This Stationer is Fighting Human Trafficking with Paper
One of our many beloved vendors at Adelina is Paper Baristas. Their soft hues of paper and simple scripts feel hand-written, hand-made and effortless. Beyond that, we love supporting their unique mission with each card we sell.
Paper Baristas is a family-owned and operated stationery business in Columbia, Missouri. Run out of their home, Christy Asper and her husband design and print high quality, ethically-made greeting cards with rustic elegance and inspiring messages. Like many stationery business owners, Christy fell in love with the process of helping to create her own wedding invitations and went on to apprentice under the incredible stationer who made them. At the time, she worked almost 60 hours a week as a child welfare worker and would then help the stationer in her spare time.
After working in child welfare for several years, Christy and her husband decided they wanted to foster children themselves, but they needed to carve out the time to care for a foster child. Their full-time schedules as child welfare worker and student wouldn’t allow for it. They decided that owning their own business would meet both needs. Christy would have a flexible schedule working from home, and they could foster to adopt.
She started off with designing wedding invitation suites and as their family grew and the business evolved, they decided to focus solely on stationery. Now, Christy designs, her husband does the printing and her sister handles administration of the business. Christy’s exposure to human rights violations as a child welfare worker, led her to focus the business’ purpose on eliminating slave labor from the supply chain.
What many people don’t know is that slavery is not a thing of the past. Between forced prostitution, human trafficking and countless forms of indentured servitude there are over 40 million modern slaves at work today. This is more than at any other time in history. And what’s possibly more alarming is that even if you don’t know a person who “owns” a single slave today, you likely have tens if not hundreds of slaves supplying your everyday products and household goods from the seafood on your dinner plate to the sports equipment in your garage. Turns out, forced labor isn’t just used to produce high ticket items like electronics and blood diamonds.
Even paper goods and forestry is subject to unethical labor supply. That’s where Paper Baristas filters the supply chain to change things.
They are ending modern slavery in three ways: raising awareness, changing the supply chain and raising funds. This means they’re not only reducing demand and contributing to justice and recovery efforts for those affected, but also strengthening the campaign to end slavery with each product they sell. Because Paper Baristas is so committed to its mission, you’re able to shop their stationery at the same low price and high quality as other brands, but without the guilt. You can rest assured that there is no labor supplying the products you order from them and 10% of your purchase will go to organizations like International Justice Mission and The A21 Campaign who are fighting the global slave economy.
To learn more about Paper Baristas and the woman behind the brand, read our interview with Christy Asper.
S: Why stationery?
C: I think I’ve always been in love with paper. When I was little I would write poems, design them on paper scrolls I made out of twigs, and try to sell them. I was also really big into the civil rights movement. I would create speeches and read up on civil rights heroes. Doing what I do now, is a merge of human rights, design, and paper. I couldn't be happier.
S: What are Paper Baristas’ goals for the future?
C: We have been fortunate to have incredible interns in the last six years, but our hope is to add more staff in the next year to help with operations as we grow. And of course, ending modern slavery in the supply chain.
S: How did you make the shift to sourcing ethically?
C: Oh boy! This is always a difficult pill to swallow. As we began creating products, we did what everyone else did—sourced overseas as cheap and as quickly as possible. At the same time, we were giving back 10% to a nonprofit that fights human trafficking (modern-day slave labor). It’s a cause dear to our hearts because many of the teens in our foster care system end up trafficked into the sex industry. They are the vulnerable, making them easy targets to prey on. I too, was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, so I know how common it can be. As we started learning more about human trafficking around the world, we learned that it was more than just sex trafficking. A majority of modern-day slaves were forced into labor in countries that manufacture for the U.S. We started doing some more digging and realized that despite our intentions, we were contributing to the very problem we were fighting to solve. We decided we needed to either shut down production or go all in to fight modern-day slavery. So here we are. We made a major pivot to our production and the items we produce. We are continuously growing and learning about how we can educate people, create ethically and fight the good fight.
S: Wow! That’s a huge change to make. What are some of the biggest challenges you had with removing slave labor from your supply chain?
C: To be completely transparent, it’s the margins. It is 3-5 times more expensive to source ethically. Most of our products are made in the USA. The reason companies go overseas is because things can be made cheaply and quickly, which is what you need to do to make a business succeed. What many companies and consumers don't understand is that it is impossible to have something made so inexpensively and so quickly without forced labor. We can't compete price-wise with other companies that are getting similar products made by free labor, but we wanted consumers to have the ability to purchase products ethically if money and quality were not an issue. So, we made the decision to treat our business much like a non-profit. We take the hit on it being more expensive to make, and the consumer can choose to purchase our ethical goods at the same price they pay for another brand.
Another major problem is finding ethically sourced manufacturers. Oftentimes the supply chain is so long that it is difficult to track and ensure that there are no slaves working for you. We have to do an immense amount of research. It often means we are buying from manufacturers in the U.S. where labor laws are enforced. Unfortunately, many U.S. manufacturers have gone out of business because they cannot compete with the free labor overseas.
S: It seems if even companies don’t know where all their labor comes from, it would be hard for consumers to shop responsibly. What can consumers do to ensure the brands they buy are ethically sourced and made?
C: I think the main thing is to check the transparency in the company that they are buying from. Where is the product manufactured? The slavery footprint website by Made in a Free World is a great place to start to find out how many slaves are working to supply your daily needs.
S: Yes, that’s a great site! Word of warning to our readers: once you know how slavery supplies our daily purchases, it’s pretty convicting. Luckily, there are ways to alter your consumer habits to decrease and eliminate unethical labor. If you’re interested in finding more ethical alternatives for the products you use, these shopping guides are a great place to start.
We’re in the middle of another worldwide crisis that is affecting us all in new and difficult ways. What’s encouraging you right now?
C: Haha! God. Who else? These are crazy times. He gave us a job to abolish modern-day slavery in the supply chain, and that hasn’t changed, even now. Whether we are facing a pandemic or the stock market crashes, we have a mission and we are going for it. We are also encouraged by shops like Adelina, more than you know. You give us hope that people do care about sustainability and human rights.
S: I think you’re right, when people know the truth, they really care about doing things differently. How are you finding your new normal?
C: I think the funny thing is our lives have never been normal. We just keep adjusting. I will say... I wish this quarantine thing happened when I was single, living with my four roommates. I would be all caught up on shows and killing my to do list. Working with an 8-month-old and a toddler while my husband wraps up his dissertation leaves no room for free time. In fact, I ate breakfast and did my five-minute devotional in the bathroom yesterday just to have alone time. The cat barged in and ate my cereal.
S: Haha. That sounds about right, and a perfect place to end. Anything else you want to say to your future customers?
C: Shop at Adelina! We have to support small businesses that are supporting ethically sourced goods; they are the backbone of this country's economy.
Thank you for supporting small businesses and for buying ethically made products. At Adelina, we’re passionate about supporting local artists, entrepreneurs and businesses providing a living wage and dignity to those who are most vulnerable. We hope Paper Baristas’ story inspires you and that you’ll join us in supporting ethical business.