This is the 3rd guest post by CFT board member Andrea Dennis chronicling the experience of CFT’s members. Her first post depicted her own experience as a member of CFT, followed by interviewing a student member from DePaul, Helena Duecker. Andrea has been a board member of CFT since 2013, is a longtime individual member, and the Outreach Director at Greenheart International

Today, Andrea is speaking with business member and friend, Dana Emanuel (pictured second from the right, below), the Assistant Director of Workforce Development of New Moms Inc., in the third blog of her series CFT members.

bright endeavors group

Andrea: Typically people think of fair trade in terms of international trade. However, New Moms, and their social enterprise candle initiative, Bright Endeavors, work locally in Chicago. Can you tell us about Bright Endeavors and how you identify as a local fair trade business? 

Dana: Bright Endeavors is a social enterprise on Chicago’s west side that provides job training for 16-24 year old young moms. Young moms in our 12-week program gain real, paid work experience while making soy candles, and we also connect them to permanent, quality jobs. Our candles are sold to a variety of customers around the country, and online on our website.

Just like an international fair trade organization, Bright Endeavors ensures that working conditions for our staff and young moms are safe and healthy, a high level of technical assistance is provided, and transparency is upheld through all our stakeholders. Additionally, through our umbrella organization, New Moms, young moms and their kids have access to housing, early childhood support, doulas, and our extensive network of partnering service agencies.

The youth unemployment rate in Chicago is over 25%, and the rate for pregnant and parenting young women is even higher. Young moms are marginalized in our city. Often without reliable or consistent family support, stable housing, adequate food & diapers, and without access to affordable childcare, many young moms are unable to apply for jobs, much less retain them. Without income from employment, young moms and their kids face huge obstacles to improving their quality of life. Our goal is to provide a young mom with a paid transitional job, help her identify and create an educational and career plan for herself, and then start on the first steps toward that plan by finding an initial, permanent, quality job. Last year we placed 52 young moms in permanent employment, 78% of them at higher than minimum wage!

This is why we say that a customer who purchases a candle from Bright Endeavors impacts two generations: a young mom, at the very beginning of her career, and a child, at the very beginning of his/her life. As a result, our candles have the ability to transform the lives of many people in our community.

Andrea: The work of Bright Endeavors and their community is inspiring and motivating. Tell us how has being a member of CFT has impacted the work of Bright Endeavors? 

Dana: Membership in Chicago Fair Trade is a boon for Bright Endeavors, from a program perspective, a business network perspective, and for advocacy purposes. Examples include a recent “Career Outing” (we visit other companies with our young moms to explore career opportunities and various work sites) at fellow CFT member business, Mata Traders. We are able to gain business insights by calling up CFT member Greenheart Shop and asking for their feedback on a new scent we’re working on, or access new individual customers who are drawn to purchase from organizations that are part of Chicago Fair Trade.

Chicago Fair Trade’s relentless work to spread the word about the positive impacts of Fair Trade mean that a broader swath of the general population is familiar with the benefits of purchasing a fair trade product. CFT’s advocacy propels more people to think about legislation that supports the type of businesses they want to succeed, and begin speaking up for marginalized people in our city and abroad.

Andrea: I’m so glad to hear that Greenheart Shop is among the fruitful partnerships initiated by CFT! What industry trends do you see occurring in the world of fair trade and sustainability in Chicago?

Dana: I see that the social enterprise movement, and the impact-investing field, are gaining momentum. I frequently talk with students, budding entrepreneurs, and nonprofit executives who are researching the impact of social enterprise models on employment, talking about social impact bonds, or exploring the idea of adding a social enterprise component to their programs. Transitional grant-making organizations are more and more interested in funding alternate program models that incorporate social enterprise income. We are also seeing additional options for legal structures of a social enterprise, such as L3C, as well.

bright endeavors

Andrea: As a former board member of the Chicago Social Enterprise Alliance, I echo your sentiments about the landscape changing. Thank you for sharing your perspective. Turning more toward your work at Bright Endeavors, what are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing you and your team today? 

Bright Endeavors’ biggest opportunity is in sales growth. The candle market is a $2 billion annual market, and 7 out of 10 homes use candles. This year we were awarded a grant through the federal Social Innovation Fund’s partner organization, REDF, which provides money and high quality technical assistance to propel our sales growth over the next five years. We’re also excited to expand our unique Candle Rental line, which rents and refills unscented votives to Chicagoland event venues, catering companies, and restaurants.

Challenges are part of any business, and even more so with a triple bottom line. One big challenge we face is one we create for ourselves: that we have a 600% turnover rate! Our young moms spend 12 weeks in our training program, becoming expert candle makers, and then we plan for them to leave for an external, unsubsidized job, having to re-train our entire production line all over again. Turnover and high costs of training are big challenges to accommodate in our pricing, while staying competitive with other candles on the market. Another challenge we face is that, as part of a larger nonprofit that is funded in part by grants from the State of Illinois, we have not received payments from the state for contracts we performed services for since July 1, 2015. This puts many of our support services at risk.

Andrea: I’m now committed to transitioning my mother to Bright Endeavors, as she is a candle fanatic! Thanks for the extra push with the info you just shared! There have been a lot of amazing candle fragrances at Bright Endeavors, and we must know, what has been your favorite candle fragrance? 

Dana: My favorite Bright Endeavors scent is our limited edition holiday fragrance, Whitebark Pine! It comes out every year just in time for the holiday season. I’m also excited about our new summer citronella candles launching this June; I’ll be burning these at picnics throughout the summer to keep bugs away!

Andrea: Thank you Dana!

If you’re inspired by the mission of Chicago Fair Trade, and want to connect with the fair trade community, join as a member, and take the next step in making Chicago the epicenter of fair trade. Click here to find your membership level.