St. Louis Character: Julio Zegarra-Ballon pivots retail career to fair trade

By   – Associate Editor, St. Louis Business Journal

After moving from Peru to the U.S. in 1990, Julio Zegarra-Ballon launched a career in Indianapolis with a major retailer, where he built experience in buying, merchandise planning and marketing.

In 1998, his career brought him to St. Louis. Here, he became interested in fair trade through a board post with Partners for Just Trade, a now-dissolved St. Louis-based nonprofit that partnered with producers, primarily from Peru, to sell their goods in North America.

“I got a chance to learn all about the ins and outs of this supply chain model,” he said. Fair trade is a business approach seeking greater equity in the supply chain by paying fair wages to producers, primarily in developing countries, and featuring environmentally sustainable products.

In 2012, he started Zee Bee Market as a mobile retail business selling fair trade goods at farmers’ markets and festivals around St. Louis on weekends, soon launching an online store. Its success prompted the opening in 2014 of a store at 3211 S. Grand Blvd., and after he gave up his corporate job in 2015, Zegarra-Ballon added a second location in 2018 at 7270 Manchester Road in Maplewood.