Follow-Up File: HumanKind Fair Trade adds events

Name: Elizabeth Aebischer

Role: Founder and board member

Organization: HumanKind Fair Trade

What she said then: In September 2009, HumanKind Fair Trade held a grand opening celebration for its store at 982 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo. It opened the doors two months earlier. The nonprofit sells décor, jewelry, toys and foods from artisans in fair-trade cooperatives in a variety of developing countries.

“We’re partners with people from all over the world who can live better because we’re expanding their market,” said Elizabeth Aebischer, a founder and chairwoman of the board of directors. “Our lives have intersected and we are all richer because of our connection.”

What she says now: After more than two years, the nonprofit shop has seen “pretty stable” sales.

“Holiday sales were almost $2,000 higher than the year before,” Aebischer said.

“We’re in a real transition period right now,” she added. “Now that we’ve figured out the basics of running the store, we’re in a second phase of growing it.”

The six-person board of directors has a new chairwoman. Laura Mullen, who has volunteered with the store since it opened, succeeded Aebischer earlier this month.

“She has a lot of business expertise and passion for the store,” said Aebischer, who is continuing on the board in a different role.

The shop also has a new manager. Alison Cebulla studied at a coffee cooperative in Lamas, Peru, in 2008. A resident of South County, Cebulla has a degree from UC Berkeley in conservation and resource studies.

The previous manager, Sarah Leonard, left to pursue a teaching credential but continues to volunteer.

With just two paid employees and a lean budget, Aebischer said HumanKind Fair Trade’s revenue from sales have come in about $20,000 under budget in each of its first two years.

It has made up the difference through donations, but directors hope to bring the nonprofit into the black.

They’ve sought help from the former CEO of Patagonia and his graduate students at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management.

Michael Crooke dropped by the San Luis Obispo store one day, Aebischer said. A board member who was volunteering contacted him later and Crooke connected the nonprofit with graduate students to provide feedback and suggestions for growth.

Starting Feb. 17 at noon, the shop will implement their first idea to build community around the nonprofit’s mission by hosting events.

Volunteers who have visited one of the artisan coops will discuss their experiences and interactions with the people who benefit from the shop’s sales, such as the Global Mamas in Ghana. They make batik, clothing and other textile products sold at HumanKind Fair Trade.

The events will be held the third Friday of every month.

The students also suggested Web-based sales.

“We’re investigating it,” Aebischer said. “We want to make sure if we do, we know how to do it well.”

HumanKind Fair Trade is seeking volunteers to work in its store and to assist with marketing, finances, its website or other areas of expertise.

Volunteer forms can be printed at www.humankind  . Bring completed forms to the store 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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