Faire Collection – Helping Artisans Emerge From Poverty // Interview with Amanda Judge
Academia played a vital role in the life of Amanda Judge, CEO and Founder of Faire Collection, as through her studies, she claimed something worthy. Amanda traveled to Ecuador to conduct field research for her Master’s thesis on poverty reduction strategies in rural South America and there she discovered that introducing the artisanal craft into a more profitable market could help these communities break the cycle of poverty more than any other non-profit program would. Thus launched the idea of Faire Collection – Faire’s goal is to create a better world by solving the ethical sourcing crisis and to help its artisan partners emerge from poverty while committing to transforming the way the world thinks about fair trade and artisanal design.
From an academic project to now Faire Collection being carried in thousands of locations across the world, Amanda works with more than 200 artisans in Ecuador and Vietnam not only providing work, but laughter, friendship, and more.
Read ahead to discover how one woman’s research led to proving that well-designed, artisan made products do have a place in mainstream fashion, to living a holistic sustainable lifestyle, creating a natural swimming pool from an overgrown pond (oh yes…keep reading), and what it’s like to be both CFO and CEO.
Q | Tell us about how Faire Collection went from an academic project to being carried in thousands of locations across the world”.
In 2008, I went to Ecuador to conduct field research for my Master’s thesis on poverty reduction strategies in rural South America. After interviewing local artisans, I concluded that introducing their craft into a more profitable market would help these communities break the cycle of poverty more than any other non profit program would. Not only did Ecuador have a long, rich history of handcrafting jewelry out of rainforest seeds, but there was also a global demand for well-made, one of-kind pieces. My idea behind Faire Collection was born!
‘Creating crafts is the true heart and soul of our culture. Our ancestors worked in artisanry and they left us our heritage and their knowledge. I want to keep their memory alive by building a community and crafting jewelry.’
I came back from my 5-month trip in Ecuador with a suitcase full of jewelry that I designed in collaboration with the artisans and took it around to stores in Boston’s Harvard Square. I couldn’t believe that I sold it into five boutiques on the very first day!
At that very moment, I knew Faire was going to change lives – and the fashion industry. Fast forward 6 years, and we work with more than 200 artisans in Ecuador, and Vietnam. Faire sells into thousands of boutiques across the globe and I’m proud to say that we were one of the first fair trade brands that many major fashion retailers have carried and we’ve been able to work with brand such as DKNY, Calypso St. Barth, Nordstrom, Anthropologie, and more. We’re truly proving that well-designed, artisan made product do have a place in mainstream fashion!
Q | Tell us what one day in your life looks like?
This question may need a little explanation! I have been running Faire Collection for 6 years in Brooklyn. In July, I got engaged and my fiancé and I decided to commit even further to a holistic sustainable lifestyle. We felt like it was easier to do that out of the city, so we moved 2 hours north of the city, near Hudson, NY. At our new house, we have acres of both woodlands and farmland. We can sustainably heat our house (and our wood-fired hot tub) just by maintaining our woods. We can grow our own vegetables, apples and berries on our land, and our latest big project is creating a natural swimming pool from an overgrown pond – no chorine, chemicals or cement – just the right plants to filter the water.
But my guess is you wanted this question to be about my work life, right? When I made the move upstate, we also moved a small amount of the Faire operations up north too. We run our customer service and warehouse operations up here, while the rest of the team is in the Faire office in the city. Up north, I have an office at home and one in our upstate office.
So that was a long introduction to my typical day:
AM: As many times as I have tried to cut it out, I need a cup of coffee first thing. After my coffee and perhaps a quarter mile walk to my mailbox, I normally start working around 8am, checking emails and setting my to do list for the day.
In the morning, I’ll often have calls with another like-minded brand and often a press interview or a chat with an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to start an ethical company. Of course there’s the less interesting calls with lawyers and accountants as well.
If I don’t have many meetings then I will review our key indicators in sales and marketing, and review the progress of any projects we have in motion.
PM: I usually go into the office for 4-5 hours in the middle of the day after my morning meetings from my home office. If I’ve had a really productive morning, I may head to a yoga class before or after the office. I tend to eat lunch as I work, which is a habit I would love to break! In the afternoon I touch base with our employees in person or via skype (I have weekly one on one meetings with everyone I manage).
In the early evening, I return to my home office and finish up emails. I act as both the CFO and CEO, so the later part of the day is often more budget and strategy related, while the first part is meetings and touching base.
After work: I love to cook, especially being in the middle of farmland where you can cook an entire meal from a 5 mile radius. I read a lot too – I should read more business books, but since I finished grad school, I mostly read fiction.
Q | I know you spent a few months in Ecuador and go back a few times per year – what do you enjoy about that culture
I have spent so much time in Ecuador that I don’t often think about it as a different culture as it feels very much like home! I absolutely love that when you enter or leave a room, you typically touch cheeks with everyone in the room to say hello and goodbye. It’s amazing how often we don’t acknowledge other people that we are a room with here in the states
Q | During your travels with Faire Collection, what has been your most memorable experience?
On each trip to Ecuador we do a big outing with all the artisans. Generally we rent a school bus and take everyone to do some crazy activity. Last time we visited a ranch and the time before, we went to a water park. These are all places that the artisans would not normally go on their own, but that they are thrilled to get the chance to visit them! It’s so fun to be laughing in hysterics alongside the artisans in the midst of a go-cart race or a splashing down a waterslide.
I have so many memorable experiences from each of those trips, but I think the MOST memorable would have to be back in our first year when I took two of our lead artisans, Nancy & Olga, to Quito. It was their first time in the capital city, despite living only 2 hours away. We were searching for some clasps for a necklace so we went into a shopping center. The store we were looking for was on the top floor so I started up the escalator.
I turned and Nancy and Olga were no longer behind me – they were holding hands giggling to each other and in awe at the escalator. So I continued the escalator up and then rode it back down again to meet them. I had to ensure them that this machine would not eat them up, and that we could all hold hands and ride it up.
I stood in the middle and all three of us, arm in arm, road the elevator up while they shrieked in laughter and probably a bit in fear, entire way up. To exit the shopping center, we took the elevator.
It was a year of many firsts for the artisans and I am so lucky to have been a part of their journeys.
Q | Can you share some tips / advice for other social entrepreneurs who want to create a great product with impact.
First of all – it’s really hard work. I always wonder if I would have done it had I known how hard it would have been. I believe I still would have – but who knows! The most important key is to have a product that will sell. Make sure what you are selling is better than other things out their in the market. You’re not going to be able to sell anything based on your story alone, so put the time into making the product amazing. That and be prepared for 18 hour days!
Q | Any new projects in the works for Shop Faire
Always! Right now I’m working on a fun collaboration between Faire and Naadam Cashmere – an ethical cashmere company that sources its cashmere directly from small producers in Mongolia. They designed 2 sweaters based on our fall line and we will be launching a photo essay on the collaboration as well as exclusive ways to shop it soon!
Q | We are so excited that you will launch a column on consciousmagazine.co – why is that important to you?
Faire’s goal is to create a better world by solving the ethical sourcing crisis and to help its artisan partners emerge from poverty. We’re committed to completely transforming the way the world thinks about fair trade and artisanal design.
I love that Conscious Magazine gets that thinking and has created an amazing community of well-rounded sustainability experts together. I am thrilled to be on board to share some stories, and shed some light on the potential that fair trade has in creating our best world. Thanks for having me!
From the Editor
At Conscious, we are inspired by remarkable people, and so we set out to tell stories that highlight real human interactions and human dignity. You can read more stories like this when you pick up your copy of Conscious Magazine. Subscribe today via our Conscious Shop and subscribe to Conscious Updates.