An Interview with Enrou Founders, Ann Wang and Jessica Willison
Enrou is an online marketplace that partners with socially responsible brands to curate rare and beautiful products, handcrafted by artisans in developing communities around the world. It was founded in 2013 by UCLA alumni, Ann Wang and Jessica Willison. These two friends and business women are passionate about leaving a positive impact on the global community and share how responsible shopping can change the world.
Why was Enrou started?
Ann: We believe that it is unacceptable that others, just like us, do not have the same chance at building a future for themselves and their family. There are 1.2 billion people who suffer from extreme poverty globally. This has to change. We can disrupt this status quo with something that is so simple and already embedded in our daily lives – shop. We can activate a generation to care through their purchases, to make one decision differently and understand the massive ripple effect that one decision can make on another’s future.
Jess and I started Enrou as a way for us to make lasting impact in our daily lives, and to give others the same opportunity to do so.
Why is it important to be aware of where our purchases come from?
Jessica: While we may not recognize it as we’re browsing through our favorites shops, the reality is that behind every single purchase is another human being, and in many cases that spans even further than that to their family, and their community both now and for future generations. Unfortunately, history has proven that not all businesses have kept in mind the people that are supporting them. If we continue to be ignorant of how we spend our money and where our purchases come from, businesses have no need to change their ways. But if we pay attention to where our purchases come from, we can make informed decisions and buy from companies that align with our ethics. Every single purchase has a ripple effect whether we see it or not. It’s important to be aware of that effect and most importantly to make intentional decisions so that we can vote with our dollar for the world we want to see.
‘Travel enables us to hear these stories first hand. It allows us to witness the innate joy within the human race and helps us recognize a common thread of ambition, perseverance, and hope among people that extends across geographical boundaries.’
How does Enrou select its brand partners and artisans?
Each brand partner that is featured on Enrou goes through a thorough evaluation and vetting process. Our most central requirement is that each of our vendors fall within our dual-impact model. What that means is that each impact partner must:
1) Create, provide and/or enable dignified work opportunities – i.e. at or above fair wages, and in safe, supportive, and ethical working environments – for people in the developing community where they are working in.
2) Build, support, or further enable community development initiatives.
These can range from educational and vocational trainings, child care services, or scholarships, to name a few. The main goal of part two of our impact model is to further establish the community infrastructure around the workers so that the new capital entering into the economy through job creation can be withheld for long-lasting and sustainable impact with the end goal that the community can become self-sufficient.
These initiatives vary by impact partner based on an assessment and partnership between them and the workers they employ and/or the greater community. This approach ensures that this program is bringing the greatest value to the people it affects.
Can you tell us some of the positive impact that’s resulted from Enrou’s partnerships and practices?
One of the most rewarding parts of our job is hearing about the individual successes of our creators. Whether that means our impact partner was able to hire another person due to increased demand (giving another person an opportunity of dignified work) or if that means that an artisan has since moved on to pursue their own businesses or other endeavors, the moments when we see true empowerment are the most gratifying. Through our dual-impact model, we seek to generate opportunities for those who have a lack of access to it. Being able to see those opportunities open up to more people so that they themselves can play a key role to determine their own trajectory is the greatest testament to Enrou’s – and our community of impact partners’ – positive impact.
How has travel influenced Enrou’s mission?
Jessica: I love travel because it opens me up to new beliefs, new viewpoints, and new experiences; yet at the same time reassures me that people are people regardless of where we are born. Without travel, it’s difficult to get a true understanding of other places, and most importantly the experiences and realities of others.
One of my personal core values is to listen first. When meeting people and especially while traveling or meeting others from different backgrounds from my own, I make an effort to listen intently. In building Enrou, we took this same approach. We believe it is so important to listen to the needs of the communities where we are working. What we and so many others have heard is that they don’t want handouts or charity. They wants jobs. They want greater opportunities for their children than they had themselves. They want the same things I want, that my parents before me wanted, and theirs before them.
Travel enables us to hear these stories first hand. It allows us to witness the innate joy within the human race and helps us recognize a common thread of ambition, perseverance, and hope among people that extends across geographical boundaries.
Do you have any helpful tips for people who who want to shop more responsibly?
We love this question! Our two tips are to understand what shopping responsibly means to you and to investigate the companies you are buying from so that you can spread the word about shopping responsibly with confidence. We’ve done a blog piece on this topic before that you can find here, but the overall idea is to understand what you are passionate about and to do your homework.
There are so many different ways to shop responsibly: shopping vegan, shopping from local vendors, shopping environmentally conscious, or like Enrou’s model, shopping in ways that provide safe and ethical job opportunities for the people making the goods. In some cases these overlap. But we believe the most important step is to understand what’s important to you so you can do the proper research to understand how you can shop responsibly according to your beliefs.
There are plenty of resources and documentaries to watch that a simple search on the internet will reveal. We particularly love Poverty, Inc., True Cost, Ethical Fashion Forum, World Fair Trade Organization, and Made in a Free World. And, of course, Enrou is also a tool for people who want to shop more responsibly and is a main reason why we decided to pursue this idea. We do a lot of the backend research and vetting of the companies featured on our store since it can be hard for a single person to do on their own. Our goal is to make shopping responsibly a much easier and enjoyable experience.
Finally, could you recommend a few items from Enrou that would make good gifts for travelers?
With the holidays approaching fast, it can be difficult to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Here’s my list of gifts that give back that would be perfect for the traveler in your life (and if you’re the traveler on someone’s list, it’s perfectly acceptable to send a nice little hint their way):
Weekender Bag, JOYN: The number one pick for a traveler is a great weekender bag. We have a few to choose from, but we particularly love this one for its chic, block-print pattern (it’s definitely giving us those 70s vibes that are in vogue this season). It’s incredibly durable and practical. Plus, it empowers hundreds of people in Rajpur, India. $98
Mara Utility Bag, Meyelo: We love this Mara Utility Bag to carry around all your essentials while traveling. Drop in your toothbrush, travel-sized soaps, shampoos, conditioners, beauty creams and powders for an easy-access carryall. Or use it for your tech accessories: phone, chargers, camera cords, and backup SD cards. The possibilities actually are limitless. $22
“Believe” Necklace, The Giving Keys: The traveler loves striking up conversations with people wherever they go. This necklace with the words “Believe” engraved on it is a great conversation starter and will encourage them to keep going throughout their adventures. Once they meet that perfect person on their travels, they can pay it forward and gift their new friend the necklace to continue on its journey. $39
Salem Check Scarf, Connected in Hope: Scarves are probably one of the number one items on a traveler’s packing list because they are so versatile. From chilly airplanes, to a make-shift cover up in sacred landmarks – not to mention a chic accessory to add a fun pop to an outfit– this Salem Check Scarf is a great uni-sex gift for all travelers. $27.20
Grey & White Travel Wrap, Connected in Hope: Speaking of great coverups, this Grey & White Travel Wrap is a perfect gift for the fashion-loving traveler. It hits the same purposes of a scarf, but is structured and intended as a coverup making it a chic accessory to throw in any traveler’s purse to pull out in any scenario. $38
Ephrim Passport Holder, Connected in Hope: Jetsetters are sure to love this leather passport holder that provides opportunity for people in Ethiopia who made it. $38
All-Purpose Moringa Body Oil, True Moringa: All-purpose anything is a traveler’s best friend. Use this All-purpose Moringa Oil to freshen up dry skin, hair or face after a long, airplane ride or after a frigid stroll outside. Plus, the size of the bottle complies with airport security regulations so there’s no need to transfer into another bottle. Score. $29
Zuzu Backpack, Hiptipico: A backpack is another great travel necessity. This Zuzu Backpack made from Huipil fabric handwoven in Guatemala is both a practical and stylish gift any traveler would appreciate. $108.80
Soyama Lounge Pants, Sudara: Whether worn on the plane or in the car for a week-long road trip, travel requires comfort. While these lounge pants feel like pajamas, they are a more stylish alternative. These are part of my actual packing list for this exact reason. Trust me on this one. $44
Lara was instilled with the travel bug at an early age and has visited over 25 countries. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of exploring the world. She recently relocated to Seoul, South Korea, where she hopes to explore some of Asia for the next couple of years. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as a freelance Art Director in graphic design. In her spare time, she contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, instructs Zumba, dabbles in photography and, of course, travels as much as possible.