Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Love Is Good Business


The poetic justice of--Love Heals--as the tag line of a company run by survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution is deeper than all the scars women carry from childhood trauma and rape. For survivors, sex has been monetized and violent for years. On the street with pimps and johns, it is not about love. It is about survival, drugs, and turning tricks. Learning how it is that love heals is one of the goals of the community of Thistle Farms, an all-natural manufacturing company that sells body care products. At the social enterprise women find their way back into a world that has allowed them to fall through the deep cracks of hard, unjust systems.

For two years women live in rent free communal houses and find the mental, dental, physical and educational help they need. A key element in the process is to be economically independent in order to gain control of their destinies. The social enterprise began in 2001 as a means to provide that economic security, and as a vehicle to engage people in understanding why women turn to the streets and to get past education into action. None of us had ever run a company, but we didn’t shy away from launching a movement. Our mission was to live into the truth that love is the strongest force for social change in the world. It is remarkable that 13 years later we are on pace to grow 100% based on the first-quarter numbers and break the million-dollar mark in sales. Many of the leaders of the company are just coming into their own as business executives, sales people, and entrepreneurs. Shana Goodwin, one of the sales' executives says the biggest lie she was told when she was sold to a drug dealer as a teenager was she was stupid. Although she never finished 7th grade, she is one of the smartest, most enterprising women you will meet.  She can manage an excel spreadsheet with the 280 accounts across the country and explain to a group of business women that by purchasing products, they are helping women find freedom.

There is no secret to our success.  Our business is an open book that supports volunteers and more than 1,200 annual visitors to the company where people tour the facility and drink a healing cup of thistle tea at the CafĂ©. Love is worth so much. It is a endless commodity we can tap into when we put people first and swear we won’t leave any sisters behind. There is an old saying, “If you want to kill a village, rape the women. If you want to heal a village, heal the women.”  The women of Thistle Farms are bringing healing and practical ideas to create sanctuary to cities across the United States. We are speaking at hundreds of churches, conventions, and gatherings  to spread the truth of how love is lavish and economical.  Just by our presence in Nashville, Tennessee, we bring over half a million dollars in savings, taxes and revenues with no federal or state funding.  We are part of wider movement that is changing the tide of the conversation away from blame and shame towards practical healing with quantifiable value.

We will continue to rise to the occasion for the thousands of women still on the streets who deserve to be more than just survivors of child rape, trafficking, prostitution and addiction.  They are bankers, manufacturing directors, baristas, distributors, social media marketers, facilitators, case managers, outreach directors, receptionists, candle makers, and paper makers.  Love is a good business model that can teach traditional businesses about how to sustain a community as you grow a company.  The business of Thistle Farms teaches us how we can serve one another, love the earth, and hope for the future.

By The Reverend Becca Stevens
Author of #SnakeOil

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New March

Spreading the mission of Thistle Farms and the message that LOVE HEALS comes in all kinds of packages. Recently, Atlanta-based singer/songwriter Hannah Thomas took it upon herself to share this the way she knows best: through music.

Hannah wrote the song, New March, with Thistle Farms in mind.

"I have some friends that introduced me to the work that Thistle Farms does and I was so amazed by what they do for these women," Hannah explains. "Thistle Farms really provides a second chance to women that probably wouldn't get one otherwise and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. Everybody makes mistakes in life and everyone deserves a second chance and that is what the song is about, looking back, learning from your mistakes and then moving on. If everyone was judged by only the mistakes they made we could never get anywhere. Instead we should all figure out what we can do to help, and that's what Thistle Farms does."

In addition to writing a beautiful song, Hannah is also donating 100% of the proceeds of the download of New March to Thistle Farms through March 30, 2014. You can download the song directly from her Bandcamp page or stop by the Thistle Stop Cafe and pickup a business card with a QR code to scan & download.

Hannah has been spreading the love through national media including After Ellen, The L Stop and during an interview and performance on WOOD TV 8 in Grand Rapids, MI.  

We are so grateful to Hannah and look forward to her performing New March at a Thistle Thursday soon!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Welcome To The Circle: Fall Fundraiser 2013

Two days after our First National Conference, "Welcome To The Circle," we hosted our annual fundraiser with the same name, this year, at the Ryman Auditorium.

Two thousand friends filled the hallowed Ryman space as residents and past event chairs created a circle on stage. Ali Harnell, Jennifer Nettles, Jeff Hanna, Levi & Marcus Hummon, Maura O'Connell, John Prine, Cary Rayson, Regina Mullins, Fiona Prine, Carolyn Snell, Becca Stevens and the women of Magdalene offered us inspiration that filled the room with love and hope.

Through donations during the fundraiser and online after the event, we raised almost $450,000, enough money to keep our doors open to women and to move forward on a Magdalene program inside the Tennessee Women's prison! There we were in the Ryman saying "love heals" and the community gathered and said, "amen." 

To see photographs from this sacred evening, go to our Facebook photo album HERE.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

When the Circle Becomes a Movement

Today marks one month since we hosted our first national conference "Welcome to the Circle." We were joined by 250 passionate attendees (social workers, therapists, nonprofits, students, doctors, nurses and more) from 31 states who came together to share dreams, questions and best practices in a collective effort to help women, and the communities in which they live, heal and recover. 

We shopped 'til we dropped at the Shared Trade Marketplace, which featured vendors from a new alliance of social enterprises committed to helping close the economic gap between producers and consumers. To read an article by the Nashville Scene about the new Shared Trade Alliance, click here. It felt great knowing that every dollar we spent went directly back to supporting the women who made the products. 

We heard from extraordinary speakers like Nicholas Hitimana and Martina Vandenberg and exceptional workshop leaders from partner organizations like Eden HouseMagdalene St. Louis, the Sexual Assault Center, the Hannah Project and more. And Music City did not disappoint! We were brought to our feet (even in the wee hours of the morning) by the talents of Radney FosterAshley Cleveland and Marcus Hummon. We literally laughed, cried, and sang together. We were inspired and forever changed.

You may have noticed that we talk a lot about circles at Thistle Farms. Most of the time, we’re talking about widening the circle in a continuing effort to spread hope and healing. Since the conference, we’ve also been thinking about the circle as a loop. After all, a “movement” has to be in motion, right? Becca and the Magdalene residents and graduates continuously travel across the country sharing the message that love heals. Each time they do, people in turn decide to visit us. Over the past two years, more than 1250 of you have come for our Education Workshops from across the country and beyond. Each and every time, while spending the day with you sharing best practices that we've adopted during this 16 year journey, we learn something new. 

Our hope is that those of you who joined us for the conference in person or in spirit were inspired to go back out into the world to say, “Welcome to the Circle,” confident that your voice is a key part of this living, breathing and growing community. Love really is the most powerful force for change in the world. 

The conference was a true collaborative effort. We are thankful to the many people who contributed generously of their time and talents.

To see a slideshow of pictures, go to Flickr or visit our Facebook album. Thanks to Erin Lee and Peggy Napier who captured the weekend so beautifully.

Plans are already underway for our 2014 conference. Most likely, the date will fall again in mid-October. Stay tuned for the date and registration information. In the meantime, please join us for one of our upcoming Education Workshops scheduled for January 13, 2014 and February 24, 2013. For more information contact Deb Markland.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Ban Against Neglect

Today's guest post comes from Lindsay Sebastian and Callie Brauel with ABAN (A Ban Against Neglect).

Thistle Farms has been both a source of inspiration and support for ABAN from our very beginning. ABAN started as a class project by three university students: Emmanuel, from the University of Ghana, Callie, from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, and Rebecca, from Concordia University. Since the original idea in 2008, the organization has continually transformed into the two-year program that exists today.

ABAN is an organization that works to end the cycle of poverty among marginalized young women in Ghana. Similar to Thistle Farms, we reach out to young women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets.

Part of ABAN’s funding strategy is through the sale of handbags and other accessories made from recycled plastic water bags. These plastic bags provide Ghanaians with pure drinking water, yet 60 tons of this plastic ends up on the streets every day due to inefficient trash collection systems. ABAN recycles 20,000 of these plastic bags every month and couples it with beautiful hand dyed batik to create purses and bracelets to sell.

Funds from sales are delegated to a holistic two-year healing program for the young women who enter ABAN’s program. The women are taught basic math and literacy, as well as business, savings and elective classes, which teach skills needed to pursue a job after graduating. 

In our first year Becca Stevens visited our campus in Ghana. We forged a relationship, and since then Thistle Farms has purchased products from us for use in two of their kits. Currently, they buy handmade pouches and couple it with body products to create a Travel Survival Kit! They also buy bracelets from our newest venture for the Evening Survival Kit made from 100% recycled glass. Recently, we began taking discarded bottles from the streets, melting them down and crafting beads for the creation of jewelry.

Due in part to the steady revenue from Thistle Farms, we were able to expand ABAN to form a sibling organization, ACE, or ABANCommunity Employment. ACE hires seamstresses and tailors from the local community. This takes the product demand off our ABAN apprentices so that they are able to focus on their studies, as well as choose the career they desire. Before ACE, our apprentices spent their entire second year sewing products. Now, these girls are able to decide whether they want to pursue sewing, or choose a different profession such as catering, hairdressing, or bead making. ACE is also an opportunity for a steady job after graduation from ABAN.

In addition to financial support, we have looked up to Thistle Farms for inspiration from the beginning- our models are so similar, separated only by their 11 more years of experience and knowledge. We begin each day with Sister Circles, where the apprentices gather to sing, pray and start the day with a positive attitude. We have both a residential program and social enterprise that work together to create a community. And most importantly, we too are working to transform our current culture, which exploits women, and instead empower them with love and support.

We love ABAN and you should too! For more information on ABAN, go to their website, like them on Facebook or follow the on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Bee Loved

Today's guest post comes from Lizzie Stuhlreyer from Bee Attitudes.

Our company, Bee Attitudes, is owned by three women:  Lizzie Stuhlreyer, Jessie Rosenblum and Merissa Costanza, mothers that want to make the world a better place and we believe one place to start is with your own attitude. I think Gandhi said it best when he talked about positive thoughts eventually becoming your values and who you are, so we like to think this our way of reminding people to try to keep a positive outlook, it's not easy to do all the time. We truly believe in the power of the individual to bring about change with the right attitude.

We feel it is important to help where we can and give back to the community.  We really wanted to find a cause we could do a special shirt for, that would not only raise money for them but also help spread their message. When we decided we were in a position to do this, Thistle Farms was the first thing that came to mind and we had a meeting and immediately knew we wanted to be a part of the circle!  Before we had set this in motion we had been talking about doing a shirt with the attitude Bee Loved for the holidays. So after our meeting it all came together - Bee Loved would be the perfect shirt for Thistle Farms. It works on so many levels  - Thistle Farms' philosophy that Love Heals and we all deserve to be loved and when we truly believe it, the healing begins.

The shirts are available for sale on our website, and locally you can buy them at Scarlett Begonia on West End, Nancybgoods in East Nashville and Pear Tree Avenue in Brentwood.  50% of the proceeds from the sale of this shirt will go to Thistle Farms, plus we get to share the message that LOVE HEALS with our customer base and hopefully raise more awareness! We have a unisex t-shirt, a baseball style shirt and a sweatshirt will be available in the next few weeks.

On another note - while we were there on our first meeting we met Penny, Jennifer and Anna in the paper factory and we're now using paper from there to package our t-shirts, it's like we're wrapping each one with love!  We love being able to support Thistle Farms as a business also.

ADDED BONUS: Through the month of November, Bee Attitudes will ship the Bee Loved shirts for free when you type SHIPFREE in the coupon code!

Thank you so much to Lizzie, Jessie and Merissa. 
We are so grateful to you and love wearing these Bee-utiful shirts!