Rape changed the trajectory of Joy McBrien’s life.
A high-achieving senior in high school and the student council president, she was attacked by a coworker from her after school job.
“It was really the first time I recognized experiencing oppression,” says McBrien.
McBrien grew up in Woodbury, Minnesota and had a privileged upbringing. But she felt like she didn’t have anyone to talk with about the rape. And she felt a loss of her personal agency and power.
So she started researching. As she learned, she was far from alone. In Minnesota, a third of women experience a rape crime by mid-life. And 65,000 Minnesotans receive domestic violence services each year.
McBrien soon discovered that Peru had the highest domestic violence rates in the world. It was something that stuck with her through her freshman year of college at the University of Minnesota business school. So she reached out to a group of women in Peru, with whom she had a mutual friend.
As a first-year college student, she raised money, fundraising for a women’s shelter in Peru. That summer, she made her way there. It was in Peru that McBrien found a community — where they bonded over the deeply painful and intimate experiences that inextricably bound their lives together.
One year later, McBrien returned to Peru. She worked as an assistant social worker in one of Peru’s poorest cities. Throughout the summer, McBrien heard thousands of stories of suffering and survival. She went to homes, distributed food stamps, and helped the local women find aid money from nonprofits.
But over and over, she heard, “What I could really use is a job.”
Local women were in desperate need of employment — and the autonomy an income could provide. They asked McBrien again and again, “Will you take this to the US and sell it for me?”
It was during this summer that McBrien worked closely with a social worker named Señora Anita — a woman who was to become the namesake of her company one day.
Over the next few years, McBrien went on to join AmeriCorps and several nonprofits. She noticed people were excited about fair trade items. But oftentimes, they weren’t affordable. And they rarely sold to young people. Worst of all, McBrien hated the idea of selling products based off pity.
And that’s where Fair Anita could be different.
McBrien founded the social enterprise at 25. It’s a company that is for profit and for good — not profiting on pity, but empowering the global women it employs. It’s about women supporting women — women investing in women.
McBrien put her business education to work and reached back out to the women she had met
on her global trips.
“Because I’m a giant white woman with an American passport, there’s a power dynamic when I walk into communities. Having shared experience levels us. It is an equalizer in some ways. It’s not an experience I’m grateful for, but I’m grateful for the connections it has given me.”
Women were making items and selling them in local markets. Some were working in sweatshops. But through Fair Anita, now these women can make their products and take them to a much larger stage.
Based out of local co-ops, the women use almost exclusively recycled materials, such as bullet casings. The co-ops are independently run by local females on the ground. McBrien works with local leaders and artisans to help design trendy products. And she works with local partners to make sure the women have the resources they need. For example, in Ethiopia, she sought help for women suffering from fistula and HIV/AIDs.
McBrien pays her artisans upfront at two to three times the minimum wage, plus provides health insurance benefits, childcare, and flexible working options.
“We work with kick ass women.
The goods are then sold online and in pop-up shops in the US.
It began in Peru. And now Fair Anita has expanded to employ women in nine countries around the world: Vietnam, India, Chile, Mexico, South Africa, Ethiopia, Peru, Egypt, and Cambodia. Fair Anita is fair trade certified and a member of the Fair Trade Federation. It is also proudly transparent with its finances — in 2018, they paid over $300,000 to their global artisans.
Through affordable and fashionable items, McBrien wants to make ethical purchasing more mainstream. She also wants consumers to realize their true purchasing power.
“So many people touch a product before it hits a shelf. Understand that your dollars have a huge power — the power you have as a consumer is a huge one. It’s easy to ignore.”
To learn more, visit their website at FairAnita.com and their Instagram account, @fair.anita.
Author: Kristina Ericksen - Calligrapher: Nicole Krzmarcik - Photographer: Rodel Querubin
Panel & Exhibition Celebrating the Stories of Women Moving Our State Forward
Many of the fierce women we've been featuring joined us for a lively round table discussion at Urban Growler Brewing in St. Paul, MN on March 10, 2019. This event was held to kickoff the exhibition of photos and quotes that colored the brick walls of the women-owned establishment during the months of March and April.
Author: Nicole Smith - Photographer: Rodel Querubin
November 2016, Minnesota elected the first openly transgender black woman to public office in the United States. Andrea Jenkins has been making her impact in the community long before this accomplishment, and her variety of roles—writer, award-winning poet, politician, activist—all tie together to create one vision.
“You know I think a big part of it is that all these things bring me joy in some kind of way. Creating poetry, being engaged in improving people’s lives—which has been my life’s work—reading and sharing poetry and being able to be a part of a dialogue that’s about building communities. I see all of those things as connected, so I don’t see it as ‘I’m doing all of these things’ I just see it as ‘I’m doing this thing.’”
Part of sharing a dialogue for her hasn’t just been about telling her own story, but making the stories of so many other transgender individuals heard. Jenkins began work on the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies where she spent three years traveling across the country to interview, record and curate the Transgender Oral History Project—the country’s largest collection of recorded trans oral histories.
“There was a broad range of geographic diversity, urban versus rural, different ethnicities, abilities, and ages—the youngest being 18 and the oldest trans woman was 93 years old. It was just this rich oral history of people really talking about their personal lives, their struggles, their joys, ups and downs, struggles with their families and relationships.”
From the interviews spun stories of tragedy to powerful political stories. Luminaries and pioneers, upcoming voices and identities. Jenkins interviewed CeCe McDonald, a trans woman who came into the public eye after she was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for defending her life against a transphobic attacker. The interviews are now being accessed by colleges and universities, which Jenkins’ hopes can bring comfort to others who are currently struggling with their identity.
Despite being labelled a progressive “blue state,” Minnesota has work to do. We can be proud in the fact that we have the largest Pride Parade, after New York and San Francisco. We can also be proud that Minneapolis was the first city in America to offer protections for gay and lesbian people, including transgender people, in 1975. Jenkins nods to Minnesota’s progressive history, while acknowledging that we have a long way to go in our intersectional support.
“Black and brown people have the worst disparities in the country, here in Minneapolis, in Minnesota. And so you add a layer of ‘otherness’ like LGBTQI into that intersection and life is gonna be that much more challenging for you.
We do have some really significant history of ‘progressiveness,’ But you know, the impacts of racism, sexism, ableism, inequities in our education system, those are all conspiring to create lower outcomes for communities of color, particularly LGBT folks in those communities. It is not all peaches and cream for all ‘other’ communities.”
One surprising realization is that, despite there being LGBT centers in communities across America, from big cities to small towns, we do not have one in Minnesota--outside of college campuses. Not in Minneapolis or St. Paul.
“Why do we think that is? I think it’s the white, gay lesbian community feel like you know, ‘hey we got it made, we had the third largest pride parade in the country after New York and San Francisco, we’re the first state to get gay marriage by the legislature before the Supreme Court said marriage across the land.’”
Which leads to a much-needed discussion on how can allies be better advocates? How can we support those who face their inequalities every day and lift some of the burden off of them to get the equality and equity they need? Jenkins’s advice is to start by recognizing that the fight is not over.
“Support organizations that are engaged in doing that work of creating dialogue, we can’t give up on the concept of dialogue, but also investing in communities of color that are doing that work, speaking out when we hear about issues that are negatively impacting communities of color…speaking up even when people are denigrating people in our company in our presence. I know it’s hard, my family will sometimes say things that aren’t ‘politically correct’ and I have to try to correct them and it feels weird and awkward but we have to do that. We have to be uncomfortable. In order to be a good ally you have to hear what people are saying. And really listen.”
It's now just over a year into her role as councilwoman of Ward 8. While reflecting on the year, in her office adorned with posters like that of trans activists and pioneers Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, Jenkins’ recalls the night she won.
“It was not just me, it was Phillipe [Cunningham of Ward 4] and also Danica Roem in Virginia and four other trans-identified people elected that night. It was incredibly exciting and really emotionally overwhelming to think about how far trans rights have been relative to LGBT rights. Amazing, it’s flipping amazing and it blows my mind still. That night was incredible. It was an incredibly supported victory [more than 70% of the vote]. But I’ve been doing a lot of work in the community for a long time so it felt like this continuation of a journey, like the next big step. It really is an amazing feeling to be in service of the public.”
Her words of wisdom for anyone looking to make an impact in their field is, “Find your passion. That’s where you put your focus and imagination—and where you can make a difference.”
Author: Abby Hermes - Designer: Kelly McMasters - Photographer: Rodel Querubin