From Vietnam to Madison: How one mom uses jewelry to change the world

Julie Godshall, kindness initiative, Noonday Collection

Julie Godshall has found her life’s mission, and she’s making a career out of following it.

Her life, as is, just isn’t the one she envisioned.

“It took me by surprise that my career took this turn,” Godshall said. “But I love what I do.”

Since the fall of 2016, Godshall has been an “ambassador” for Noonday Collection, which collaborates with local artisans from around the world who make jewelry and accessories. Noonday ambassadors then sell those products to people across the United States.

The goal is to help pull people out of poverty by giving them access to the global marketplace and providing a strong and steady source of income.

Noonday Collection, a fair trade company, partners with artisans in impoverished areas, believing that poor people are most vulnerable to injustices, including human trafficking, discrimination, violence and sickness. (The Noonday name comes from Isaiah 58:10: “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”)

“When an artisan creates a new piece, it’s put in the hands of nearly 2,000 ambassadors and into the living rooms of tens of thousands of women around the country, where people can try it on and learn about it,” Godshall said. “And that’s really powerful.”

Godshall’s first foray into direct sales didn’t go well. The first time, she sold for a company she liked but didn’t feel connected to. So she was uncomfortable selling for what felt like a self-centered endeavor.

“With (Noonday Collection), I knew from Day 1 that my success is intertwined with the success of the artisans that we represent here, and I want to work through the business side of things and figure out what I’m doing so that I can help them to grow their businesses,” she said. “So that was really clear to me. It made me feel like I could overcome any insecurities I had around it, because it was for them — I wouldn’t want to see one of them face-to-face and say, ‘Yeah, my sales were down last month because I was just too nervous to call up people and ask them to host a show.'”

For all her current joy, however, this was not Godshall’s intended career path.

Math was the plan: It’s what brought her from her native Georgia to pursue an advanced degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s how she met her husband, Jon, and what drove the initial years of her career. And it’s what she planned to return to when her children, Timothy and Christina, started school full-time.

But as a mom and a Christian, Godshall also wanted to address some of the world’s problems. She had a particular interest in human trafficking.

“I think it’s important for all of us to figure out ‘What can I do? What is the primary thing that God is calling me to step into?'” she said. “For me, it was ethical purchasing and fighting trafficking through prevention.”

She read about Noonday Collection through a blog and quickly learned no one in the Madison area was selling the Noonday products. She started with a 90-day goal at the end of 2016 but set her sights high for 2017 — aiming to earn one of the trips Noonday offers to its high-performing sellers to one of the countries the company partners with.

Last October, Godshall met her goal. She was among 36 Noonday representatives who traveled to Vietnam this spring.

Godshall found the nine-day trip to be an incredible growth experience for herself. But working with Noonday also has been an avenue to start exploring tough topics with her children.

“I want them to know there are kids in this world who can’t go to school because their parents don’t have the money to send them to school,” she said. “And that’s something they know — everyone should go to school. So they can relate to that.”

In Vietnam, she said, “We went to a ceramics place where they’ve been doing (their ceramics craft) for 1,500 years. And my kids know that’s a big number. … So helping to bring to them some of the awe that I felt being there.”

Godshall now has a team of four Madison-area Noonday sellers and one in Maryland.

She’s also been inspired to find new ways to address the issues she cares about:

She shares information about other free-trade businesses in the Madison area.

She blogs about environmental and social issues.

And she’s started a Kind Consumer Challenge to build a support network for those interested in helping the world through their everyday actions.

“I just feel like there’s a lot of untapped potential in our wallets, that we sometimes only think of donations and non-profits and aid as changing the world,” she said. “But what if even by buying a necklace, you could do that in a way that changes the world?”

With her daughter set to start kindergarten in the fall, Godshall had intended to return to some of the office work she had done before.

Now, though, she plans to make selling Noonday Collection items her full-time venture.

She’s even started owning the title “entrepreneur”.

“You can feel with direct sales, like, ‘I’m not the real deal. I didn’t really start my own business, right?’ And I mean it’s true, I didn’t have to establish an LLC and hire a lawyer and create these partnerships myself and figure out which designs to sell and how much inventory, how to price things and all the marketing. But I’m glad of that.

It was a gift to me — as someone who has an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to be part of something. But I didn’t have the time or the money or even the clarity of mission to be able to start something from scratch like that. And kudos to those who do. But for every one who does, there are many of us who, we love the chance to be self-employed, be our own boss, but in a way that’s more accessible, with a company that’s well-established. They figured out the artisan partnerships and the pricing models and everything. I can focus on my own business within that brand, and I think that’s really powerful.”

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