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WM Spotlight: Kristen Hoffman and Kate Kruuse (Part One)

by Rachel Johnson

Something I love about women is their ability to connect and form relationships in order to effect change and make a difference in the world. If they hadn’t met each in other in their local Pilates class in Washington, DC, Kristen Hoffman and Kate Kruuse may have never crossed paths – they are from different places, pursuing different dreams, and living different lives. But they began talking and realized that by combining their gifts and talents, they could truly do something great. Read more to learn about this dynamic duo and the non-profit organization they support, Sealed with a Kiss, and come back in a few days to read the rest of the interview – there was so much good content that we decided to make the piece last a little bit longer.

Q: Kristen and Kate, thank you so much for joining our blog series. Something I’ve loved about the women I’ve interviewed is that they are motivated, passionate women who use their God-given talents to make a difference in the world. You two come from very different backgrounds and you have different strengths but you’re both equally passionate about the organization you support, Sealed with a Kiss (Swakx). Tell our readers how you met.

Kristen: We actually met at a local DC Pilates studio, Fuel Pilates. Kate was there holding a trunk show for Swakx on Georgetown’s Fashion Night Out. I was trying to avoid the temptation of shopping all over Georgetown and productively attend Pilates. Once I started speaking with Kate and learning about the jewelry she was selling that was created by women affected by HIV/AIDS in South Africa, I knew that I had to get involved. Kate and I stayed in touch and I have been fortunate enough to become her partner in launching Swakx in the U.S.

Q: Give us some information about the organization and share some goals SWAKX has for 2012.

Kate: Swakx was started by my good friend, Liora Katz, out of a desire to help women in South Africa who had been affected by HIV/AIDS. Liora is originally from South Africa, where around one in every three women between the ages of 25 and 29 is living with HIV. Liora noticed that though there were many wonderful non-profit organizations working to assist children and young adults with HIV in obtaining an education, there weren’t many groups helping them find work once they graduated. Liora created Swakx in order to not only provide employment opportunities for young women affected by this disease but also to empower these women to break the cycle and change the future of their families.

Our biggest goal for 2012 is to successfully bring Swakx to American soil. Until now, Swakx products have been primarily sold in South Africa and we are excited that we get a chance to help American women sport some Swakx of their own.

Q: Kate, you’re drawn to South Africa for many reasons, specifically because it’s where your husband was raised. What else has caused you to want to work there?

Kate: Maybe it is by fate, but even before I met Dean (my adorable husband) I had an affinity for South Africa. One of my favorite writers in college was Nadine Gordimer, a truly inspirational writer and political activist that was a part of the anti-apartheid movement. However, nothing I had read could have prepared me for the poverty and hardship that much of the population of South Africa still suffers today. In spite of this, the joy of the people is undeniable. I am so inspired by these people who have so little, yet are so resilient. It is only natural to want to help provide these wonderful woman warriors a means to thrive.

Q: Kate, how did you meet Liora, founder of Sealed with a Kiss? How did your partnership grow?

Kate: A few years after college, I moved out to Boulder, Colorado, to pursue a career in photography (how things change) and pursue my Pilates training (yet stay the same ). Liora was introduced to me through mutual acquaintances and we became fast friends. I was already dating Dean at this point and we were eager to welcome another South African native into our network. Over the years, Liora and I stayed connected, regardless of our locale (which have been everywhere from California to DC to South Africa).

Last year, while visiting South Africa for the Christmas holiday, Liora gave me a few of her Swakx necklaces. From the moment I put them on, I knew she had created a product and a company that would go far. She asked me if I would be interested in bringing some back to the States to see how people perceived them. I knew that my involvement in the company had only just begun. As soon as I returned to the U.S., it was apparent that our product would prove successful not only for its sweet charm (no pun intended) but for the good it does for those less fortunate. Fast forward one year later, Kristen and I are now launching Swakx USA!

Swakx jewelry.

Q: Kristen, how did you decide that this organization was a cause you wanted to support and what is your role?

Kristen: Although it was the product that initially caught my eye, I could not stop thinking about the social mission of Swakx after my first conversation with Kate. Something in my heart told me that I should reach out to Kate and fortunately I was received with open arms. In this immediate moment, my role is to consume half of Kate’s pantry while we brainstorm our presence at market this year (we will be at New York International Gift Fair at the end of January).

But in all seriousness, Kate and I are equal partners in Swakx USA and we are conquering the challenges of starting a new business (but are doing so with smiles on our faces and plenty of clementines). I am blessed to be working with someone that is not only a great business partner but also someone that I have fun spending time with.

Stay tuned for part two of Kristen and Kate’s interview!

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