Meet Joy McBrien, an inspiring female social entrepreneur, and founder of Fair Anita. Fair Anita is a Public Benefit Corporation committed to creating economic opportunities for marginalized women all over the globe. Joy’s core belief is investing in women at every level. After learning financial insecurity was the #1 reason women stay in abusive relationships, Joy and the Fair Anita team set out to create fair trade jobs for women in need.
8 years ago as a senior in high school Joy fell victim to rape. She decided not tell anyone about it, but started doing a lot of research on the dark subject matter she had experienced. In much of her research she learned that Peru has the highest reported rate of domestic violence in the world at 70%!!!!!.
“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.” – Joy McBrien
While there, Joy lived with an amazing social worker named Anita. Anita taught Joy something very interesting. When women have jobs, they reinvest the money back into their families and communities. According to the UN– women put 80-90 cents back to families and communities, as opposed to 30-40 cents by men.
Joy ended up living with Anita for three summers, eventually acting as her assistant social worker in Peru. As her assistant, Joy had the great opportunity to interview women and learn their stories of their experiences with violence. For Joy, these interviews and stories were life changing as she was just figuring out how to process her own rape.
Through these interviews and stories Joy quickly found out that these women didn’t want or need an organization to help them cope, they wanted something much more meaningful…..a job. These women were already making some beautiful garments, but had no access to an outside marketplace.
Eventually, I took this to heart– so many women wanted me to sell their products back in the US, it was by far my #1 request.
Back in the US, Joy started working at a large fair trade retail chain. The retail chain was serving a great purpose, the problem was the age range was limited to the consumer around the ages of 45-60. She reached back out to the women in Peru and told them she wanted to start selling their product in the U.S., but with only one stipulation. Joy wanted to help them design products for a younger demographic that wanted to wear ethical and fashionable products. The women agreed and the rest is history.
Today Fair Anita creates opportunities for over 8,000 women in 16 countries.
Below is a Q&A with the inspiring Joy McBrien, founder of Fair Anita!!!!
Tell us a little about the jewelry and accessories Fair Anita sells and what they are made of.
We sell a huge variety of jewelry and accessories, all made fair trade by women in 16 countries. One of my favorite lines is our Ethiopia Collection, which features jewelry made from recycled bullet casings. This group of 150 women living outside of Addis Ababa are going out and collecting shell casings, melting them down, making beads, and creating unique and gorgeous jewelry. We also have sterling silver jewelry from Peru, copper and brass jewelry from Chile, Egyptian cotton scarves handwoven in Egypt– the list goes on!
How are your workshops designed for these communities of women and who leads them?
Each artisan cooperative looks really different, unique to the needs of their community. Some of the groups we work with are established fair trade producing groups, working with hundreds of women. Some groups are smaller: 3-4 women gathering in someone’s home to produce the craft. Many of the women we work with opt to work from their homes, though most groups also have workshops where women can convene, especially if special tools are needed for the work. The leadership of the groups depends on the size of the cooperative, but usually is about 1-6 people that either speak English or Spanish and have access to a computer and internet, which is how I communicate with them.
What has been Fair Anita’s greatest challenge since starting in 2015?
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 have quite a large team for such a new social enterprise. How do you sustain your employee wages while paying 3x minimum wage to the women you are working with?
I am so grateful for our wonderful team! It took me about a year to realize that I needed help to grow Fair Anita; I was working at my maximum capacity, and there was still more demand for additional sales. It was a great problem to have, and it allowed me to hire our first team members. That being said, most of our team is super-part-time, meaning they work about 5 hours/week. They contribute their amazing strengths and talents in a focused but limited capacity, which allows us to incorporate everyone’s ideas while still staying on-budget. Anna and I are the only two full-time staff at this point, though we are hoping to continue to grow this in the future.
What countries does Fair Anita currently work in and are there plans for expansion?
Fair Anita currently works in India, Ethiopia, Peru, Cambodia, Vietnam, Chile, Egypt, Ecuador, Guatemala, South Africa, Uruguay, Jordan, and the U.S., and we work with additional partners who work in Nepal, Ghana, and DRC. We are in the process of developing artisan partner relationships with multiple cooperatives in Mexico, but for the most part, we’re looking to sustain and grow our existing partnerships.