Carrie Paschke never aspired to own a business or even run a company, but hours spent volunteering in a Chinese foster home holding orphaned children have put her on that very path.
Paschke is the founder and creator of Furnish Out, a Quad-City based business that sells handcrafted furniture and accessories made by artisans in China. Launched last year, the company has an unusual mission: to raise money for a charity that assists orphaned children in China and support Chinese artisans by selling their creations here.
Rather than a traditional retail store, Furnish Out sells the furniture and household decor at weekend sales held twice a year. The next sale will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27, and Sunday, Aug. 28, at Cumberland Square, Bettendorf.
Furnish Out, which she co-owns with her husband Dan Paschke, then donates 100 percent of the sale's profits to China Hope Foundation to aid its critical work with orphans.
"I'm not an entrepreneur. I didn't take one business class in college," said Paschke, a 37-year-old mother of three. "If somebody else was looking to start this business, they wouldn't hire me."
But after seeing first-hand the poverty and the needs of the orphans while living in China, she said, "I knew I had to try (to help) and if I failed I can live with that. But if I don't try it, I can't live with that."
To date, her new venture has donated more than $20,000 to China Hope, a nonprofit organization that supports orphaned children.
"I don't say how to use the money,'' Paschke said. "I trust they will use the money wisely. As it happens, our money has helped three orphans with life-saving, life-changing surgeries."
The business' roots
From 2011 to 2013, the Paschke family lived in Beijing, China, when Dan Paschke was assigned there with his job in Deere & Co.'s forestry division. While there, Carrie Paschke fell in love with the hand-crafted furniture that she now brings home for sale.
She also got to personally know two artisans, George Hong and John Wang, and later Jennifer Yang. She now buys merchandise from the three to sell at her Furnish Out sales.
Paschke not only had furnished their home there with their handcrafted pieces — made by hand mostly of reclaimed wood — but she said nearly every visitor from the United States they had could expect the artisans to be one of their first sight-seeing stops. "They're very skilled at what they do," she said.
At the same time, she had begun volunteering through her church at a foster home and learned about the vulnerable population. Conservative estimates, she said, suggest at least 1 million children in China are orphans.
How it began
"When we came back to the United States, we wondered what can we do to help now? We don't have feet on the ground," recalled Paschke, a Texas native now turned Quad-Citian.
It was important to her that her family not forget the lessons they learned in China or the culture. In fact, their three children — sons Micah, 11, and Cameron, 9, and daughter Kinley, 5 — also are involved in Furnish Out in small ways especially on sale days. Dan Paschke handles the finances and other business aspects.
When the couple committed to Furnish Out idea, Carrie Paschke said she knew they needed startup money to be able to have the first sale, including costs to travel to China and buy the inventory. So she turned to her family, friends and strangers to raise money through an online fundraising site. "I raised $30,000 and went and bought enough to fill my first shipping container," she said.
She returned with 273 pieces of all sizes to sell, but no place to store or sell them. So her first sale was in her garage. "After one day, I sold 75 percent of the merchandise."
Walking around the actual storefront donated for the cause, she hoped Furnish Out's support was helping the artisans and their teams with the bottom line. "It feels good to be able to pay a fair price for someone's work."
In an email, John Wang said his Last Style Furniture business opened in 1996 with 50 workers and Paschke has given the business "new vitality and new meanings."
"We are very lucky to meet Carrie... especially with her persistent passion and strong conviction to be dedicating to the charity project — helping the disabled Chinese babies without parents," he wrote.
Wang added that her involvement "enlarged our business more in the social meanings than the sales. It made us to realize that we are doing our bit to helping the poor babies."
George Hong shared similar impressions, saying he was "deeply moved" by her work. "It is not only a help to my business, but also helps the orphans as well. It is great for social society both in China and the U.S.," he said in an email.
Help from Q-C and beyond
Dan Paschke said Furnish Out also has found support here in the Quad-Cities from businesses such as Bob Walters Homes and Mel Foster Co., both of which have donated space for the previous sales. "This allows a sustainable income stream to help fund China Hope's activities," he said, adding that keeping cost low generates more profits.
His wife also credited three Quad-City businesses that have, free of charge, stepped in to make any repairs necessary due to the shipping process. They are J.M. Kata Handyman Services, Bob Nelson of Nelson Wood in Images, and Don Kistner of Kistner Reclaim Services.
Apex Logistics, the global company that transports the furniture from China, also joined the cause when they learned of Furnish Out's mission, Carrie Paschke said, adding that Apex offers its services at cost.
"We are excited about the possibility for Furnish Out to be able to continually help better kids' lives in China, pay Chinese artisans a fair price for their work, while providing a great product to the people of the Quad-Cities," she said.