One of the most commonly asked questions after, “So are you Anita?” is “What’s it like to work for a social enterprise?” I spent a year volunteering with Fair Anita before officially becoming a staff member. The last three years as Operations Manager have flown by, and it’s been amazing to see how much Fair Anita has grown in such a short time. Here are some of my current learnings while working at a social enterprise:
I’ve learned that change is a constant and as a result I’ve had to learn to be more flexible and adapt to changes. Two years into the business, we decided to give trade shows a try as a way to work with more boutiques around the country. We quickly learned after a few poorly attended trade shows that it’s a dying industry, and there are only a couple shows in New York and Las Vegas that are worth our valuable resources. Because we’re a small team and trade shows are expensive and hard work, we do two trade shows a year in New York.
Working for a social enterprise usually requires asking for help and collaborating with teams. As a woman who likes to do things on my own, it’s been a struggle to learn to ask for help, but it’s made a big difference in my mental health. I used to think that I had to do everything by myself, but I’m slowly learning to delegate which has been really helpful as the company continues to grow. When our founder Joy moved to Chile, I packed and shipped all of our online and wholesale orders. That quickly grew into a large part of my job, especially when we started to do trade shows, so we recruited one of awesome part-time staff to help ship orders. Eventually, it became too much for the two of us, so we partnered with a women-owned and operated fulfillment center. While it was a challenge to give up control, it’s been crucial to scaling the business and being able to provide more fair trade jobs to women.
Another key difference from other job experiences is that we’ve become really good at being resourceful because we’re operating under a tight budget. Our goal is to keep our products affordable and one way we do that is by being resourceful (though internally, we call it scrappy!). We have free office space at Colonial Church which dramatically helps keep our overhead low. When big shipments arrive in Minnesota, instead of having a shipping service deliver them, we pick up the boxes ourselves and save thousands of dollars. When we go to trade shows, instead of spending thousands of dollars to ship our booth, we pack everything in six 50-pound suitcases that we are able to take with us on the airplane. Anything we need to make a purchase, I usually first check if I can find it for free or secondhand. This helps us save money and respect the environment.
More often than not working for a social enterprise involves a rollercoaster of emotions. We partner with an amazing church in Minnesota. Every December, we have a sale after the service, and it’s always our best sale of the year. For our sale in 2018, everything seemed to go wrong. The day before, we were hit by a massive snowstorm with over 12 inches falling between early Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. We were worried that most attendees would skip church. We set up 12+ tables and put almost all of our merchandise out. We had planned to set up the space the night before, but due to the weather, the church ended up closing early. That morning, as we were frantically setting up, we received a call that not one but two of our staff ended up in the ditch just three blocks from the church. They were shaken but thankfully unharmed. We had to find a way to rally and keep the faith that it would work all work out. It ended up being our best sale ever and a member of the congregation offered to match our sales.
In conclusion, I wouldn’t trade my experience working at Fair Anita for anything. For Joy’s take on running a social enterprise, check out her most recent post.