Fibromyalgia Sufferer Brings Hope To Impoverished Artisans With Fair Trade Online Marketplace

May 19, 2014 by
Qinnie Wang
ArtConsumer GoodsEntrepreneurshipGood Causes

In late 2012, coming off the heels of a fibromyalgia diagnosis, Qinnie Wang headed to Southeast Asia for a much needed vacation. Whom and what she discovered on that trip were as life altering as the incurable, chronic pain condition the then 28-year-old was just learning to deal with. She returned home to Canberra, Australia with a BIG, altruistic dream that no amount of personal pain was going to crush.

During her time in Southeast Asia, Qinnie witnessed extreme poverty firsthand. She told WYSK, “I met many talented, hard-working artisans who struggled to make ends meet, feed their kids or give them an education. I couldn’t understand why these people couldn’t break the poverty cycle.” She was also deeply touched by the boundless pride and spirit they possessed, despite their dire circumstances. “They wanted a sustainable income and a dignified way of living, just like you and me. But they are often isolated and unable to find a market for their products. Why do we ‘deserve’ a better life than them?”

Qinnie’s search for answers introduced her to the unfair world trading system and ultimately to fair trade as a proven solution. That’s when the proverbial light bulb went on over her head (and in her heart)… she would build an online marketplace to help these disadvantaged people earn a sustainable income by fostering global sales of their beautiful handicrafts.

“The people I met in the developing countries deeply touched my heart. I want to do all that I can to help them.”

It was a BIG dream for a woman living a world away with a full-time job as an actuary, no business or web building knowledge, and the physical challenges of fibromyalgia. But she also had the power of sheer determination on her side and was not going to let anything stand in her way.

In early 2013, without any assistance, Qinnie established her cause and built a home for it on the web. Oz Fair Trade was officially open for business… the business of helping people in need and giving them hope.

In the last year and a half, Qinnie has grown Oz Fair Trade into an online marketplace that sells fair trade products (unique gifts, jewelry, accessories, home and office items, recycled Peacebomb designs) that are handmade in Bolivia, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, Tibet, Thailand and rural China. More than 15 producer groups, which equates to hundreds of individuals, have benefited from being part of her marketplace.

Batik Pattern Pillow handmade in Laos; Dot painted wood earrings handmade in Indonesia

Batik Pattern Pillow handmade in Laos; Dot painted wood earrings handmade in Indonesia

Qinnie, who turns 30 next month, runs the entire operation out of her living room… on her laptop. Proving that entrepreneurs have lots of hats to wear, this one-woman-dynamo probably couldn’t print a business card large enough to house all of her impressive Oz Fair Trade titles: founder, director, accountant, photographer, stock manager, customer service manager, graphic designer, web builder, PR officer, product model, etc.

“It’s not easy to run a start-up charity alongside a full-time job. But when things get tough or when I feel extremely tired from fibromyalgia, I remind myself of the reason I started Oz Fair Trade in the first place,” Qinnie shared. “The people I met in the developing countries deeply touched my heart, and I see Fair Trade as a proven solution to the alleviation of poverty. I want to do all that I can to help them.”

“Art for Life” greeting card showing women of Pushkar, Rajasthan India painting traditional designs on a wall.Here’s the simple model Qinnie uses to impart BIG change: She buys from Producer A and sells to socially conscious consumers around the world. Those purchases help Oz Fair Trade earn some profit so that Qinnie can buy not only from Producer A again, but also from Producer B, and so on. The more sales she makes, the more producers she can support, and the better off these producers and their families become.

“With a sustainable income, they can budget for household expenditures, provide their children with an education, expand their handicraft businesses and live a dignified life.”

In regard to how her fibromyalgia factors in to all of this, Qinnie said, “I never use my medical condition as an excuse not to do something. If anything, it serves as a motivation to start something that matters while I still can.” She added, “I believe that everyone can make a positive difference in the lives of other people. Don’t let illness stop you.”

How can you NOT be inspired by this Woman You Should Know?


Fibromyalgia Facts

  • Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic widespread pain and muscle stiffness.
  • Symptoms include muscle pain, extreme fatigue, headaches, irritable bowel, problems with sleep and problems with memory.
  • Stress management, massage and exercise can help to manage the symptoms.
  • It is estimated that 5 million Americans aged 18 or older are affected by Fibromyalgia, and between 80 and 90 percent of these people are women.
  • “When I did my research, it appears that Fibromyalgia is more widely known in the west, but I am a Chinese. It probably means that a lot of people in Asia are not diagnosed or treated.” – Qinnie Wang