Small Business Monday – Spotlight on Sojourns

Birmingham AL, business
Melissa Kendrick, owner of Sojourns, A Fair Trade Store

Do you like to make a difference in the lives of others?  How about if your purchase of clothing or gifts helped liberate a woman from human trafficking?  Melissa Kendrick tells us about how her dream of dignified work for people around the world became a reality with her business, Sojourns.

I’m originally from Birmingham (Hueytown actually) but have been back here almost thirteen years after living in various places around the world for two decades.

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The name of my business is Sojourns, but I usually say Sojourns, A Fair Trade Store to provide a little insight.  Sojourns, located at 2017 3rd AVE N, is in its 12th year.  We opened Oct 25, 2005.  I’m the sole owner but usually have one part-time employee.  Right now I just have some friends helping out as needed and when I travel.

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I tell people Sojourns carries a little bit of everything from a little bit of everywhere; and while we have items from 57 countries including jewelry, journals, sculptures, household items, toys and much more…what’s important is how it’s made: no sweatshop labor, child labor or forced labor in the production.

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The most unusual product I carry is probably the paper made from elephant dung, but unique and unusual is standard around here.  Being fair trade I’m proud of everything I carry because it’s about providing dignity and fair wages to the artisans.  But if I had to pick one product, it would be anything made by the women liberated from sex trafficking.

Birmingham AL

We’ve been downtown the entirety of our existence and have seen a lot of changes so I enjoy witnessing first hand the revival of the City Center. But I love that we get a cross section of people here and I being able to interact with visitors to our city. They always seem so (pleasantly) surprised at what they see. I feel like a college ambassador introducing prospective students to the wonders they we offer.

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Aside from being fair trade and working to make the lives of the poorest people of the world a bit better, 10% of our profits are given to local charities that mirror fair trade values like justice, equality, sustainability, and empowerment. Last year we had an Alabama ornament showing the Alabama rivers and watersheds designed (all those tourists want souvenirs). We gave the profits to three local charities protecting Alabama waterways. By the way, we still have some in stock 😉

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We are also working on some global projects and the next one will be in Madagascar next month. We are raising money to provide water purification straws to the children until we can raise money to go back in two years to put in a water purification system for the village.

And yes, there will be an opportunity to go to Madagascar and help.

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The hardest thing about being a small business owner is everything, but outreach in this city seems particularly hard. Oh yeah, and paying bills. I generally tell people owning a business is the hardest, most challenging, most rewarding yet hardest thing I have ever done. They tell me I said hardest twice and I simply reply with “I know.” But man do I love what I do.

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Sseko sandals are “build-your-own” adaptable footwear.

The most rewarding thing about being a small business owner is everything.  But turning an idea into a reality, weathering the economic downturn (and living to tell the tale) and connecting with amazing people are pretty much top of my list.

I have been diversifying the products and will continue that effort both in the near term as well as long term, but would love to open a second location, maybe in Fairhope. First however, I plan to focus on building collaborations with college campuses and coffee shops to have kiosks to provide a fair trade presence around the state. I’ve always got plans, money, not so much.

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I think Birmingham is on a good path but my biggest concern is education. Smart, tenacious entrepreneurs are taking care of the growth, so if we as as City would focus on education then the growth and vitality of this city would only continue the transformation that has begun.

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Kristina O'Quinn
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