Joy McBrien owns a small business that sells clothing, jewelry and art made by women.
McBrien, 25, also is a passionate, big-dreams global entrepreneur and champion of abused women.
Her enterprise, Fair Anita (www.fairanita.com), sells beautiful clothing, accessories and jewelry, much of it from recycled and repurposed material that boasts bountiful creativity, color and design.
They are products made by oppressed, impoverished women, some of whom McBrien has worked with in Latin America and Africa. The work provides income and economic empowerment in corners of the globe where women often have little control over their lives.
McBrien sells through a few independent retailers, such as the Mill City Museum store and Ten Thousand Villages, and at community fairs and events. She began website sales this year and that has grown quickly to a quarter of sales and also provides her a higher profit margin because she doesn't have to concede a varying chunk of the price to a retailer.
McBrien lives in St. Paul and still works a part-time day job to support herself. She already has received recognition for her work from service and entrepreneurial organizations. McBrien also is a small engine in the growing "social enterprise" movement here and globally that seeks to use capitalism as empowerment for disadvantaged people.
McBrien's quest is rooted partly in her own experience with sexual violence, starting in high school, she said.
"I intended to start an organization that worked with women to overcome sexual violence but through my travels, a different theme arose," McBrien said.
Fair Anita came to be while McBrien was a student at the University of Minnesota business school. She traveled on a self-designed study-abroad trip to Chimbote, Peru. It wasn't exactly a summer on Wall Street.
McBrien helped start a battered women's shelter with a local group of women. She spent three summers during college in Peru working with "women who have experienced violence in relationships in a country where up to 70 percent of females report domestic abuse.
"But these women … weren't behaving as victims," said McBrien. "They are leaders of their families and communities, and they persevere.
"Yet, there is a clear need for economic opportunity. The women [say] if they were earning income, they could potentially leave an abusive partner or at least be seen as having more worth in their homes. Then, the abuse levels tend to go down. They use the money to care for their children. After hearing this from countless women … I had no option but to create a platform … through dignified jobs."
Fair Anita is named for Anita, a Peruvian social worker and champion of abused women in Chimbote.
McBrien hopes to sell $50,000 worth of goods this year over www.fairanita.com and at community and art fairs. She is part of a growing global movement of connecting entrepreneurs and consumers in affluent countries with struggling people who need an economic uplift.
She has been mentioned in national publications about upstart social entrepreneurs and last fall was a finalist in the "social enterprise" category of the Minnesota Cup entrepreneurs competition.
"Joy is among a wave of young entrepreneurs really doing some cool things," said Melissa Kjolsing, executive director of the Minnesota Cup. "She bridges education and entrepreneurship. It will teach girls about entrepreneurship and engaging on the commercial side."
"These talented women make and sell beautiful products to Joy for resale. That enables them to gain some independence and move out of poverty. The products are high quality and the margins are good. Joy is on a path to sustainability. She's taking a thoughtful approach."
The products range from redone shoes covered in colorful fabric or a rose-pleated skirt from Ghana, to necklaces made from bullet casings in Ethiopia to myriad scarves and other clothing from Peru and Guatemala. And prices tend to range from $10 to $50 for most merchandise.
"We aim for mission-based products to be in every retail store, not just 'fair-trade' stores," McBrien said. "In five years, I want to see mission-based products as a staple … of all retail stores. It's a growing trend. And I've just started door knocking."
In recent months, several independent retailers have started to stock Fair Anita products. And online sales are growing.
This, however, is not the path to quick wealth.
McBrien, with her volunteer business advisers from the Minnesota Cup and others, has plotted a path to $350,000 in sales by 2018. She still works as development director at Laura Jeffrey Academy, a charter school for girls in St. Paul.
The Woodbury native lives simply and runs her business from her St. Paul apartment.
The original name of Fair Anita was "Begins with a Dreamer." And McBrien is steadfast with that vision as she executes her business strategy.
"In five years, I'd like to see Fair Anita working with 50,000-plus artisans around the world, with products for sale in 500-plus stores across the U.S.," McBrien. "It seems far off. But it's obtainable."