Red Earth Trading Company A Non Profit That Buys From African Artisans and Mobilizes Youthful Volunteers by Busola Laditan

I know about Red Earth Trading Company (RETC) because a friend of mine, Lindsay Clason, volunteers for them. The company buys jewelry, bags, and clothes, etc. from African artisans and then mobilizes a force of mostly young volunteers like her around America to sell the products. Last year she raised money through car washes and donations to travel around America in a van selling these products.

Of course my gut reaction was to make fun of her. That's what you do when a friend of yours gets involved with a cause they love and wants to help people, right? I didn't like the idea that she was doing it for free. Now however as Lindsay is planning her second trip, this time to Africa, my mind is on the other side of the issue.

Red Earth Trading Company was created with a vision of expanding the market of artisans in East Africa. Founded by Travis Garrett in 2010, the company purchases handmade products directly from the creators. They sell products by setting up pop-up stores in big cities, and touring churches, homes, stores, and cafes and setting up little Red Earth sales parties.

In two short years they've gained a foot hold among the fashionable and globally conscious youth alike. The high point of notoriety when down to earth virtuoso jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding wore RETC on the Red Carpet.

"That sounds great", you're thinking.

"Why wouldn't you have supported her from the beginning?"

I did support her. I even played a few songs at a benefit show she did to raise money and sell RETC merchandise. But...

I have a healthy distrust of nonprofits because they're prone to inefficiently handling funds. What turned me on to RETC eventually is how inspirational they are. They inspire their volunteers, by spurring young people to get involved in something they care about. They inspire the artisans, by valuing their work and dealing with them fairly.  They inspire their customers, by encouraging them to purchase consciously and think globally.

The persistent critic that I am, I can't say I'm entirely happy with the program, but their owners Global Support Mission are definitely at the beginning of something special. And I have a policy of not bashing people who are doing good unless I can do better. So I'll probably spend a good part of this summer helping Lindsay raise money for her trip to Africa this summer. (see fundraiser pics on our Facebook)