When they were in their 20s, Kevin Natapow and Jenny Langenbach worked together in the NGO world in Kathmandu, Nepal. The work resonated deeply with them but they longed to effect meaningful social change at home in the US.
While on a multi-day Himalayan trek, they had an epiphany. Kevin and Jenny decided to open a small business grounded in fair trade business practices, where people and sustainability inform every business decision. Returning home, they upped their street cred by getting masters’ degrees in international business. They also tied the knot and made their partnership official.
Fair Trade All the Way
The store founded on an idea in the mountains of Nepal opened in 2007 on Pearl Street in Boulder, a few blocks east of the pedestrian mall. Momentum walked the walk: it was a poster child for sustainability with its recycled bamboo floors, reclaimed wood finishes, insulation made from old jeans, and use-’em-again packing materials.
In keeping with fair trade business practices, Kevin and Jenny mandated that everything for sale in the store had to be handmade and provide employment to the artisans. They recognized that fair trade was a life-changing opportunity for an artist to break out of a cycle of poverty and into a better life.
Fair Trade guarantees:
- a living wage for artisans
- long-term relationships between producers and buyers
- environmentally sustainable practices
- equal opportunity for all, especially the most disadvantaged
- healthy and safe working conditions
A Different Kind of Business Model
Chelsea Cook has managed Momentum for almost three years, and she loves the kind of people, whether staff or customers, who are drawn to the store. “It’s a very different way to do business; there’s no competitive edge. It’s a generosity-based model where everyone wants to help everyone else.”
Chelsea came from a social work background and loves working in a place where she can help people.
“I really feel like I’m continuing to give something back. So many people walk through that door wanting to build a connection because they’re out there doing incredible work in the world.”
Joining Forces with a Larger Family
A couple of years ago Kevin and Jenny decided to move on — he to start a fair trade consulting practice and she to write some of the stories she had gathered over the years — and Momentum was purchased by new owners in Virginia whose family runs five other fair trade stores around the country.
The business model and commitment to fair trade remain the same: whether you need table linens from Rajasthan, India, soup mixes from the Women’s Bean Project in Denver, or a new purse made from recycled cement bags in Cambodia (whose profits help prevent women’s entry into the sex trade), this is the place you’ll find it.