By starting her own business, KRISTI JO "KJ" LEWIS has helped launch the businesses of creative, hard-working women a world away.
Lewis, MS and MPA '05, is founder of Global Sistergoods, an online business that sells colorful clothing, accessories, and home décor created by women in developing countries. Lewis and her sister, Beth Kapsch, who serves as CFO, pay fair prices to economically disadvantaged women in such countries as Ghana, Cambodia, and Peru.
A former Peace Corps volunteer, Lewis got to know the "strong, resilient, and incredibly smart" women of Namibia. She returned to the country in 2005 to gather information for a PSU project, and it was then that inspiration for Global Sistergoods hit. "I knew I wanted to be creative in my work, work that has a profound impact," she says.
Global Sistergoods, launched in 2006, saw a 500 percent increase in sales in 2007 and expects a 300 percent increase in 2008. Its products appeal to urban women, ages 25 to 55, who are interested in travel and women's rights, says Lewis. Every item for sale on www.globalsistergoods.com includes an insightful piece on the women of that country.
A favorite item of Lewis is the "past meets future bracelet" made by women in Namibia out of PVC pipe to look like traditional, hand-carved bone. "I like them because they are unique, and I know that area and the direct impact we have made," says Lewis, adding, "If women are able to control their own economic destiny, that is where the real development happens."
Lewis, 38, and her husband, David, became new parents in July. Her sister is also a mother, so business travel is on hiatus for a while. Fortunately, they have a full-time employee, Leah Hazard. The company will have a booth during PSU Weekend, Oct. 18, from 9 a.m. to noon in Smith Memorial Student Union.
Lewis is thankful and philosophical about their situation, saying, "As new moms, we face the same balancing acts that our partner artisans face."