Amanda Judge of Faire Collection finds a rewarding career in the markets of Ecuador.
Fed up with the world of finance four years after college, Amanda Judge decided to completely start over. Judge, then 26, didn’t know exactly what she wanted to pursue, but she hoped to bridge her financial aptitude with a desire to make a positive impact on the world.
She left to find inspiration in Latin America—mostly in Peru, working with nonprofits and learning Spanish. While researching how communities could sustainably bring themselves out of poverty for her master’s degree in economic development, her ideal blend of interests finally clicked. Her fair trade accessories business, Faire Collection, was born.
Her project entailed meeting local business owners and artisans, and Judge immediately saw the potential for their work in a world market. She spent afternoons wandering through the Ecuadorian markets and fell in love with the atmosphere. “I realized that if I could spend more time in more markets around the world and meet more artisans, it would be a really happy life,” Judge says.
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After meeting many local artisans, she identified their inability to take their product beyond the local marketplace as their main economic limitations. “They were forced to give whatever price the middle man asked,” Judge says.
She stayed in Ecuador longer than planned to help some of the local businesses become more efficient. She came back to the U.S. with a suitcase of jewelry she had designed with the artisans and walked around to stores in Boston’s Harvard Square until she had her first client. Judge became the sole founder of Faire Collection, which she started with only $10,000 of personal funds.
Five years later, Faire Collection supplies its fair trade products made in Ecuador, Vietnam, Peru and Swaziland to 15 major clients—including Anthropologie, DKNY and J.Jill. Last year, annual revenue reached $1.5 million.
While Faire Collection began primarily as a social enterprise, she wants her Brooklyn-based company to be judged on the quality of its product and the soundness of its financial decisions. “It started as a poverty reduction business but has grown into fashion business,” Judge, 33, says. As the company expands, she hope to move beyond its modest budget with the help of investors.
Judge also hopes to permanently change the landscape of fair-trade products. In the past, “the designs were a bit hokey at times and a bit hippy—they didn’t show the design potential,” Judge says. Faire Collection’s staples include vibrant bracelets made of natural materials like tagua and pambil seeds, as well as knitted goods in trendy styles and patterns.
“Major stores now use fair-trade products, many who’d never used it before,” Judge says. “Major companies trust that we can work as effectively as, maybe, a factory from China could.”
Why do you deserve to be on our Young Women to Watch list?
“As a social enterprise, Faire Collection empowers and provides a path to prosperity for its 225-plus artisan partners by expanding market access for innovatively designed artisan-made products. We ensure artisan well-being by directly funding social programs while also achieving profitability. We are evolving into the world’s first globally recognized fair trade fashion brand. My team and I proved that Faire was scalable and profitable while the company also made a positive social impact.”
Posted: May 13, 2014