by Smita Jacob, Co-Founder GuaTela
As GuaTela completes its first week of launching our pilot project in Guatemala, we decided to start a blog series to give you a first-hand account of our exciting journey of launching a social enterprise from scratch.
GuaTela’s story began seven months ago when Mihai gifted me a handwoven clutch from Guatemala. He had just spent over a month traveling across Guatemala and couldn’t stop talking about the beautiful and intricate colors and patterns in Mayan textiles. I was curious about the life of the weavers – who were they? What did they do for a living? If they produced such beautiful textiles which are also popular in the global market, why does poverty and inequality continue to persist in the country?
As we both began exploring answers to these questions, GuaTela was born. A vision to create an enterprise that showcases the brilliant craftsmanship of Mayan women to the world while ensuring these women reap maximum benefits from the profits earned. While we incubated the business model since February 2017, it was only in the last six weeks, with the overwhelming support from friends and supporters across the world, that GuaTela became a reality. GuaTela raised, both on line and off line, close to $18k so far (110% on the Indiegogo campaign!!) with which we could launch our pilot project last week. Thanks to each and every one of you!
We began our pilot by visiting Antigua, the erstwhile capital of the country which is also a mecca for artisans who travel from across the country to this popular tourist destination to sell their beautiful handcrafted products. Walking through the artisans’ markets is a delight to the senses brought to life by the kaleidoscope of Mayan colors and patterns found in a range of products from bookmarks to traditional huipiles.
Yet, one cannot help but notice the same skilled women artisans desperately chasing tourists or squatting on street corners to be able to sell the products they painstakingly wove. Why? Each product is beautiful and exquisite, without doubt. Yet, the market is oversaturated with similar products with little or no differentiation. The number of customers, mainly tourists who make it to Antigua, is not enough to assimilate the high supply while each artisan is trying to independently and haphazardly sell the same product.
If anything, my interactions with these women artisans only reaffirmed my conviction in GuaTela’s vision. What they need is inputs on how to differentiate their products to be unique and competitive in the global market, access to customers beyond Antigua and even Guatemala, and a platform to collaborate rather than compete with other fellow artisans – all of which is exactly what GuaTela seeks to provide.
GuaTela is delighted to have on board Andres Sierra (lead photographer), Rony Gonzales (Business Operations) and Melissa Mazariegos (designer) all of whom are supporting us in intensifying our efforts on ground. This week, we also had the opportunity to firm up partnerships and collaborations with the many supporters and well-wishers of GuaTela here in Guatemala. More updates on those soon! Will write to you next week from the Western Highlands!
Until then, Adios!