Friday, March 9, 2018

LynAnne Wiest, Manager of HumanKind Fair Trade

Not too long ago, I decided the Dunitz & Company blog would be enhanced by sharing profiles and conversations with various individuals working in fair trade. We're all so unique and our experiences and motivations vary. Each of us has our own story and our own pearls of wisdom to share.

This is why I asked LynAnne Wiest, store manager of HumanKind Fair Trade if she'd allow me to interview her. I already knew from years of working with LynAnne that she is lovely and passionate about her work. Whenever I see her at a trade show or fair trade conference, she always has a huge smile on her face. In the past, I've called on her advice regarding Dunitz fair trade jewelry designs and whether she thinks this or that would sell given my costs. She has always been ready and willing to provide valuable input. And once again, she graciously accepted my request for this interview. So, here we go:)!

NANCY: You've been part of the HumanKind Family since 2013!  I'm just curious. Did you move to San Luis Obispo for the job? Or were you fortunate to find this perfect fit after moving to SLO?

LYNANNE: I moved to SLO for the job! I had previously worked at a fair trade store in St.Louis, MO, but had moved back to California to be closer to my family in Fresno.  I was job searching in Calfornia when I discovered that HumanKind was hiring. I had always loved this shop when visiting SLO, and I was lucky enough to get the job.

NANCY: Was there a pivotal life experience that encouraged you to work in 'fair trade'?

LYNANNE: My pivotal life experience happened over the course of a year. I had studied graphic design in college [Tabor College, Hillsboro, KS] and I knew I wanted to use that skill for some kind of social good. After college I signed up with a non-profit organization, Mennonite Central Committee, which does relief and development work around the world. I was willing to go anywhere that could use my design skills, and they found a place for me in Cambodia working with a couple of fair trade artisan groups. I spent a year there working on product design and marketing with artisans. I saw how hard they worked and how much they needed additional buyers for their products. I knew that when I moved home, I wanted my work to be all about creating a greater market for their crafts in the United States. 

NANCY: Describe some of the important projects you are working on in the shop?

LYNANNE: We are just starting to venture into ecommerce. The retail trend toward online shopping only seems to be getting stronger, and we feel it is a great next step for our shop.  I am always looking for ways to grow and improve HumanKind, and I am excited about the potential we have in ecommerce.  Of course, it is a big project to create a new website and develop systems that will make our online shop manageable and profitable, but I think it is going to be worth it. The more we can grown our business, the more we can purchase!  (Gosh she thinks like me!)

NANCY: And do you have a favorite project or activity you're involved with at HumanKind?

LYNANNE: I love the creativity that goes into managing a shop. From curating our product selection, to merchandising items in the store, I put a lot of energy into creating a beautiful space for our customers to discover. Even though I have a background in graphic design, I don't enjoy designing on a computer screen.  I find satisfaction in merchandising real, tangible objects that all have a significant story behind them.

NANCY: When did your shop become part of Fair Trade Federation? (I actually think I wrote one of your recommendations for membership.) Any thoughts about this partnership?
LYNANNE: We became members of FTF in 2015.  We joined partly because we wanted to be able to tell our customers that we were vetted by another organization, and partly because we wanted to create better connections with others working in fair trade.  The greatest benefit we have from this membership is the ability to learn from the other stores. I have learned so much about good business practices and how we all can practice fair trade better.  The annual conference is a great chance for us to learn from other retailers and to make new plans for the year.

NANCY: Can you share a story that makes you smile?  A story where you and/or HumanKind were integral in making a positive change? 

LYNANNE: I smile every time I get to explain what fair trade is to a customer. I recently had a family with elementary-age kids come in the shop, and I was able to tell the kids all about how fair trade supports families in other countries so that kids can go to school and don't have to work.  These kids loved everything in the shop, especially learning to play the singing bowls. Their time in HumanKind opened their eyes, just a little bit, to the rest of the world.  Watching someone's face light up when they learn about fair trade for the first time is one of the greatest parts of working this job.

NANCY: You must be proud of your website.  Where else can people learn more about HumanKind? Do you do any local outreach?

LYNANNE: We are active on Facebook and Instagram, and we love sharing beautiful products and artisan stories with our followers.  Other than that, visiting our brick & mortar shop is the best place to learn about us.  We have a wonderful team of staff and volunteers who do a great job educating our customers about fair trade and our fair trade artisan network.

NANCY: Do you know Dunitz made their first sale to HumanKind in May 2009? What is your favorite part about working with Dunitz & Company or the favorite thing you sell from Dunitz? (You know I had to ask!)

LYNANNE: We have been buying Dunitz jewelry since we first opened our doors in 2009! We love the beaded Dunitz teardrops earrings and the Joanie M fused glass jewelry.

Thank you to LynAnne for the time she took answering my questions. Meet LynAnne and visit at HumanKind Fair Trade at 982 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401. And keep watching their website. Their ecommerce portal will be available soon. And you're sure to find some Dunitz fair trade earrings for sale. - ND