It’s not often you can go shopping and feel genuinely good about your purchases, but Woodbury native Joy McBrien has created that with Fair Anita, a public benefit corporation that supports women throughout the world who have experienced sexual or domestic violence.
The idea came to her after her own trauma. As a high school senior, McBrien was raped. “And I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I didn’t know how to process it.” So she started doing research seven or eight years ago and at that time, she says, “I learned that Peru has the highest reported rate of domestic violence in the world, at 70 percent of women reporting domestic violence.” Meaning, the rate of actual violence is much higher. “I knew that I needed to take action on the issue in order to heal,” she says.
So she started school at the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota, and after her freshman year spent a summer in Chimbote, Peru, working with a nonprofit to build the city’s first battered women’s shelter. McBrien ended up spending three summers there, and became close with her host mom, Ana, or Anita, as the community referred to her. Anita was the social worker in the community, and during the summers of 2009, ’10 and ’12, McBrien joined her to interview “hundreds, if not thousands, of women, who experienced sexual or domestic violence.”
“Through that process I learned that financial insecurity is the number one reason women stay in abusive relationships,” McBrien says. “In Chimbote, 80 percent of people are unemployed. So almost all women are unemployed.”
McBrien started traveling more, exploring what violence against women looked like in different cultures. It was then that an idea formed. In every city she visited, women would hand her their handmade jewelry, bags and more, and ask her to sell it for them in the U.S. “Eventually, after enough women asked me, I got it through my thick Western skull like, ‘Ok, let’s figure this out.’”
Fair Anita was launched in January 2014, and features jewelry, clothing and other accessories made by women across the world. “I do most of the design work, and then they’re making it,” McBrien says. “Everything is fair trade,” which means it follows rules such as fair wages, good working conditions, environmentally friendly and more.
“We work with women in 16 countries,” she says, in South America, Africa, Central America and Asia. And what makes Fair Anita products different from other Fair Trade jewelry and accessories is accessibility. As a 20-something, McBrien would want to buy Fair Trade items, but either would find “Fair Trade stuff that I liked but was crazy expensive,” or simply wasn’t the style for a young adult. “So a lot of our products are mainstream.”
One of the most popular collections is the India Collection, which features items like the Dark Drama beaded necklace with leather, for $24, and the Izzy triangle stud earrings in various colors for just $12. The women who make these items are paid three times the minimum wage offered in their own countries; they are also given health insurance, welfare assistance for extended family and educational scholarships for themselves and their children.
Another popular collection is from Ethiopia, which features beads made from bullet casings ($16). The women, who have HIV/AIDS or fistula (caused by genital mutilation), are “going out, collecting the bullet casings from the Ethiopian-Eritrean war; they melt them down, make the beads, then make the jewelry,” McBrien says.
“Our goal is to just sell as many products as possible, so as many women as possible have these jobs,” McBrien says. While they have undergone trauma and abuse, “These women are crazy talented, they’re so creative, and they’re leaders in their community.”