Five local women are opening doors to struggling artists from all over the world with Fair Trade. Through this form of trade, artisan groups abroad are given more opportunities to showcase and sell their creations. These entrepreneurial women are quickly changing the face of downtown Fort Myers through their shops and art galleries. The hidden art enclave creates a unique retail shopping experience for the people of Fort Myers. The stores have either relocated or opened recently, and are located on Bayside Parkway, between McGregor Boulevard and West First Street.
“Our story started with a mission trip to Kenya,” said Melody Hull, founder and co-owner of He, She and Me. Hull is the veteran entrepreneur of the group. She started He, She and Me after her husband’s mission trip to Kenya, seven years ago.
Fair Trade products are currently having a positive impact on the lives of nearly one million Fair Trade artists and their families, who are located throughout 58 countries. It’s through the act of Fair Trade that these artists are able to reach larger demographics and raises the standards of living within their communities. It’s a way for change.
“We heard about people who were struggling and asked how we could help them,” Hull said. “We learned about fair trade, and how it could introduce hope to people all over the world by selling their items in our store,” she continued. What followed was a store that now has clothes, crafts and art from 33 countries all over the world – and supports hundreds of people in the process.
Joining Hull at He, She and Me is Vickie Maharrey, a retiree from the Fort Myers Police Department. Maharrey started volunteering in 2010 and is now a co-owner.
“Seeing how we can support lives all over the globe is empowering,” said Maharrey. “My nephew is a missionary in Bulgaria, for instance, and we get to support artists there. Every product represents a story.”
In the back of the group’s enclave is the newest member of the team, Martha Hillman, who owns Nana’s Hunny Bunnies, A Fair Trade Children’s Boutique. After working in the medical field in SWFL for the last 35 years, Hillman started Hunny Bunnies, the only children’s fair-trade boutique in Fort Myers.
“I am a Nana of seven,” said Hillman. “My goal with the store is to give back while also providing quality, fairly-priced, child-oriented products for parents, grandparents and families,” continued Hillman. “One or two fair-trade purchases a year, per person, can help sustain families all around the world. Fair trade is putting people before profit. Our purchases pay it forward.”
Rounding out the group-of-five women entrepreneurs on Bayside Parkway is the mother-daughter duo of Deborah Newton and Pamela Volz, who run Two Newt’s Gallery and Gifts. Newton and Volz started their gallery nearly two years ago at their initial location on Second Street. They recently located a few months ago, after being approached by Hull to build their art and Fair-Trade enclave together as a team.
“We currently have more than 70 artists in our gallery and are always looking for more,” said Newton. “And most of those are from Southwest Florida,” she continued. “We love being a part of the local art community and seeing our artists embrace their skills and craftsmanship through our gallery.”
“This group of ladies is something special,” said Volz, describing the five leaders of He, She and Me, Hunny Bunnies and Two Newt’s Gallery. “We really enjoy spending time together and truly think that our little enclave is going to add value to the shopping and art experience in Fort Myers.”