Joy McBrien

Q&E: Social Entrepreneur Strives to Build Business In ‘Most Ethical Way We Can Dream Of’

Monday, January 3, 2022

For her Carlson School international experience, Joy McBrien, ’11 BSB, traveled to Peru to start a shelter for abused women. It was in Peru, the country with the highest reported rate of domestic violence in the world, that McBrien found inspiration to pursue a business idea that now empowers women around the globe. 

She launched Fair Anita, one of the first public benefit corporations in Minnesota. The company’s goal, McBrien says, is to create a world where women feel safe, valued, and respected.

McBrien spoke to the Carlson School about how she started her business, what motivates her in her work, and what advice she would give to current students.

How did you go about starting your business?

While I made the initial iterations of my business plan while at the Carlson School, I didn't formally start Fair Anita until January 2015, when we incorporated it as one of Minnesota's first public benefit corporations. I started my first business, a handmade jewelry company called Joylery when I was 15, so this is a strength I could bring to our collaborative international supply chain. 

I sought out women's cooperatives around the world, focusing on working primarily with survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and worked to bring their products to market here in the U.S. We collaborate on designs, creating fair trade jewelry and accessories that are cute, ethical, and affordable.

Your business has a very deep meaning behind it by helping women in developing countries, why was this something you wanted to support?

I started Fair Anita, which is a women's rights social enterprise, because of my own history with rape and sexual violence. I learned that financial insecurity was the No. 1 reason women stay with abusive partners, so I set out to create economic self-sufficiency for women. 

Anita, the namesake of the company and a social worker in Peru, taught me so much about the impact of women's economic empowerment, especially in marginalized communities. The UN states that for every dollar a woman makes, between 80 to 90 cents goes back to her family and community, as opposed to 30 to 0 cents by men. 

Our mission was to capture this superpower that women have by paying women good wages through fair trade jobs, so they could, in turn, create real change in their communities.

What motivates you on a day-to-day basis? What gets you excited to come to work?

The best part of the job is our partnerships. We partner with 8,000 women in nine countries and get to collaborate every day with change-making women, both here and abroad. It keeps me energized and inspired. Plus, I often get to play around with pretty jewelry, which is fun, too. 

We're trying to build a business in the most ethical way we can dream up, so we always have fun new challenges to tackle, especially around sustainability. Problem-solving, especially on an international scale, keeps things interesting.

What is the best entrepreneurial advice you've ever been given?

Stay true to your values, always. This is how your people will find you.

If you were talking to an aspiring entrepreneur, what advice would you give them?

Do it now. Start small and make sure to get a lot of customer input. When you have an idea that's "sticky" and the community gets behind you, that's when you know it's time to grow