We are thrilled to have our owner Judy Kohl featured as a Spotlight Member of the local Chamber!
The Mustard Seed, a fair-trade shop, pays artisans from developing countries a fair price for their work so that they are able to make a sustainable living. They then donate all profits to local and global organizations to support women and children.
Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce: What was your inspiration for opening The Mustard Seed?
Judy Kohl: My parents were missionaries to the Belgian Congo in the 1950’s, and when I was 8 months old they returned to their home there. My father was a seminary professor and my parents were on loan to a school deep in the jungle. When I was seven years old, the country gained its independence and our family had to flee…literally in the middle of the night leaving everything we owned behind. We even had to leave our 10-week old puppy. We escaped to Uganda and then moved on to Kenya. Both my sister and brother still live there. I still have such a tie to Africa and it’s a huge part of my life today.
I actually didn’t open the Mustard Seed, as a friend of mine had the concept and got it going in 2009. I wanted to be involved from the beginning – as my husband told me, it was part of my DNA. A few years later, she moved to Chicago, and planned to sell it. I was in a transition in my life and it felt natural to take it over. That was back in 2011, and it has been the most wonderful experience in my life since then. We have an incredible group of volunteers who are a part of the store. It seems like all the volunteers feel an integral part of the store, so it has a sweet spirit throughout.
LFLBC: What is your business vision?
JK: I want to share a world view to the people who come into our store, as well as to our volunteers. It’s about making people more aware of the world outside of our community and the great needs there are. Lake Forest (and the whole North Shore) is such a wonderful place to live. I’ve lived here 20 years…it’s such a privilege to live here, but I want to always have a world view that encourages me care those less fortunate.
Shopping at the Mustard Seed gives people an opportunity to shop local and still make a huge difference in the world. Every dollar we earn after paying our costs, goes to feed, clothe or educate women and children around the world.
LFLBC: What is the one thing you want people to know about The Mustard Seed?
JK: We are very serious about the concept of fair trade and want to encourage people to consider this in their personal buying. Just think about it…if something is really cheap, there might be a reason it is really cheap. With fair trade, the artists set the price and we give them the fair price. Also, we know that no children are being forced to work, workers are in safe conditions and they are being paid a fair wage. Our whole store here…that’s what it’s all about. We are literally supporting villages around the world by buying from them.
I like to say that buying fair trade is the gift that gives three times…first, it’s fair trade so right there you are supporting a community; secondly, we give back all our profits to a totally different group of people; and lastly, you are giving a gift to yourself or someone else. It’s not a very complicated concept.
LFLBC: What is your most successful business initiative?
JK: It’s probably the fashion show we had earlier this year held at our neighbor’s space, LifeWorking Coworking. We sold a lot of tickets, and this year we raised over $10,000 that went to help three different orphanages in Kenya, Haiti and India. People just kept giving us checks even after the event was over, so it was very exciting for all of us!
We also love to have people host events here that benefit charitable organizations…like book clubs, church groups, Newcomers. It can be a really fun way to get you shopping done, and each group can pick where they send the proceeds for the event.
LFLBC: How else have you been able to give back?
JK: Our little store has made such a difference in the world…we’ve built a clinic for an orphanage in Kenya, which I just had the opportunity to visit last week. Though it is more primitive than you would see here, it is now staffed by a city medical team and each day has a different purpose along with caring for the orphans. It becomes an HIV/AIDS Clinic, a Maternity Center along with a training center for the community. We can all make a difference in a life by shopping here. We also send money if there is a natural disaster, but in general, we try to have a relationship with the people we give to. We want to invest in the lives that we can see and they can get to know us a bit.
LFLBC: Tell us little more about yourself.
JK: I’m a musician by profession. I have my masters in organ, and I play a lot of piano in different settings. I usually play for the holiday concerts at the Lake Forest elementary schools. I’ve also been filling in for a friend as organist at Deerfield Presbyterian Church. It all keeps me busy, but I love this season of my life.