Elegance Restored connects companies around the world
After Kelsey Pitney's freshman year of high school, she spent her summer break a bit differently than most of her classmates.
Living out of tents in Brazil for two months, she showered with tarantulas and washed her clothes in the nearby river.
She remembers seeing people lying on the ground with bloated bellies. As a young missionary working to build the upper story of a family's home, this image never left her mind. So she decided to do something about it.
"(My husband and I) have always had a heart for the discarded people of the world," said Kelsey, of Troutdale. "We came up with this idea for a shop that could be ethical, and could bring (wares made by) indigenous people that are not good at marketing, not good at taking pictures of their stuff, don't have great websites, to the marketplace in America."
Elegance Restored, a fair-trade business — a practice that assures artisans in developing countries are fairly compensated — is the couple's way of helping those all over the world.
Kelsey and her husband, Reed, launched the internet-based women's boutique three months ago when they went live online. But that was just the beginning. On July 7 and 8, Pink Peony, a home goods store in Troutdale, hosted a pop-up shop — or temporary retail space — for Elegance Restored's grand opening.
With Reed's background in business and marketing, "he has the education to back up my passion," said Kelsey, who runs the website, social media and deals with the artisan groups.
Initially, Kelsey's trip to Brazil might have solidified her desire to help people in other parts of the world, but her heart for others grew after a spiritual awakening when she was 8 years old.
"I want my life to be an adventure," Kelsey remembers saying. "I want to be a superhero."
After she attended school, married and gave birth to Kenturion, 3, Maranatha and Seraphina, 2, the business unfolded naturally — and quickly.
After starting a family, Kelsey had a desire to go back to work. For a few months she researched different things she could pour her heart into, while still caring for her children. One day, Reed's friend in North Carolina informed them about buying fair trade goods.
"That was the inspiration," Kelsey said. "A focus toward products helping poverty."
In January, she started researching companies and buying products as samples.
"I realized I can stay at home and raise my kids, but still participate in helping people all over the world by just buying fairly, paying people the right wage for what product they're making, and by creating an avenue for other people to do that too," Kelsey said. "It was like my whole world opened back up, like I was living in color again."
Since that time her outreach has included people in human trafficking.
"I held the lie in my mind that prostitutes choose to be prostitutes and that's absolutely not the case," Kelsey said. "Maybe realizing that — and having daughters — it's such a complex issue, and as a mom, the one way I can tangibly help is to create a job for these women other than being prostitutes."
The couple purchases apparel from different companies and sell their products online. They've purchased clothes from women in Nepal who have been pulled out of human trafficking, bags from a place in Cambodia that provides jobs for men and women to stay out of crime, and jewelry from people in Kenya living with HIV.
They also used this business as a vehicle to help companies struggling in the United States.
"We don't want people to be buying things that they're just feeling obligated out of charity to buy," Kelsey said. "We want to be providing things people actually need (so) they can replace something they're already going to go buy at Target, with this thing they can buy at our shop."
So far, their profits go back into the business to purchase more items from artisans.
"Our primary focus is on the labor to create the product," Reed said. "So we are buying from groups (where) we know the laborers are being paid a fair wage."
Many of the websites the couple buys from are certified fair trade.
"There has to be a relationship of trust. That's tricky when it comes to the internet," Kelsey said. "But we are doing this to pursue freedom for people all over the world — for women not getting paid a fair wage in Cambodia."
The couple plans to expand and open a storefront when their children are in school.
Reed eventually wants to train employees to sell their product in peoples' homes directly, but Kelsey's biggest vision is to set up a sewing center in Rockwood because of the large amount of immigrants.
"A lot of times, women that are sucked into that, or whether they choose to begin there, if they want out, they are so trapped psychologically by that situation that they don't see themselves as having any other value, any other ability to provide for themselves," Kelsey said. "(We are) not trying to create a business where we sell clothes that have a good story. The whole point of it is, (these people) need a new identity for them to actually change their mindset, because women who are pulled out of the sex slave trade, if they don't have an alternative, they will go back to it."
In an effort to fund adoptions, at least 10 percent of profits from Elegance Restored go to a Family for Every Orphan, which supports programs that get children into homes within their own country.
For those interested in purchasing products from Elegance Restored, visit their website at www.elegancerestored.com.