Category Archives: Rerouting
Last week I had the good chance of interviewing Susan Yu, a former buyer for the respected fair trade company Ten Thousand Villages. While there, Susan traveled throughout Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand) and Africa (Ghana, Burkino Faso, and Niger) to work with and better the lives of local artisans. Around eighteen months ago, she decided to quit and become a full time stay at home mom to her daughter Lauren. Below is a Q & A about her work, but this full version includes bonuses like how she feels having worked for Walmart.com before Ten Thousand Villages:
…What is fair trade?
In the simplest term, it’s just ethical sourcing, it’s knowing where your product comes from, who makes it, and that the people behind the product is being treated fairly.
And why did you go into that business?
You know I never grew up thinking I want to go into fair trade, its just, it kind of fell in my lap. I think it was just that constant curiosity in whatever job you have you question everyday about what interests you, and so I’ve always been in retail, I graduated from Davis in 2000, worked for Gap corporate downtown, so that was my first job out of college. So I did that for two years, I was a distribution analyst.
…And what did you love most about working for Ten Thousand Villages?
Oh there’s a lot of things. It was really my dream job I think because not only did I get to utilize all the skills I had built up to that point, analytical skills, merchandising skills, buying skills, but it allowed me to travel and see where these things are made and actually talk to the people behind the product, so that was really awesome of that job I think just working with artisans one on one. And also the people in my office, you know, the people that were there were there because they wanted to be there and not because they needed a job, you know, they really had passion for this, for fair trade, and the people that made the product are the reason they went to work every day, so it’s a different kind of world than corporate.
And how did you choose what to buy?
Well we were split up by countries so we would always bring products that were exciting from our trip and part of that is looking at what was selling in that market and what people are excited about. There’s trade shows every year and so we go out to those to see what’s popular. And then we try to think about is there anything our artisans are making that would excite our customers so it’s a little bit of both, shopping here for our U.S. market and also coming up with interesting things that our artisans have created themselves.
Wow. And how did you ensure that fair trade was being upheld?
…it’s all based on relationships because we work with I don’t know how many artisan groups but there are four buyers and I think all buyers alone had close to fifty six groups that we were close with for product development and each of these groups had other smaller groups that they would work with in other smaller villages so the basis of fair trade is really trust and relationships. A lot of these relationships have been established for twenty years and they have their own fair trade organizations that work with these to certify them as fair trade, the fair trade artisan group. So it’s different in every country how they are certified but it all started with working with them and our relationship that goes back and we also visit and interview the artisans one on one without the manager just to see how their livelihood is, if their enjoying, if their being paid a living wage, so we document all these on our trips there as well along with doing product development as well so it actually turns out to be a long trip–when you go out there you have to interview a lot of people but a lot of it is just relationship building.
… What is your most touching experience working for Ten Thousand Villages?
Hmm… I think there are several. I think what is the most touching experience was really, I think what stuck out in my mind was the women in Ghana. In my second year I went to Ghana to visit a shea butter producing village in Northern Ghana and it just amazed me how hard working these women were, and they pretty much did everything for the family… these women who were pretty much the root of the family, you know they took care of the kids, they did all the work, they did all the housework, and the men were notoriously known for taking the money and gambling–I’m not saying it was all like that but it was very common for that culture to do that and it just kind of touched me that they were superwomen in a different setting and type of world that we are. And I think that was amazing and really touching to see that they can run a family, run a household, make the money, and still be happy at the end of the day. They were very happy, very joyful people… And it wasn’t just Ghana I think it was a lot of places I just realized how strong women were across all kinds of countries that I visited, especially being a mom now I really appreciate the fact that raising a child is a full time job in itself.
And is Lauren the reason that you left Ten Thousand Villages
It is. It was a tough decision for me but I know it was the right one. My family lives in California and that job was in Pennsylvania and so it was really important to be here and raise her close to family.
…And what is it like being a stay at home mom after working so extensively?
Wow. What’s the difference or what’s it like being a mom after working for so long? In terms of energy level and everything I think a full time mom is actually a lot more work. But you know the cliché is that it’s rewarding and it is. You know everything you give to them you see it come back to you and it’s amazing just to watch her grow and I know that this time–from the time she grows up until school–is so limited, and I just really appreciate my time with her. But the difference–I think both are work. I think it’s a hard adjustment at first–you know not going into work or having adult interaction on a daily basis so I think in terms of the mental exercises it’s different, it’s a different kind of stress and stuff but yeah I really enjoy it, but I do want to go back eventually.
What are your future plans with work?
If I could go back to Ten Thousand Villages I would, but they’re based in Pennsylvania so I don’t think there’s a possibility of working for them, but I definitely want to stay within the fair trade industry, if not career wise then at least volunteering. But I think what’s a priority in the next few years is family, raising her, so I’d like to find something that can fit within my schedule with her. I might start my own fair trade organization or company out here—which is something I have been toying around with, or I might go back and work full time around here with an organization that is involved in fair trade.
That sounds exciting. So last question: what advice do you have for strivers of fair trade businesses?
For strivers of fair trade businesses, for people who are just starting out in a career, I would say learn as much as you can. There’s really great organizations in the Bay Area that you can get involved with. There’s TransFair, that’s in Oakland. I know there’s other ones in the Bay Area–I think one’s called Global Action through Fashion… but its fair trade eco clothing so there’s things like that that you can get involved with, interviewing people… and just talk to people and go to these events and learn more about it. There’s a lot of internet resources that you can read up on and go visit a country, if you have the resources, go visit these countries and try to seek out the artisans who make these wonderful products and learn about their life and you’ll probably learn more than just from reading–that personal experience.
The other day I was fortunate enough to catch up with Misak Pirinjian of Tony’s Shoe and Luggage Repair in Mill Valley, California. Over two decades ago, after attending law school and then working in the field, he left for the leather repair business and has become the go-to man. Bonus includes advice for maintaining goods.
Be sure to also check out this post on shoes.
Even when you are a student and/or are looking for a job, it is critical to carry a business card because you must be prepared for all encounters. Here are four tips for creating an effective one even when your path may be a bit murky:
- Limit your strives to three in one to two words each. If you are not yet sure which pathway is your primary, consider alphabetically ordering them. For example: “Interior Designer, Journalist, Marketer.” The key here is for you to present yourself in a clear, organized, and concise fashion.
- Include as much contact information as possible. Email is so common these days—and should absolutely be on your card, but nothing replaces verbal conversation, so your number(s) should be on there also. If you do not have an office or postal box, then do not worry about an address.
- Consider including your picture. Particularly if you are really into networking then you probably meet many people; chances are that the person you are handing your card to does also. Make them remember you even more by being able to see you long after your meeting.
- Stay practical. Some people use shiny paper and have a mosaic or other details on the back of their card, but that is costlier and can prevent you from having a clean writing space. So be sure your card is in line with your pocketbook and style.
Ready to make your cards? You can do so for free if you have a program like Microsoft Word or software like Business Card Factory Deluxe (although you still must pay for printing and paper like from Avery). Websites such as Vistaprint and FedEx are also great resources.
As promised, I am now posting the audio of experience and insight from leader Jim Fraser, a former president of Levi Strauss and Company, a top 25 realtor, and a councilman. His advice for young strivers is at 3:58, but the entire interview is filled with experience and insight. At under five minutes long, you have so little time to lose from listening and SO much to gain. Plus, this is my first dab into audio editing so feedback is extra appreciated. And if you do feel inspired by Jim, be sure to leave a comment–thank you’s to him for his time and generosity with his expertise are especially welcome.
On Saturday morning I met with Jim Fraser, a former president of Levi Strauss and Company, a top 25 realtor, and a councilman. The audio will be posted very soon, but below is a summation so that you can hit the ground running with five lessons that make him successful.
1) Be an Energy Giver, Not Taker
Fraser says he believes energy plays a big role in success, and he hypothesizes that there are two types of people: givers and takers. The takers suck your energy by dragging you down with negativity. So what you want to be, Fraser says, is a giver, which is a person who exudes positivity. If you have ever been told you brighten up someone’s day, you are probably already a giver… keep it up! But people who have never earned that compliment should try and become more happy and hopeful. This way you will both emanate attractive energy and cherish more of your own worth.
2) Get In and Go Vertical
Fraser also says he believes strivers must earn a position in the company leading your field. The idea here is that you want to be around the innovators and industry-setters, not the followers. This is because your objective is to learn from the best—to become the best. And starting at the bottom is actually a common pathway to success because it ensures that you hone your understanding and skills of what is required to excel at each step of the ladder—to most effectively direct it.
3) Work Hard
It sounds so cliché but Fraser also emphasis hard work as necessary for achieving potentials. In Fraser’s case he is military trained which certainly helped gain that ethic, but with motivation anyone can coach themselves into healthy work habits. Such was the case after his service time when he was earning his business degree at University of Southern California while becoming a top fashion district salesman. His continuous commitment to work secured him a job at Levi’s. Once there, that same dedication then led him to become the President of the Asia Pacific Division.
4) Opportunity, Not Failure
Everybody has experienced a setback, but instead of letting rejection tarnish your confidence you must remember that striving is breaking barriers but when barriers are not breakable there is still opportunity. Therefore, when you do not reach your anticipated destination ensure that you maintain your work ethic and positive attitude. This way you will continue to radiate alluring energy to help you latch onto the leaders of your field who can teach you the ropes. This is what Fraser did after being rejected from a real estate company (which he applied for as a new licensed agent after a brief time as a retiree from Levi’s). And this rejection led Fraser to a new agency where he grew so successful as a realtor that the firm who previously denied him employment then offered him that dream job.
5) Follow a Route, but Take Unexpected Turns
The last point strivers should remember is that having goals is important, but you must always be flexible. This lesson also comes from Fraser’s own life, but I have seen it happen time and time again. In Fraser’s case he wanted to be on the Planning Commission, but was instead offered a spot at the Parks and Open Spaces Department. Though it was not his planned route to helping his community, Parks and Open Spaces led him to an environment that he grew with and that watched his strides as well. Members came to believe so strongly in Fraser that they suggested he run for councilman, and from following this unexpected turn he secured a seat with the town of Tiburon in November where his success is again going to shine.
Remember, there is much more to leader Jim Fraser’s interview! To be among the first to hear the audio of his insider insight, which includes bonus material like advice for young strivers, be sure to subscribe to this blog!