sponsor into the Family Empowerment Program, which is funded by Help One Now and run by local leaders in Ethiopia. I wanted to see the impact my shopping was having, to meet the people behind the work Help One Now is doing, and to figure out how I could support the growth of the Family Empowerment Program. As my trip to Ethiopia would show me firsthand, a garment from The Flourish Market is always so much more than just a pretty top.

We arrived in Addis Ababa on a Sunday morning after a thirteen-hour flight from Washington, D.C. At the airport, we were greeted by Aschelew Abebe—the director of Kidmia and B Loved, local organizations Help One Now partners with—and Eyerusalem Halie, otherwise known as Jerry, a member of the Kidmia and B Loved teams. We spent Sunday learning about the local leaders and Ethiopian history and visiting two shops.

One was started by a woman who hires people who were considered outcasts because of ailments like leprosy, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS to make goods for a fair wage so they can buy medicine. The other was run by a woman who was inspired by the TOMS practice of giving away a pair of shoes for every pair sold. She employed weavers to make traditional blankets for a living wage in safe working conditions, which they weren’t accustomed to. She donates one blanket to women and children living in high elevations around Addis Ababa, who don’t have shelter to keep them warm, for every three sold.

On the second day, we set out for Gunchire, where we would meet women who had gone through the Family Empowerment Program and see one of the orphanages run by BLoved and Kidmia. Meeting Bierke, the first woman ever enrolled in the Family Empowerment Program, was incredibly humbling. When she was chosen to attend the program, she was suffering from HIV, her husband was in prison for life, and her kids were not able to live with her. Five years later, she is thriving. Reunited with her children, all of whom are in school, she has multiple successful businesses.

Then we met with Tequemesh, who had received her business training about eight months ago.  She started a coffee and tea shop in her neighborhood, where she now makes roughly $12 per day, as opposed to $1 as a day laborer. Her children no longer have to work during the daytime and are going to school. She is sending her son to university, which would have been unthinkable prior to starting her business. 

On the third day, we traveled to Wailata Sodo to meet with more women who have gone through the program and one who is going to start soon. We spent a few days there, and we were able to get to know Emebet, who exemplifies doing good with your talents and gifts. She has seven children, and her husband was very ill and unable to work. She went through the program and started a neighborhood coffee and tea shop, which has allowed her to employ women and to open a mini-shop—think very small convenience store—where she now employs her husband, because she was able to get him the medicine he needed. All seven of her kids are in school, and she has paid the school fees for five additional children. 

Emebet also started a co-op with fifteen women who meet weekly to help one another grow their businesses. Asked why she does what she does to help others in her community, Emebet said that “We may not have enough to give, but we have enough to share.”

Her words have encouraged me to share what I am given, and my time in Ethiopia is something for which I’ll be forever grateful. I will never forget the spirit and tenacity of the women we met; they continue to serve as inspiration when I’m faced with adversity. Since returning home, I have sponsored a child in Gunchire through Help One Now. On Thanksgiving, The Flourish Market is kicking off a campaign to sponsor thirty women in thirty days by raising $30,000 for Family Empowerment Program. It’s a great time to get involved, just in time for holiday shopping.