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Cornelius News

Founder of The Marketplace is a force for good worldwide​

By Erica Batten. When God speaks, Marisa Sellman listens. She’s the founder of The Marketplace, a Christian fair-trade nonprofit that sells jewelry, bags, home goods and clothing made by people around the world.

S​he started the store​ six years ago​ inside Grace Covenant. And although the store was doing good work—helping women in poverty to support their families—God had bigger plans.

“God said, ‘I want it in the community.’” Sellman said. And so she opened a space at Oak Street​ Mill in downtown Cornelius, started an online store, partnered with other churches​ and​ even bought a mobile fashion truck called The Rolling Shack.

And she put herself out there—literally.

“I have walked through the slums of Kenya and entered brothels in Bolivia. I have sat with those who have been trafficked in Cambodia and visited with those in India who have leprosy,” Sellman said.

In Ecuador, her missionary partners are working to help girls as young as 9 escape prostitution.

“It makes me angry, but in making me angry, it also makes me take action,” Sellman said.

In this case, it was the Round It Up campaign, in which customers could round up the change on their purchases to help build Zoey House in Ecuador, a shelter where these girls receive counseling and are protected by police. And unlike the government-run shelter, where girls may stay for up to 90 days, there’s no time limit at Zoey House.

Sellman’s travels are not only about meeting people in need, but they’re also about establishing a sustainable livelihood for skilled workers.

“They have this amazing skill set, but sometimes what they need is designs that Western women will purchase,” Sellman said. She has taken her background in finance and applied those analytical skills to fashion trends.

The results have been almost unbelievable. Just before celebrating the store’s five-year anniversary, the nonprofit also reached $1 million in sales. As an example of the fashion-forward designs the store is known for, the Funky Roadtrip bag, a blue cowhide made by women in Bolivia, was named a fall fashion favorite by Currents magazine in 2016. Originally planned for the Christmas shopping season, the bag sold out completely by Oct​.​ 1.

To get a taste—and, for that matter, a complete sensory experience—of Sellman’s world travels, one has just to step inside The Marketplace. Evoking an open-air market, there are items on tables, under tables, hanging from a boat suspended in midair. A tent village symbolizes conditions in Haiti. An 80-year-old billboard and the mill’s original floors are just a sampling of the repurposed items that symbolize The Marketplace’s vision—God’s vision.

“What the world would throw away, God makes brand-new again,” Sellman said.

The theme extends well beyond material goods.

“I have seen, first​-​hand, people the world would like to throw away be made brand new through the love of Christ.”

This month, The Marketplace will have a special presentation by Kay Killar, the director of Samaritan Creations in Bangkok, Thailand, which helps rescue women from human trafficking. In January, The Marketplace launched the One Woman Campaign to raise $4,400 to rescue a victim of forced prostitution and provide her with housing, medical and dental services, training and employment through the Samaritan Creations organization. Currently, the partnership has rescued four women.

Killar will share what it is like to walk the red-light district in Bangkok and build relationships with women there. Fair-trade items crafted by women at Samaritan Creations will be featured and sold at the event. The public is invited. It will be held 6-8 p.m. July 18 at The Marketplace in Cornelius.