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VOL. 35 | NO. 38 | Friday, September 23, 2011
Thistle Farms helps transform life of sales director
By Hollie Deese
As national sales director of Thistle Farms, Katrina Robertson deals with large accounts, getting the all-natural products into more than 180 stores in the states and as far away as Singapore. But when she was first introduced to the company in 2005 she in no way thought she would be working so high up in the company today.
But Thistle Farms isn’t your typical beauty product company. And Robertson isn’t your typical sales director. Thistle Farms is a non-profit business run by women who have survived lives filled with violence, hurt, neglect, abuse, drug addiction and prostitution. It is the next step for women who go through Magdalene, a residential program where women with a criminal history of prostitution and addiction live in the community for two years, free of charge.
While there, each woman receives health care, therapy, education and a sense of self-reliance. They are immersed in classes to help them through post-traumatic stress disorder, embrace spirituality, better their parenting and learn how to use a computer. And Robertson herself is a graduate.
To learn more about Thistle Farms and the upcoming fundraiser, visit thistlefarms.org
“I came into the program in 2005 and now I am the director of sales,” she says. “I started out just like everyone else, on the manufacturing floor making the products. Now, I go out to talk to people and try to get them to carry our products. And we are in some pretty high-end stores.”
Magdalene receives no government funding. Instead, it relies solely on individual donations, private grants and the sale of Thistle Farms products.
“In 1997, Becca Stevens opened the first house, and women were staying clean,” Robertson says. “But nobody wants to hire someone who has felonies or a lengthy criminal record. And most of the women who have come through the program, or are currently in the program, have about 100 arrests on their record. Nobody wants to hire them.”
So Stevens started Thistle Farms to keep them off drugs, employed and off the streets.
“The same women who come off the streets are the same women who pretty much run the company and make the bath and body products,” Robertson says. The all-natural products including soybean-based ecowax, olive oil, coconut oil and sunflower seeds are made with earth-friendly practices wherever possible.
“We have six Whole Food stores who carry our products now, so you know you have to be pretty natural to get in there,” she says. “Everything that we make comes back to purchase more raw materials for the women to make the products and to pay our salaries.”
The business has grown so much in the past few years that earlier this year they moved operations from a 750-square-foot space to an 11,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on Charlotte Avenue.
“We will be in five new Whole Food stores in the next 6-8 months,” Robertson says. “By selling the products in the stores, doing some home parties and our yearly fundraiser we do is how our doors stay open. To think, women who have been on the streets and have suffered all kinds of abuse are now productive members of society. Our product is on the shelf and it shows.”