Boss Lady is a series that shares personal insights from creative women in business. Today we chat with Johanna Tropiano, the VP of Strategic Partnerships at Made In a Free World. Johanna shares with us her inspiring journey and advice for others seeking fulfilling, meaningful careers.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your career.
I am married to my best friend and love that he’s an artist and creative. He challenges me to be creative in business. We live in Long Beach with our little pup, Rufio.
I’ve always had a huge heart for justice and inspiring change in people, so working in Anti-trafficking is my heart. I was a theater major in college and my career has had many different facets. I started out teaching 7th grade English and Theater, then moved on to Pharmaceutical Sales working for Merck and Amgen. I got my MBA, and then left a successful career in corporate sales to follow my heart in fighting for the voiceless and oppressed. I spent nearly 5 year at International Justice Mission before recently joining Made In A Free World. Now I am VP of Strategic Partnerships for Made In A Free World and we have developed the first ever tool that helps businesses determine and mitigate slavery deep in their supply chains beyond the factory floor all the way down to where the raw materials come from.
2. How did you get involved with Made In A Free World?
I’d been doing anti-trafficking work for several years and because of that was very familiar with Justin Dillon and Made In A Free World.
Last year, during a particularly hard season in my work, I had this crazy realization that while I was working so hard to free slaves with my career, I was turning right around and enslaving people with my purchases. And that had to stop for me.
3. What does a typical work day look like?
Meetings and calls and emails! I work hard to bring new business into this fight with us. So I’m in meetings and on calls with current MIAFW business members and also potential members. I also do a little bit of fundraising for Made In A Free World because we are a non-profit, so I work with high net worth donors and investors on partnering with us.
4. How do you and Made In A Free World spread the word about your mission?
We are a very small team, so that’s a challenge. We work with a PR agency which generates a lot of press for us. We’ve been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, One Campaign, Vogue, and many others. We also use all the social media channels like Facebook and Instagram to engage consumers and businesses.
5. Are there any marketing tactics or channels that work best?
We recently did our first big launch event in New York for our brand and it went really well! We plan to replicate it in LA and other places. We were able to generate a ton of press from that event and top companies like Gap, SAP, Deloitte, and others are now interested in getting involved with what we are doing to bring slavery in supply chains to an end and that’s very exciting.
6. Your beautifully-written post on The Yellow Conference talks about your relationship with clothing. I love this part, “I no longer care to be known by the things in my closet, but rather by my strength and love of people.” How can other people, women especially, come to this realization?
Thank you so much! It’s been a 35 year journey to get to this place! First of all for me it took being deliberate about surrounding myself with people who love me for who I am. My husband is my greatest champion no matter how I look or what I wear. My friends are all very strong women, and we empower each other rather than judge and compare. Also, living in LA where so much is about image and looks can be really hard. I just want to push back on that mindset and continue to fight for inner beauty and strength of character. I’ve been very blessed to have found so many people here who fight for those things that truly matter too. That wasn’t always the case for me having come out of an abusive marriage, so it’s taken a long time to learn. My humble advice to women is to surround yourself with people who accept and empower you for who you are and to fight for the things that matter to you. Another thing I did was I stopped reading magazines that give unhealthy and unrealistic images of beauty. Magazines like Darling Magazine are a great option and none of the women are re-touched. Lastly, I’m very careful about where I shop and what marketing emails I allow in my inbox. I never go to shop or go to places like Victoria’s Secret. Lastly, I unsubscribe. A lot! We are so inundated with marketing messages like,“You’ll love these shoes forever” or “That dress you 100% need” or “The Season’s perfect leggings.” And it’s easy to fall for that messaging. I did for years! So I literally unsubscribe. If I don’t have those messages constantly telling me what I need, then I literally don’t miss it. I already have everything I need.
7. You’ve said that vintage and thrift shopping is a great way to “start your ethical fashion journey on a budget.” What are your favorite shops and sites?
There are several local shops that I love here in Long Beach where I live. My current favorite is Ay Que Vintage. I also love my friend Rodellee’s site Adored Vintage. I always run into places like Buffalo Exchange when I’m near them. I can usually find Madewell and other brands like that there. There’s a great consignment store here in Long Beach for more high end pieces that I really like a lot called Filmore and 5th. Also, you have to be vigilant, but looking on Ebay is a relatively easy way to find good thrifted pieces.
But wherever you live, check out the local vintage and consignment stores. It’s like treasure hunting!
8. Is there a #BossLady (or ladies) that you look up to? If so, who and why?
I’m inspired by so many Boss Lady’s! My former mentor Lynn was an amazing boss lady homemaker. She has always spoken so much wisdom and truth to me. I’m also inspired by my female friends who take that leap and start their own business. My friend Kara Dykert of By Kara Elise is super inspiring to me. She just started a new business and I’m so proud of her. Lastly, my very best friend, Amy has one of the most brilliant business minds I’ve ever encountered. She does business consulting and kicks ass. I’m lucky that I can call her and get consulting for free. She makes me a whole lot smarter.
9. What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Trust your intuition. It’s good and usually right.
10. What advice do you have for women looking to have a successful and meaningful career?
Be open to new opportunities and don’t be afraid of change! My career has taken me from a small town in TN to DC and now to California and I’m always open to what’s next. If you have a longing in your heart for more meaning, pursue that! Don’t ignore it and let it nag you. Find a way to act on it. Even if it’s small ways at first. Before I started at IJM, I served on a local board that fought domestic violence and rape and I also started taking trips to Nicaragua to work with an orphanage there. That was the start of my journey to a successful and meaningful career. Also, I don’t want to negate the importance of staying right where you are. That may be what you’re called to do, so if you’re struggling finding meaning in your career, but don’t have the opportunity to move or change careers, then I’d say find ways to get more engaged outside of your job like serving on boards, or traveling, or even starting a blog and talking about those things that matter most to you.
A few of Johanna’s favorite things…
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