Finding the Joy Behind Fair Anita Jewelry
Meet Joy McBrien, a global learner with a deep passion for empowering women and girls around the world. She's not your typical CEO – she's the driving force behind Fair Anita, a social enterprise on a mission to create a more inclusive economy for women. How? Joy does this by offering them economic opportunities and dignified jobs through stunning fair trade jewelry and accessories.
Joy's journey has taken her around the world, where she's worked with thousands of women. Her empathetic nature helps her understand their challenges and develop innovative solutions. She's even rolled up her sleeves and built a shelter for battered women in Peru and lent her expertise to a girl-focused middle school in St. Paul, MN, her hometown.
It's no surprise that recognition has followed Joy's remarkable leadership. She's been honored with awards like the Top Ten Outstanding Young Minnesotans in 2015, an Open Hands Initiative Fellowship in 2016, a spot on Minnesota Business Magazine's list of 35 Entrepreneurs Under 35, and the prestigious Real Power 50 Award.
But Joy doesn't stop there. She's also an active member of the Global Shapers community, where she's taken on various leadership roles within the Minneapolis Hub. She's represented women's issues at high-profile events like the World Economic Forum's conference with His Holiness Pope Francis on Overcoming Social and Economic Exclusion and the Annual Meeting of New Champions (also known as Summer Davos).
Joy has also been a speaker at the Sustainable Development Impact Summit hosted by the WEF in NYC. There, she tackled important United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on gender equity (Goal 5), decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), and responsible consumption and production (Goal 12). Joy is also Chair of the board of the Fair Trade Federation, a community of U.S. and Canadian businesses fully committed to fair trade.
But beyond her impactful work in women's rights and ethical supply chains, Joy's a wanderer at heart. She spends much of her time jet-setting around the globe, collaborating with young people, and showcasing her talents in dance theater.
Beautyologie was lucky enough to snag a few moments of Joy's time to learn more about her background. Read on to learn more...
What is the brand’s mission?
We have two main goals:
1. Helping to create a world where all women feel safe, valued, and respected, no matter their geography. We do this by creating economic self-sufficiency and community for women through fair trade jobs.
2. We seek to change consumer habits, proving that you can purchase trendy, affordable options that are also ethically sourced. We create great products and embolden women around the world rather than exploit them.
How did Fair Anita start?
I started Fair Anita in 2015 after 7 years of working with artisans, working at our local Ten Thousand Villages, learning from existing fair trade enterprises, and being inspired by ideas of what more ethical supply chains could look like.
Ultimately, I was drawn to start Fair Anita because of my own history of trauma, and experiences with rape and sexual violence, which led to ongoing challenges with depression and anxiety. I felt like I needed a community, a community of change-making women, likely women with similar traumatic histories, to learn and grow with. I wanted a community of women who were *determined to overcome together*, to celebrate and support one another, because our world so often felt like women were only taught to compete with and criticize one another.
Where did the name come from?
I named the company after my host mom when I was living in Peru, Ana. She is a social worker in 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 improve right along with her. She taught us the power of women investing in other women, and it is her leadership that inspired Fair Anita.
How many employees do you have?
We partner with about 8,000 artisans and we have a daily operations team of 11.
Where are the women who make the jewelry for your company from?
We partner with women in Cambodia, Chile, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Peru, South Africa and Vietnam.
Where do you draw your inspiration to create new collections?
Inspiration comes from everywhere! I’m inspired by community, sustainability, and things that just make life more fun. Sometimes, products start with the recycled material we want to use, and we go from there. Other times, artisans will pitch designs and we tweak them for our market. Often, we get design ideas from our Fair Anita team members and customers!!
How has partnering with Fair Anita helped artisans to achieve their goals?
We are proud of the partnerships we’ve built with women around the world: we’re all committed to seeing one another succeed, and we’re fully invested in making that happen. Our artisan partners are, like us, determined to create better lives for themselves and their communities. They are change-makers in all sorts of brilliant ways! For example, through our continued partnership with our partners in India, they were able to open a health clinic in their area, providing free services to community members in need. Our Peruvian partners have been able to offer child care in their community, and when disaster struck them earlier this year, they were able to spring into action and help rebuild their community.
Were you always interested in jewelry?
I started my first jewelry company when I was 15, hand-making products and selling them to local boutiques. This has been a strength I brought to Fair Anita: knowledge of jewelry-making skills and techniques. We ultimately focus on jewelry because it’s 1) a fun way for customers (and artisans!) to express themselves 2) a product that is accessible for artisan partners to make in their own homes 3) a product line I can wrap my brain fully around and better innovate how to use recycled materials throughout production.
Where do you see the future of fair trade going?
One of my goals has always been to make fair trade more accessible. For a long time, we know fair trade has been accessible mainly to an elite, mostly white, audience. This movement needs to be more accessible– in terms of messaging, pricing, designing, and retailing – in order to really have longevity and open up fair trade to the masses.
Luckily, I’m seeing these changes already. When I started Fair Anita in 2015, I was one of the youngest in the room and there weren’t that many women in power. Now, I have the privilege of serving as the President of the board of the Fair Trade Federation. Next up, I’d like to see us pass that torch; I want more youthful folks, and I want to see more BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people within the spaces we occupy. The future has to be inclusive.
What are your future goals and plans for Fair Anita?
Our first goal is always to make sure we have consistent, sustainable work for the artisans we partner with around the world. We would love to partner with some larger retailers to help improve their supply chains and make fair trade even more accessible to everyone.
How has travel shaped the person you are now?
Like many of us, I fell in love with travel - with immersing myself in another culture, and the expedited personal growth that would happen on each trip. I combined these desires and started traveling with the purpose of meeting with change-making women around the world-- I wanted to better understand how women were addressing violence against women in their own communities, and what sorts of strategies were working for them-- and I desperately wanted to be a part of these solutions. Frankly, I was naive at the time to some of my own privileges and the power I held as a white woman with an American passport in some of these communities, but I am forever grateful for the many organizations and women’s groups that would let me meet with them, learn from them, and sit in a circle and share our personal stories of heartbreak and healing. Sharing these intimate traumas helped to level out power dynamics a bit and focus on building relationships with women who were determined to make a change in their own lives.
Are you sold outside the US?
Yes, we are sold in a few stores in Canada and Europe. People can shop worldwide online at fairanita.com!