FairMail GmbH

Über den Tellerrand
Lendahand Foundation

Area of work: Combat poverty and abusive child labor 

Key facts

Challenge overview

According to the ILO 85 million children worldwide work in hazardous conditions, to help supplement the family income, putting at stake their education, their health, their normal development, and even their lives.

Currently, the natural beauty of the developing countries is commoditized mainly by western photographers who have the ability to sell images of this beauty in the west. Especially in parts of the world where there is a lot of poverty it is unfair that the inhabitants of the country that provides the beauty do not earn a fair share of the profit being made.

FairMail’s theory of change is that by training deprived teenagers in photography and selling the photographed beauty (a free resource!) on greeting cards worldwide, the teenagers can earn an income to finance their education, develop their creativity and self-esteem and gain meaningful job experience.

Enterprise`s Establishment

FairMail is a social enterprise registered in Germany. It was founded in 2006 by Janneke Smeulders.

FairMail was initiated to offer underprivileged teenagers coming from low-income families the chance to work toward a better future. The same chance other teenagers coming from more well-off families in their countries would have.

Social entrepreneur Janneke Smeulders, who saw an opportunity to offer children who lived on the streets or worked on garbage belt of Trujillo, Peru a chance to improve their future, founded FairMail in 2006. She saw many children hanging around on the streets or collecting garbage at the dump, earning only a few cents a day under hazardous conditions instead of going to school. She came up with the simple business idea to let the teenagers generate their own income to finance their education. With a digital camera and free photography lessons, they were able to capture the free resource which local beauty is. By printing this captured beauty on fair trade greeting cards, she was able to commercialize this free resource.

With their 60% of the profit, the teenagers are able to invest in their own education without their going to school being a financial burden for their low-income parents. This is crucial for their parents agreeing for their children going to school instead of working to supplement the family income.

Structure of the management and operation: Constitutive bodies/ Membership/ Network

The “FairMail group” consists of two international legal entities doing business with each other. The FairMail Company in Peru is a financially independent legal entity in charge of producing the photographs, paying and guiding the teenagers. 

FairMail Cards GmbH is the marketing and trading company of the FairMail Group, in charge of selling the images, international marketing and generating royalties that can be passed on to FairMail Peru. This company has three shareholders: Kira Beck, Federica Micozzi and Natalia Stehle. 

FairMail is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization and Social Enterprise NL. The WFTO Guarantee System guarantees that FairMail complies with the global Fair Trade principles and the WFTO Fair Trade Standard. 

Potential/ Interests for networking and international collaboration

FairMail is collaborating with sales and production companies to develop its activities. Since the very beginning, the team has been working with local NGO’s in Peru, India and Morocco to recruit at-risk teenagers. Working in cooperation with these partnering NGO’s allows them to engage with those teenagers that are motivated to improve their lives. FairMail is able to provide an income, job experience, creative and personal development while the partnering NGO’s employ social workers and psychologists to help the teenagers and their families.

Objectives and Activities 

Principles of work

FairMail’s mission is to:

  • Empower underprivileged children to break the chain of poverty through photography and instill within them a sense of self-confidence and self-awareness so that they can grow into the adult they want and chose to be
  • Give children the opportunity to unleash their creativity – through free photography training – and create fair trade photography products that are marketed all around the world
  • Support the children in the management of their finances – money they earn from fair trade product sales – giving priority to their education
  • Create unique photo products as an alternative to the photo products of northern companies to serve businesses and people worldwide and raise awareness on what can be achieved when children are given the opportunity to make best use of their talents and surroundings
  • Inspire people and businesses around the world to make good use of local beauty and local resources to generate profit that creates a social and economic impact on the lives of many
  • Being a compliant member and an ambassador of the WFTO by living up to its ten principles at the best of our possibilities. Inform the public on the benefits of fair-trade and inspire other social enterprises about joining the WFTO community

Scope of work/ Objectives

FairMail dreams of a world in which all adolescents have equal opportunities to educate and develop themselves.

The vision for FairMail in 2020 is to consolidate globally as a leading fair-trade photoproduct producer and strengthen their triple impact:

  • Empower the teenagers to develop their creativity, self-esteem and to pay for their own education with the fair income they earn with their pictures
  • Use local beauty as a resource to generate income for our teenage photographers
  • Inspire customers and volunteers to contribute directly to reduction of child labor


FairMail helps teenagers to get lessons in photography and start selling their photos as greeting cards worldwide. FairMail Cards found a consumer demand for a card concept that offers a combination of a quality product and the inspiring, direct link to a young and hardworking teenage photographer who the consumer can directly support by buying his/her card or photograph. 

Other card companies are struggling to respond to consumers request for socially and ecological responsible products. Apart from FSC paper, none is able to offer ethical credentials besides charity cards, which often have badly selected images for card themes. Fair trade greeting cards are an innovation, which their clients have been waiting for. It is the first time that local beauty is used by local teenagers to generate an income. FairMail also uses state of the art environmentally friendly techniques and introduce them to developing countries.

Target groups

The main target group of FairMail are unprivileged teenagers of Peru.

Challenges encountered and Impact 


In the first stages of FairMail, the founders, Janneke Smeulders and Peter den Hond, were printing and selling the FairMail cards themselves. They soon realized though that this was not exactly their internal strength. So, they decided to change the business model from producing and selling a physical product to shops, into selling “content” (photographs) with a “concept” (the story behind the photographs) to international publishers. This proved to be very successful as the new partners had more experience on customer demand, efficient production, storage and logistics plus a professional sales force on the road. This way FairMail was able to focus on its own strengths to work with the teenagers and tell the story behind their photographs.


The most important results of the organization to June 2016 are:

  • Over 165.000 euro earned in direct income by the teenage photographers.
  • Over 3 million cards and pictures sold, inspiring customers to contribute directly to combat child labor.
  • 55 teenage photographers employed and earning money, affecting the lives of 275 family members.
  • First prize winner of the Dutch Card Award for “most innovative card concept” (2008), Ben & Jerry’s “Join Our Core” social enterprise competition (2012), The European CSR Award (2013), PwC’s Transparency Prize (2015), the “Business in Development Challenge” (2006), ASN Ethical Bank’s “World Prize against child labor” (2011), and NCDO’s “Entrepreneurs without borders” (2011).
  • Sale of cards and photographs to 14 countries.
  • Production of photographs in three countries.

Lessons learnt and conditions for potential replicability

Lessons learnt

The team of FairMail believes in “Trade NOT Aid”. Especially for the healthy and talented teenagers, they have trained to take the pictures. Just because they had a bad luck to be born in economically poor conditions or instable families does not mean they need to depend on aid to improve their chances in life. Actually, FairMail believes that making them dependent on aid negatively influences the teenager’s development. By giving them, the tools to take their own destiny into their own hands they get much more self-esteem as it is only thanks to their own efforts they have managed to improve themselves. By working hard, being creative and making a product that consumers will actually buy you can take care of yourself. That is what the team of FairMail wants to teach teenage photographers.

Hence, FairMail is a self-sufficient company. FairMail receives no subsidies, grants or funds and sustains its operations entirely with the income from its sales. The second advantage is that by involving the teenagers in the running of the business and making their earnings dependent on the company’s earnings, they are very motivated to keep the costs low and earnings high. Only that way they can earn money to finance their educational dreams.

Conditions for potential replicability

On national level

FairMail is an international organization, which uses innovative approach to alleviate poverty by introducing an opportunity to teenager to earn their own money and advance their creative skills. The model can be transferred and replicated by using other art forms, which can empower unprivileged groups in our societies.

On international level

The FairMail model is based internationally because it creates a market for teenage photographers in Peru, to sell their photos to western countries. The model and activities of the organization can be further expended to other countries worldwide engaging more unprivileged teenagers from different regions and broadened the marker.

Notes and remarks. Bibliography 

Website of FairMail: https://www.fairmail.info.