With $11.8 million in sales last year, Noonday Collection has become more than just a direct sales and jewelry retailer. The Austin-based marketplace is helping artisans in Southeast Asia, East Africa, and South America generate a livelihood. While the site sells handmade wares directly to consumers, it also empowers entrepreneurs in the U.S. to become so-called ambassadors, selling the jewelry and telling the stories of its creators. Here's how founder and CEO Jessica Honegger was inspired to create Noonday's unique business model, which just reached No. 45 on this year's Inc. 5000 ranking of the fastest-growing private U.S. companies.

--As told to Elaine Godfrey

I've always felt like entrepreneurship was a solid way to really impact poverty. If I could create opportunities for the poor in resource-poor areas of the world, then they could elevate their lives and elevate the lives of their community. So, what I did was find a young entrepreneur couple in Uganda and I began to create a marketplace for their goods here in America.

When I met my first artisan partners, Jalia and Daniel, they had graduated from a university in Uganda with art degrees. They were really talented, but they had no outlet for their craft.

I just began holding trunk shows all over Texas; I would cart my stuff in my car. I would place a little order from Uganda, and other orders from other fair-trade suppliers. I literally was just selling. That's when I realized that there was a hole in the marketplace, and the social selling world met these customers' need for wanting items that had meaning.

Within about eight months, I was working on multiplying my model; I wanted to use the power of entrepreneurship to create power for other women and entrepreneurs in America.

I had women reaching out for entrepreneurial opportunities. Similarly, I reached out to women I felt would really be good at connecting to their community.

It started with about eight ambassadors in the first four months, but that quickly multiplied the business. Now, we have around 1,000 ambassadors. So, it's just been this really beautiful and amazing story of entrepreneurs in America being able to create opportunity for artists and businesses in other areas of the world.