Posted on Monday, October 5, 2020
Wendy Farmerie ’91
B.A., Independent Interdisciplinary/Global Studies
New Wilmington, Pennsylvania
Wendy Farmerie '91 has always been one to create her own path. As a student, she crafted her own independent interdisciplinary major in global studies. Today, she is the owner of the New Wilmington-based global fair trade market Silk Road. Here she shares her insights about being a business owner and the impact a Westminster education had.
When did you know that you wanted to open the Silk Road?
I have always had a love of all things international, so it was fitting that I worked my way into a career in big business as an international buyer. The first few trips overseas were amazing. I experienced incredible cultures, ate delicious food and was paid well for the privilege. Seeing the working conditions overseas and the way the employees were treated, however, began to haunt me.
My job, as a buyer, was to get the best price regardless of the impact on the workers. If that meant the workers were in dangerous conditions, or unable to feed their families, or in some cases locked inside the factory during the week, it wasn't my concern. My job was only to consider the price of the product on the store shelf, not the life of the person who made it. In 2006, my employer made some decisions that were highly unethical (and quite probably illegal), and I was forced into a position where I had a choice: enforce those decisions on my suppliers or quit.
The decision was remarkably easy. I decided to use my importing knowledge to help people, not hurt them. Within three months, I developed a business plan, walked away from my career and opened the shop. I called it The Silk Road after the ancient trading route in Asia. This massive route, with all its tributaries, is credited with being one of the largest exchanges of culture in history. That's what I want my shop to be. A place to learn how other people around the world live, appreciate the differences and give them the opportunity to live that life just a little easier tomorrow.
What has been the greatest blessing about owning your own business?
There’s something truly amazing about not only seeing what my artisans make and hearing their stories, but actually meeting them in their homes, surrounded by their culture and sharing those stories over a meal. It's a life-changing experience.
Why are you passionate about what you do?
Fair trade is about lifting people up, not through a handout, but a hand up. Every order I place with my artisans is putting them in a position to feed their family, have a roof over their heads, clothes on their back, and potentially enroll their children in school. The better I do, the better they do. It’s that simple.
Every so often, I receive notes from my artisans on how they’re doing. Duilio is installing plumbing in his house. Nurizat’s daughter is going to school. Pierre-rock is able to buy enough groceries to feed his children well. Those are the rewarding days. Those are the days that I know my shop, thanks to the support of my customers, has made a positive impact in the world.
How did Westminster prepare you for this career path?
The liberal arts education at Westminster taught me to be versatile and think on my feet. As a shop owner, my day may include accounting, marketing, sales, purchasing, importing, long term planning and more. Westminster gave me the skills I need to hop from one to the other seamlessly.
What Westminster professors influenced you the most and why?
There were two professors that made the most impact. Dr. Tom Nichols was the kindest man, and taught me the love of international politics that led me down the path I'm still on today. Doc McTaggart pushed me to think critically and raise the bar on my self expectations.
What advice would you provide alumni and friends if they had an intrigue to start their own business?
I have three pieces of advice for anyone wanting to start their own business. First, stockpile resources before you open, both money and knowledge. In the first five to seven years, you'll need to reinvest any profits so you can grow to a self-sustainable level. The better off you are ahead of time, the easier that period will be. And start reading articles on the best practices of whatever business you're looking to open. Learn from those already experienced so you can avoid some costly mistakes. Second, believe in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself, how can anyone else believe in you? This starts you at a mental position of commitment to success, not failure. Third, brace yourself. It's a roller coaster ride. You'll have periods that you feel like a rock star and others that you're worried about paying the bills. It's an amazing ride, so hang tight and enjoy it.
Why should a prospective student consider coming to Westminster College?
Westminster is like a large family. You'll get a solid education that you need to thrive in life from professors who truly care about you as a person. You'll also develop incredible relationships with your classmates that will last a lifetime. After all these years, I can honestly say some of my best friends are from Class of 1991.