Planting the Seed
Our story begins in 2007 when Dr. Chris Speicher was travelling in Ghana with his then seventeen-year- old daughter, Abby. While Chris spent his days teaching in the Christian Village on the outskirts of Kumasi, Abby enjoyed her time exploring the city. But not long after her arrival, she noticed something that just didn’t sit well. Rather than attending the summer term of school like other kids their age, many children were working in the streets selling water, fruits — anything passing car passengers might buy. These children were from families who couldn’t afford their children’s education and instead, depended upon them and the few cedis (Ghanaian currency) they could bring home at the end of the day. Not one to sit idly by, Abby looked for inspiration and the answer came in the form of a small purse on the end of her arm.
The First Roots
In the Christian Village, Abby found a very talented seamstress named Julie and asked if she could replicate the bag. With the help of Julie and several other seamstresses, what began as an idea turned into several years of selling purses, with proceeds going to pay for children’s educations. The company’s namesake was Daakye, meaning “Our Future” in Twi. After spending six years with the company, Abby moved on to other endeavors and the company was put on hold for three years; but the idea and passion to help was not lost. It was only the beginning.
The Second Bloom
In November 2015, Ellen Clauss, who had worked with Abby on Daakye briefly three years prior, picked the company back up under the new name Aya Fair Trade. Abby had maintained contact with the previous manager in Ghana, and with a little tender love and care, Ellen went back to the drawing board to begin the company anew.
Ellen prepared to enter her resurrected version of Abby’s original project into the TecBridge Business Plan Competition to be held in April 2016. In preparing, Ellen recruited now CFO Randy England to join the team. Together, they put together the complete package, pitched their plan, and won first place — cash prize, in-kind services, and all. With new knowledge in mind and some funding to back it up, Aya Fair Trade was going places.
Growing New Leaves
Quickly following their college graduations, Ellen and Randy set off for two weeks in Ghana. During the trip, they laid out the framework for Aya Fair Trade. Reconnecting with Stephen and Julie, Daakye’s original manager and head seamstress, navigating the Ghanaian marketplaces for fabric, and seeing first-hand the children and families benefiting from their work, Ellen and Randy felt their passion catch fire. With their goals accomplished and their spirits fueled, Ellen and Randy returned to the States to get to work. Shortly thereafter, they launched their shop on Etsy.
Part of a Bigger Forest
Social responsibility is at the very heart of Aya Fair Trade’s mission and business model. While Aya Fair Trade offers stylish, high quality purses with stunningly artistic designs, Ellen, Randy, and the whole team pride themselves most on their ability to give back to those in need. But please understand, employment opportunities are not enough. Aya Fair Trade invests in future generations. Because of you and your purchase, Ghanian children don’t have to sell water bottles on the streets to pay for their education anymore. Instead, they learn in proper schools, and therefore will have higher chances of succeeding in the future. What’s next on the horizon? Aya Fair Trade looks to support education for an ever-increasing number of children — not just in Ghana, but in other developing countries around the world.
Expanding our Roots
With Ellen moving to Utah to utilize her talents on a bigger scale, JD Popp took over the reigns and relocated the business to Burlington, VT in October 2018, where he attends school at Saint Michael's College. JD is a double major in Business and Environemtnal Studies and is graduating in May 2018. Moving Aya to Burlington was a choice that JD made, and felt that the unique products and commitment to social responsibility would fit perfectly within the Vermont culture. With JD still in school the Etsy shop has been on hold, but will be up and running this summer. Stay tuned for updates on how to purchase Aya products online as well as in farmers markets and craft shows around the Burlington area this summer!