Two years ago founders Ann Wang and Jessica Willison wanted to build a shopping experience that could help change the world. A bold vision, that today has become their reality, With the power-duo winning an initiative that scored social impact e-tailer Enrou a US$400,000 grand prize at the 2014 Forbes Under 30 Summit.
Their products not only look good, but also give you that joyous retail-therapy buzz, knowing that with the press of the “buy” button you’re also giving opportunity to the artisans that created them. While seemingly being a quick climb up the ladder of success the founder’s tale is not one of wishful thinking, Ann being a UCLA international development studies graduate, and Jessica cut her teeth at Refinery29 and Nordstrom.
Enrou now works across 57 global communities with 31 diverse vendors, including jewellery makers in Laos, fair-trade coffee growers in Rwanda and homewares artisans in India. “It’s all about using the power of purchase to create opportunity for others around the world,” says Jessica. “And, of course, doing it in a way that creates long-lasting, sustainable impact for the maker and their community.”
We picked their brains to find out how the pair are making fair-trade the new black:
What happens when a customer buys from Enrou?
All of the brands that we carry on our site provide fair wages and ensure safe working conditions for the people they work with. Selling products through Enrou therefore creates dignified work for them, allowing them to continue making more products and creating more work for them. In addition, funds from every purchase help expand the on-the-ground work each of our impact partners carry out… For example, we work with Article 22 in Laos [who sell jewellery made from reclaimed metal from exploded bomb]. Not only do they create dignified hours of work for families in Laos through the creation of their jewellery, their business also [funds] removal of [unexploded] bombs from local farmland, and contributes to local micro-loan programs.
What’s your criteria when partnering with vendors?
Our most central requirement is that each of our vendors falls within our dual-impact model. What that means is that each impact partner must firstly create, provide and/or enable dignified work opportunities – that is, at or above fair wages, and in safe, supportive and ethical working environments – for people in the developing community where they are working in, and secondly, build, support, or further enable community development initiatives. These can range from educational and vocational trainings, childcare services or scholarships, to name a few.
Why did you start with a shoestring budget, despite winning US$400,000?
Since we were bootstrapped from the start – and had just graduated college with very little money of our own to put into the business – we’ve always been incredibly scrappy. We definitely evaluate thoroughly all expenses to make sure they are absolutely necessary to the growth of our business, which is our only priority. One of the best ways we’ve spent smartly is to test small amounts of money on whatever it is. When we can measure the ROI to find something that works, we can spend our limited budget knowing it will make an impact on our growth.
Your marketplace is content-driven. How do you make it captivating?
We love to share common human experiences. The greatest aspect of being human is sharing those small moments and a recognition that we are all one and the same – a smile, laughter, or even realising when we have common interests or concerns and dreams. When you can connect with another person, despite where they are in the world or what their circumstances are, that is a powerful force.