February 6 2018

Fair Anita – Products With A Purpose

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Joy McBrien.  I’m 28, 6’ tall, and a proud Minnesotan.  I enjoy taking local buses to explore new places, I prefer mountains to the beach, and I am part of a dance theater company. I am not a fashionable person, but I’m running a fashion-oriented social enterprise. I do it because I deeply care about women’s rights, especially survivors and women from marginalized communities.

What exactly is Fair Anita?

Fair Anita is a Public Benefit Corporation, a for-profit company committed to creating economic opportunities for marginalized women.  Fair Anita is a social enterprise that invests in the power of women. After learning financial insecurity was the #1 reason women stay in abusive relationships, we set out to create fair trade jobs for women in need. Now, we design & create products with women in 16+ countries, so women have an income to care for their children & potentially leave an abusive partner. We strive to make our artisan-made products affordable; designing for the mainstream market & opening up fair trade to the masses.

What inspired you to start Fair Anita?

10 years ago as a senior in high school, I fell victim to rape.  I didn’t tell anyone about it, but I started doing a lot of research.  I learned that Peru has the highest reported rate of domestic violence in the world at nearly 70%. As a freshman at the University of Minnesota studying nonprofit management and business but struggling to connect with the coursework, I knew that I needed to work on something that had meaning to me in order to really learn.  I started working with a group of local women in Chimbote, Peru (one of the largest poorest cities in the world) to build the city’s first battered women’s shelters.


I learned so much while living in Peru (I’ve now lived there 4 times).  I learned that when women have jobs, they reinvest the money back into their families and communities, whereas men will spend more on alcohol and gambling (actual statistic is from the UN– women put 80-90 cents back to families and communities, as opposed to 30-40 cents by men).

This got me thinking—how could we employ survivors of violence to positively transform communities?  When survivors have a steady income, they’re more likely to be able to leave an abusive partner, or they’re seen as having more worth in their own homes, so abuse levels go down.  It seemed like an easy solution to me at the time (which, of course, is not actually so easy), so I started playing with a few ideas to create fair trade jobs for women.  I started my first jewelry company when I was 15, so jewelry seemed like the natural fit—something that I knew well enough that we could sell in the U.S.  Now, this idea has turned into Fair Anita!

How did you come up with the name?

I named the company after my host mom when I was living in Peru, Ana. She is the social worker in one of the largest, poorest cities in the world, Chimbote, Peru, and she’s a shining example of an empathetic leader. Her work focuses on working with women and children, especially those who have experienced violence.  I learned so much from Ana (referred to as “Anita” as a form of endearment), especially about the importance of economic opportunity for women. Ana taught us that when you improve a woman’s life, her family and community improves right along with her.  She taught us the power of women investing in other women, and it is her leadership that inspired Fair Anita.

Where are your products sold? Are they sold in stores?

We sell our products online at fairanita.com, at local events, and in about 200 stores around the United States and Canada.

What is your favorite part about running Fair Anita?

I love that when growing a company, there are new things to figure out every day.  No two days are the same, and I appreciate that I am able to continually learn on the job!

My favorite part though, of course, is working with our artisan partners.  They are so talented and compassionate and resilient—it’s such an honor to get to work so closely with women from so many different walks of life.

What is your least favorite part about running Fair Anita?

Cash flow is a challenge with most start up businesses, but especially when you’re working with fair trade.  We pay the artisans when we order the product, not 30-90 days after we receive it, which is how a more traditional retail model would work.  However, when you’re working with artisans in some of the poorest communities in the world, they need to have the payment upfront so they can purchase materials and care for themselves and their families while they create products over the upcoming months.  Turnaround time is about 3 months from the time we place an order, so there is a delay from the time we pay to when we can start selling and earning that money back.  We’re trying to anticipate this more with a more intensive financial model, which will allow us to continue to scale.  We also started working with a larger number of artisan groups (now at 23, I believe!), so that we can always have new product in the shop that’s selling.

You give back with every purchase, can you tell us about that?

The term “give back” is a little confusing with our business model, as we do most of the giving before customers purchase the product.  We pay the artisans at least 3x the minimum wage (exact numbers on our website!), and we pay them upfront.  We also provide other benefits to partners: health insurance, educational scholarships, welfare assistance, disaster relief, and money to upgrade tools/workshops and increase capacity. When customers purchase our products, those proceeds “go back” to paying artisans for future orders.

Our company gives back in other ways, including donating to many women’s rights-focused organizations and hosting women’s empowerment events.

Is there a favorite product?

It’s hard to play favorites!  My go-to pieces are the Farah Scarf from Egypt, the Dark Poppy XL Tote from Cambodia, the Dell and Donna Cuffs from Chile, the Dipped Studs from India, and the Maritza Necklace from Peru.  They’re all very versatile and easy-to-wear!

How do you spread the word about your company?

We are still trying to figure this out!  We are active on social media, and we love collaborating with others.  I recently gave a TEDx talk, and that has helped us grow our community of followers, as well.  The best way people hear about our company is by complimenting a friend on their jewelry, and then that friend is able to tell the story of the artisans who created it!

Do you have any advice for fellow entrepreneurs?

My #1 piece of advice for young women is always “DO IT.”  It’s terrifying, odds are set up against you, and you’re certainly creating your own path, but what you learn from the experience is so, so worth it.  For me, I’ve also found the most satisfaction when I follow my instinct, my passion, and my gut.  I graduated from business school as one of the few in my class who didn’t go on to work at a Fortune 500 company, and everyone thought I was crazy.  They were making ridiculous salaries right out of college, and it was an easy game to get caught up in.  While everyone was pressuring me to snag one of these sought-after positions, they just didn’t appeal to me.  My heart was with working with women, especially creating opportunities for marginalized women and girls.  It was a risk and a tremendous pay cut, but ultimately, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Every day, I’m so lucky to wake up to work on things I truly care about and that I can’t wait to get started on.  While I’m not suggesting the entrepreneur lifestyle is for everyone, I definitely recommend to stay true to your passions and instincts.  There are so many people out there telling women what they should or shouldn’t do, and it’s easy to let those voices overtake your own.  Stay true to who you are—even if there are sacrifices, overall, you’ll be better off for it.

Do you have a favorite quote or go to saying? 🙂

Oh, I have a hundred of them!  Two of my favorites (that are also quoted on our wrap bracelets from South Africa) are: “She believed she could, so she did” and “Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

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