Tearfund staff member Heather Rayside shares how she’s celebrating women’s empowerment and prioritising creation care through her online business.
by Emma Halgren
Heather Rayside remembers some disturbing scenes from more than seven years of living in Vietnam.
“I found it very confronting to see a child’s home made from scraps of litter amongst the piles of rubbish because their single mother’s way of putting food on the table was by picking through the mounds of rubbish to find plastic bottles to resell.
“Or layers of single-use plastic bags filling a drain so that the downpour of rain gathered into a stream of water flowing into the adjacent homes, not away from them, with the result that the little they had was spoiled.”
Heather, who now works in Tearfund’s international programs team, was also confronted by something else she witnessed in Vietnam: the impact of human trafficking and exploitation.
“I was horrified that in our day and age there were over 40 million people caught up in it. That figure has now risen to 50 million.”
Heather saw something that gave her hope, though: the ability of a purpose-driven business to transform lives and communities.
“During my time in Vietnam I had connected to several in the region. They were doing a great job and I wanted to enable them to reach new markets.”
Along with her work with Tearfund, Heather runs an online boutique of giftware, fashion accessories and homewares. Most of the collection is created by women who have been affected by trafficking and exploitation throughout Asia.
“I source products from social enterprises that are known as freedom businesses, being specifically established to tackle the longer-term issue of rescued people being at high risk of being re-trafficked,” she explains. “Simply put, my business enables these freedom businesses, along with some fair trade certified manufacturers, to sell their products to Aussies and New Zealanders who want to contribute to the end of human trafficking when they shop.”
Heather says her Christian faith is central to what she is doing through her business.
Jesus restored me and gave me hope and dignity. If I can be part of His activity in the lives of others to restore, give hope and dignity then it is a joy to do. It influences the way I do business, the way I partner with the freedom businesses and how I value our customers.
Heather’s approach to business also reflects her concern about plastic pollution and its impact on the most poor and marginalised people in the world.
“It is interesting to be operating an ethical retail business in a country in which over-consumption is an issue,” Heather says. “I want to be a genuine voice in this sphere – a voice for conscious consumerism, reducing waste and purchasing products that are not enabling ongoing slavery and exploitation of people in the supply chain.
“In establishing the business, I considered the issues of waste and plastic use, making decisions such as using biodegradable satchels and boxes for packaging, using carbon neutral delivery services and repurposing other packaging materials. Part of the range includes non-plastic alternatives to common household items, such as coconut bristled toilet cleaners and kitchen cleaners.”
Heather says environmental issues are also a consideration for many of the businesses she partners with.
“Freedom businesses are already addressing the care of their environment, as they are being the most affected by poor environmental care. So, they use repurposed or upcycled leathers, metals and fabrics, materials that would have ended up in landfill, to reduce waste.
“They also use local raw products, like natural dyes, jute, coconut, bamboo and cotton, and avoid plastic-based materials. Finally, many use traditional hand-making methods of manufacturing, like hand loom weaving and stitching, skills that have been passed down for generations and do not need energy-dependent machines.”
Working with some of Tearfund’s overseas partners through her role in Tearfund’s international projects teams, Heather sees first-hand the impact of injustice on people who are the least resourced to respond to it, but also the inherent strength and potential of communities to work for positive change.