Photo by TJ Turner
Smile Network International is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that has been providing cleft-lip and -palate reconstructive surgery to children in developing countries since 2003. When founder Kim Valentini began to bring home handcrafted goods from her travels overseas, she realized a second opportunity to help the people in countries supported by Smile Network. “I would show my finds to the other women in the office,” she says, “and they would always say, ‘Next time you go, can you bring me back one?’ I thought, we have a real revenue opportunity here.” The organization began to sell the goods at pop-up sales and its fundraisers to raise money for its cause.
On the strength of those sales, Smile Network recently opened a retail storefront named Inspire: global gifts for urban adventures, selling handmade, fair-trade goods by tribal women in developing countries.
When selecting products to sell at the store, Valentini made a concerted effort to showcase unique goods not typically found at other fair-trade retailers. Products include cowhide travel bags from Ecuador, Alpaca wool waffle-weave ponchos and cowls from Perú, and hand-loomed throws trimmed in ostrich feathers and beads from South Africa. The artisans get a fair price for their goods and steady income, and 100 percent of the profits from every item sold at the store funds the reconstructive surgeries. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” says Valentini.
The cargo containers that Smile Network utilizes to send out medical supplies on its missions used to come back empty. Now, those containers come back filled with handcrafted goods. Says Valentini, “Now we have an opportunity to spread the wealth.”
LPM Apartments, 108 W. 14th St., Minneapolis, 612-377-1800, smilenetwork.org