Karen Burnell started Karma Fair Trade because she wanted to make a difference. With a storefront recently opened on Portland’s Brighton Avenue, the business sells only fair-trade products made by artisans in developing countries, including cards, jewelry, handbags, ornaments and other items.
The goal: To help alleviate poverty, to preserve the environment, and to empower people who are marginalized.
Q) What were your key needs in getting started with your business?
A) Finding an ideal location like the Rosemont neighborhood in Portland was key, along with sign/permit and registering as a low-profit LLC (L3C). I’ve kept my expenditures low with the needy artisans, and sharing their stories and needs always being the focus of my work.
Q) What factors from your upbringing gave you the courage to venture out on your own?
A) I was raised in a traditional, working-class family in the Rosemont neighborhood and have always worked hard for everything, including putting myself through college. My work ethic comes from my parents and also resulted in my independent nature. A focus on education and reading in my childhood is another contributing factor. I have always been driven to learn more about things outside of my own world and have been attracted to work that requires continued learning.
Q) What advice would you give an aspiring female entrepreneur?
A) Be sure to put together a business plan and use resources available to small businesses, and balance that with your passion. Utilize anyone who volunteers to help you, and ask for help. Be prepared for long hours, hard work and sacrifice. Do not rely too heavily on family and friends. It is crucial to network and develop a new community of support for your business.
Q) What’s your overall outlook on life, summed up in a sentence or two?
A) While we are alive, we are responsible for one another. When injustice exists, it is ultimately a threat to us all. Supporting fair trade is a way to lift women and children (mostly) out of extreme poverty, making it a safer world for them and us. It is imperative that when you learn of oppression, you do everything in your power to help. When women and children are respected and protected, the entire community and the world improves.
Karma Fair Trade
570 Brighton Ave., Portland
Started her business in: 2007; opened Portland store in February 2012.
Married for 21 years; three kids – Halley, 19, Sam, 16, and Jack, 12; also mom to a dog, two cats and six chickens.