Former Illinois first lady BRENDA EDGAR’s charitable travels after her husband left the governor’s office led to a business run by their daughter-in-law that helps women in dozens of countries.

Former Illinois first lady BRENDA EDGAR’s charitable travels after her husband left the governor’s office led to a business run by their daughter-in-law that helps women in dozens of countries.

STACEY EDGAR, wife of the Edgars’ son BRAD, operates Global Girlfriend, which she told me “is a women’s fair-trade company that helps women in poverty find a sustainable market and a sustainable income.”

The company, which basically finds markets for goods produced by women, such as clothing, accessories, gifts, chocolate and soaps, began in 2003. It now does about $2.5 million a year in business.

Stacey Edgar also has written a book, “Global Girlfriends: How One Mom Made It Her Business to Help Women in Poverty Worldwide,” about some of the “amazing, tenacious women that we work with who have really beat all odds” to better the lives of themselves and their families.  

“Part memoir, part business book, and part analysis of fair trade and the global economy, ‘Global Girlfriends’ follows Stacey’s journey to help poor women around the globe find financial stability by creating a market for the products they make,” JIM EDGAR wrote in a letter inviting people to a book signing at 2 p.m. Monday at Barnes & Noble, 3111 S. Veterans Parkway in Springfield. He and Brenda also will be on hand.

The book, published by St. Martin’s Press, retails for $24.99. It’s at bookstores and available online at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.

Stacey was a social worker when her mother was on the board of a United Nations food program.
“She got to travel with them to Africa to visit places the World Food Program was giving food assistance,” Stacey said. Almost everywhere, she said, Brenda Edgar encountered women making things such as jewelry or scarves, but they had no distribution system.

“They were basically selling their really fabulous crafts to aid workers, and that was not a very sustainable market.”

“We kind of talked for three or four years — ‘Gosh, what could you do to help these women?’” Stacey recalled. “They’re so talented. They need the money.”

By 2003, she said, Internet communications were building, and “I kinda talked Brad into letting us use our tax refund” to buy products. At a home party for friends, she said, she sold $4,000 worth of goods in one night. She started being invited to do similar parties in homes and churches. Press coverage in the Denver area — Stacey’s family lives in Littleton, Colo. — led to contact from a Whole Foods store, which started carrying her products. Now, the national Whole Foods chain sells Global Girlfriend products.

“We’ve grown from a $2,000 tax refund working with about seven women’s groups to working with 60 women’s organizations around the world, in 21 countries,” she said.

A native of Hinckley in northern Illinois, Stacey is visiting not only Springfield this week, but also Geneva and Champaign, where she’ll speak at the School of Social Work, where she got her master’s degree.

Stacey and Brad were married in 1994 — about the midpoint of Jim Edgar’s two terms as governor. The ceremony was at Central Baptist Church in Springfield, with the reception at the Executive Mansion. DAKOTA, their oldest, turns 16 in May.

“They drive in Colorado at 16,” Stacey said. “He’s pretty responsible, but I’m losing a little sleep.”
Brad works for Citibank. Their other children are CALI ANN, 12 and ELLIE, 10.

Part of Global Girlfriend’s mission is to help women form their own enterprises — even if those are not always with Stacey’s company. She’s worked with people in India, Uganda, Kenya, Nepal, Haiti and Guatemala, among others. A spark to all of this was a Brenda Edgar visit to Ethiopia, Stacey said.

“I think that people have really grown to understand fair trade and to understand that 900 million women in the world live on less than a dollar a day, and need employment, need opportunities,” Stacey said. “Fair trade has grown tremendously, and people do embrace how buying a product can make a difference in the world.”

Condolences
Condolences to Sangamon County Sheriff NEIL WILLIAMSON and his family on the death of his father, ROBERT WILLIAMSON, on April 10 at St. Joseph’s Home. He was 97.

“As tough as it is to lose somebody, a loved one like that, you can’t be that sad because he had such a wonderful life, living 97 full years,” Williamson said.

Williamson said that times he spent when he was college age working at his father’s graphic arts business in Springfield, which in part made plates for printers, helped instill in him his father’s work ethic.

“His honesty and integrity and his attention to duty, to detail, was just unbelievable,” Williamson said.

Living through two world wars, the Great Depression, and boom times as well, and having a successful business for 35 years, Williamson said, makes his dad someone who “just lived the American dream, you might say.”

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.