Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ode to a Sabbatical

I wrote this post sometime back in September but it never made it onto my blog.  With the recent article from NUVO, I thought it would be appropriate for me to go ahead and make this post and give this blog some closure.  One note, the “ode” started in jest.  And though I doubt it technically meets the standard of an ode, the experience of a sabbatical is certainly worthy of an ode J  Thanks to all who have followed this blog and for the many supportive comments I have received.

Our time in Peru has been a gift.  The experience of living in another culture, of learning a new language,  of having meaningful time as a family and spending lots of one-on-one time with Simon, and further connecting with the people and mission behind fair trade was certainly as much as I could have hoped for.  I return to the US energized, invigorated, brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for Global Gifts' future growth and impact, and as relaxed as I have felt in a long time. 

Oh sabbatical, a gift you have been to me! 
May I repay you with fulfillment of the ideas and passion you have instilled
And with at least a continual reminder
That the harried and rushed life full of deadlines and impatience
Has a more relaxed and peaceful counterpoint.

Slowing down.  About 13 years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a year in Northern Ireland and attend graduate school there.  When I returned to the US there was a cheerful, relaxed, and more present me that I hardly recognized.  I was delighted and surprised to find this new me upon my return.  But within a couple of weeks, a fear, almost a panic came over me as that high began to wear off.  I hadn’t expected to feel that way when I came home, and then I hadn’t expected those feelings to slip away as they did.  Before long I was once again fidgeting while waiting in lines at the checkout counter, racing through yellow (sometimes red) lights, and hardly concentrating on the moment or person in front of me due to worry and planning about the next.  I recognized that the high I was on was fading fast, and yet, there was little I could do to maintain a bit of that more relaxed feeling.

It is my hope and even my belief, that this time will be different.  I return from Peru older, hopefully wiser, with more direction and support, and with the knowledge of my Northern Ireland experience with me.  This time I can recognize the high for what it is and enjoy it while it lasts.  At the same time I can hold reasonable expectations and be more deliberate about holding onto that pleasant sense of relaxation and enthusiasm that I bring home from my sabbatical in Peru.  More than anything I want to remember to enjoy and be present in the moment at hand and concentrate just a bit less on what lies ahead.

My experience with Northern Ireland is one time of my life that currently sticks in my mind.  But there is another life changing event that I also relate to.  That is the time when I first started working at Global Gifts some 12 years ago.  After my sabbatical I feel the same sense of adventure, creative energy, and the beginning of something new that I felt when I first started working at Global Gifts.  I couldn’t be more excited about what lies ahead for our organization and the wonderful staff, volunteers, and board members who make Global Gifts a daily reality.  I also return with a renewed sense of mission and the connection I feel to artisans in Peru like Fermin Vilcapoma, Daniel Novoa, Rosa Pariona, and others which extends beyond Peru to those artisans Global Gifts partners with in over 40 countries.

So I leave you and this blog with a repeat of these lines, “Oh sabbatical, a gift you have been to me!  May I repay you with fulfillment of the ideas and passion you have instilled . . .”

Monday, July 9, 2012

mates burilados - painting with fire

Peru is a land of artesania and handcrafts.  I don’t know the validity of the statement but I read today that nearly 50% of Peruvians earn at least some income through the sale of handcrafts.  When you look at the vast variety of Peruvian crafts and the sheer multitude of artisan puestos (small booths that sell handcrafts in area markets for both tourists and locals) the idea of a large percentage of Peruvians being at least partially involved with handcraft sales doesn’t seem so surprising.

This concept was illustrated for Alison and me on a recent trip to Huancayo, Peru.  Near Huancayo we visited the small town of Cochas Chico which is a community made up mostly of artisans dedicated to the art of mates burilados or gourd art.  Mates burilados is the art of decorating gourds through etching, burning, and painting.  The art in this community has dated back through many generations and has a Peruvian history reaching into the thousands of years.
A variety of gourd art is represented here.
Cochas Chico is a small village set in the mountains. Alison and I enjoyed seeing this area of Peru that is so set aside from the fast paced, crowded, and polluted Lima that we are accustomed to. Our visit one afternoon went into the evening and we were able to see the brilliantly lit starry sky that has been a rare view during our time in Peru.  A highlight of the trip for Simon and me was a trip to parque de mates burilados, a park dedicated to the art of gourd design.  It was clear that this park, so remotely located, was a source of community pride.
A photo within the park which includes the surrounding hillside.

Giant statues of carved gourds filled the park which was connected with a wooden elevated walkway made of what looked like trees, branches, and vines.

Simon particularly liked the "two owls" and repeated the phrase over and over.  "Owls" and "two" are some of his favorite things!

Simon and I did a self take on the bridge that leads to the giant bird/gourd in the background.

While in Cochas Chico, we vistied Alejandro Hurtado.  He comes from a family of gourd artisans. Both of his brothers also live in Cochas Chico and have their own workshops dedicated to mates burilados.  They help each other out when they have big orders.  

Alejandro's father died when he was 3 years old.  Three months later his mother remarried but left him and his brothers and sisters alone.  The oldest brother, Emilio, was 13 at the time and it became his job to look after his brothers and sister.  Emilio was the oldest and Alejandro the youngest.

As a young child Alejandro had to work in the fields to help support himself and the family. However by the time he was 8 he was skilled in mate burilado.  His older brother Emilio learned the trade working in another workshop, mostly paid with meals, and taught it to his siblings.  His mother had also worked with gourds and gourds were his toys growing up as a child.  Alejandro worked in other people's workshops making gourds for over 15 years.  In 1984 he opened his own workshop.  He entered a contest in 1997 and his art won first place.  Because of that, he started to win new contacts and orders.

Now he and his wife Victoria have a successful workshop.  They have faced challenges over the years.  They took a huge step backwards during the terrorism years that impacted all of Peru in the 1990's.  They had to work in the fields for several years until 1995 to make ends meet.  But now they are content with their work as gourd artisans.  Alejandro and Victoria joke that they represent compromise and peace because she comes from Cochas Grande, another town dedicated to the art of mates burilado that is at times seen as a rival.  They are proud to produce excellent gourds representing these two towns working together.

It was wonderful being in the countryside.  Victoria introduced Simon to two of her lambs.

The process of decorating the gourds is fascinating.  Painting with fire, as Alison describes it, is an apt description of how the gourds are decorated.  Most artists first etch a design on the gourd with pencil.  They then use a carving tool to etch the design into the gourd.  However, in one case we did see an artisan who carved freehand without first drawing the design with pencil.  The next step is to burn color into the gourd.  Based on the intensity of the heat, the gourds which aren't actually painted with bright colors, will be varying shades of brown or black.
Alejandro shows his warehouse of gourds.  Different gourds come from varying regions of Peru and serve as the base of different pieces.

Cats keep an eye on the gourds and protect them from pests.

Some gourds are colored before the design phase begins.  These gourds of red and green often are made into Christmas ornaments.
Victoria skillfully carves a design into a gourd which when completed will serve as a birdhouse.

Varying shades of brown and black are burnt into the gourd using a precise and concentrated flame.  Alejandro kept a steady hand and used the flame as a paintbrush to achieve these designs.  A more tradional method of burning the design is to pull a pointed stick from a fire and use the burning coal to paint the design.  By blowing on the coal the artisan can control the level of heat that passes to the gourd.  We saw this method demonstrated as well but the tool above works with much greater efficiency.

Alejandro and Victoria pose with their items in varying stages of production.
Carved gourds have long been a popular item we carry at Global Gifts.  I am glad I had the chance to visit Cochas Chico and see the process and meet the people behind this art.

Friday, June 15, 2012

World Fair Trade Day

Very few people in Peru know about fair trade.  So it was great to see fair trade organizations in Lima come together on World Fair Trade Day to celebrate the event.  Despite some competition and tension between these organizations, they came together under the banner of the World Fair Trade Organization and set up a booth at a small business fair to raise awareness about fair trade.  Alison and I did a shift at the booth for several hours and spoke with many people.  To my knowledge, no one we spoke with knew about fair trade before we spoke with them.  Twelve years ago, when I began working in fair trade in the US, the experience was similar (though not to the same degree).  Very few people then had heard of the concept or term fair trade.  Although I don’t have statistics at hand to share, the recognition in the US has grown substantially through education and an expansion of fair trade products available in the market.  Perhaps Peru will have a similar experience.

Here is our booth.  Organizations represented at the booth were Raymisa, Manos Amigas, CIAP, Minka, Allpa, and Aptec.

Alison's Spanish is much better than mine.  She did most of the talking although after hearing her enough times I gave it a try as well.

While Simon was sleeping, I chatted with Fermin, a jewelry artisan who is also helping to organize Aptec, an artisan-led fair trade organization.

Yannina at Manos Amigas is excited to educate about fair trade.  To celebrate World Fair Trade Day, she also arranged for Alison and I to give presentations in one of the area schools.  Yannina was especially excited because she had been a student at this school and was pleased to be returning as an adult and sharing about her life’s work.

I spoke to a class of about 30 high school students with assistance from Yannina and Alison spoke to another class of 30 high schoolers with the assistance of Rosa, one of the artisans Manos Amigas works with.  In both cases, none of the kids had heard of fair trade before our presentations.  I led my class through an activity that is part of a fair trade curriculum created not only by another high school student but also a Global Gifts volunteer.  

Me giving my presentation.
The class broke into small groups and each group was responsible for making an item using only the materials they could purchase from me.  I charged a lot for the materials and offered very little for their products.  "Hey, that's not fair!" was the comment I heard that served as a starting point for a discussion about fair trade.  I was truly impressed with what these kids came up with using a cardboard box, tape, scissors, markers, and a few sheets of paper.

Alison and Rosa in the school courtyard after their presentation.

It was a great experience and I think the kids in the class really came away with an understanding of what fair trade is about.  Yannina was excited enough to suggest that maybe next year we could do something with another school in Lima but with my and Alison’s involvement being over Skype.   It’s a big challenge, but poco a poco (little by little) awareness of fair trade is being raised throughout the world. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Rosa Pariona

Rosa Pariona produces small stuffed animals, typical of Peru, made from different types of wool: alpaca and sheep, for example. The animals are common Peruvian animals like guinea pigs, vicuñas, llamas, rabbits, and chicks. She also makes hats and gloves, throw rugs, and seat cushions from the same wool. “Anything that can be made from wool and skins, I make. I can sew anything!”  Her most popular product is the vicuñas. She has had her workshop since 1984.

Rosa is from Huancayo, a city in the mountains approximately 8 hours from Lima. She never knew her mother; she and her two sisters were raised by her father. One sister now lives in Lima, the other in Italy. Rosa learned all of her artesanía skills from her father, who, she says, knew how to make nearly anything. “He didn’t make large quantities of products but rather made many different types of products, all beautiful. In addition to making bags, clothing, rings, hats, he was skilled in carpentry and also built houses. He really knew how to work!”

She married and had nine children. Rosa’s husband began to drink heavily and treat her very badly, including selling their comfortable, 2-story home in Huancayo without telling her and without giving her any of the proceeds from the sale. She realized she had to leave.

She had land where she grew vegetables (the chacra), apart from their home in Huancayo. “When he started to drink and treat me badly, I thought, where am I going to go? Am I going to go to the chacra? No, because the kids didn’t know how to farm. I have to go to Lima for the opportunities.”

She left with her nine children, ranging in age from 5 to 15. They left with just the clothes on their backs, without even money. They slept on cardboard “beds” on the floor of an empty house for three months near the center of Lima. She sold drinks and ice cream, anything she could sell to begin saving a little money.

Pictured inside Rosa’s workshop left to right, Rosa’s husband, son, daughter and Rosa

Soon, however, Rosa realized she needed to move her family. There was a lot of unsafe behavior near their home, and her kids were frightened.   A friend told her that in Huaycán, on the outskirts of the district of Lima, there was available land.  Rosa commented, “I like the climate here. There is always sun in Huaycán, it never rains. It’s good for drying out the skins.”  So they moved to Huaycán and spent one year living on the hillside, a place where the poorest of the poor make their homes. The hillsides rarely have access to utilities and life is a barebones existence.

She had slowly started to construct their house; they had a roof but no walls. An earthquake caused her neighbor’s house to fall onto hers. It destroyed their home and almost buried them there too. While they went to the clinic to have their injuries examined and treated, all of their belongings were stolen. She had to start over, yet again.

Rosa’s big break was when a buyer from Ten Thousand Villages ordered 10,000 stuffed alpacas and gave her a $5,000 advance. “With that money I was able to buy land in Huaycán and start building our own home. He took a chance on me, giving me that money without really knowing me. I was really grateful.”

Rosa pictured in the storefront area of her workshop along with some of her best selling alpaca items.

Her son Enrique built the workshop for her. The front room is a small store, showcasing the artesanía produced inside as well as selling soft drinks and water to neighbors. Rosa commented, “He deliberately made the front room with a curved wall so that a large window could be placed there, bringing in a lot of light to the store to more beautifully display our products.”

 Rosa is quite a businesswoman.  She makes the most of her storefront where she sells different types of artesanía: her own products and those of her children.  She also sells drinks, snacks, has a payphone that is accessible from outside her shop 24 hours a day and makes copies of documents for a small fee.

Rosa later remarried, had two more children, and her husband now works with her in the business. She designs all of her products and has taught her husband the skills needed to work in the workshop. She likes everything about running her business, from the drying of the skins to the sewing and stuffing; even the quality control. “While it takes a lot of time to do quality control and correct items when necessary, it is expensive to have others do it and it isn’t done as well.”

She currently has 9 workers, in addition to herself: three are family members (her husband and two of her oldest children). The six others perform their work in their homes, coming and going from the workshop as needed to pick up materials and drop off completed products. The workers are evenly split between men and women.

When we visited, everyone was working on an order for Manos Amigas, to be sent to Ten Thousand Villages, of 1,000 small stuffed vicuñas and 300 larger stuffed alpaca dolls.

She explained the process: they buy the skins, clean them, then dry them. After they are dried, they draw the design on the skin and sew the animal together. They stuff the animal and comb the outside wool. Depending on the preferences of the client, they either use the natural color of the vicuñas or they dye parts of the vicuña.

While she has always been involved in artesanía in one form or another, before starting her own business she made little bags, jackets, socks. She also spent a lot of time in her chacra, tending to her crops. “I have worked so hard to provide my kids with food and clothes and an education.”

All of her children are artisans and are skilled in various forms of artesanía in addition to working with leather and wool. Some carve wood, others carve gourds or make beaded jewelry. Even her youngest, a 15 year old who is still in school, is skilled at artesanía, making beaded bracelets. Rosa is proud that they each can support themselves with these skills from her family.

Her orders have lowered since the economic crisis started. Whereas she used to produce 15,000 vicuñas per year for clients, she now receives orders for approximately 6,000 vicuñas annually. When she doesn’t have many orders, she augments her income by preparing typical Peruvian food to sell such as cuy (guinea pig) and pachamanca (a dish of meats and potatoes, cooked underground). She rents a kiosk nearby when she has food to sell.

A local parish often has international visitors who come and place orders after seeing her products in her store. These are smaller orders, though, dozens of products instead of thousands.

She explained that she doesn’t have a store in Miraflores, the main neighborhood in Lima that tourists visit, due to the high costs involved. “How am I going to survive if I have to pay out all that money? People come and make small orders from our store here. And every few months I receive an order from Manos Amigas for about 2,000-3,000 vicuñas. I appreciate that Manos Amigas immediately pays me, since then I can go back and immediately pay my workers. They always give me an advance, too, without asking.”

Manos Amigas is her primary client. Rosa appreciates that Manos Amigas treats her well and always fulfills their promises. They are very prompt with their communications. “They are part of my family,” she says.

Rosa can point to very specific ways that her life has changed and improved since she has worked with Manos Amigas. Going from sleeping on cardboard boxes with nine children, with no support from her ex-husband, to building a home and workshop, running a successful business and ensuring that all her children were educated as well as learning the family trade, even after having had to restart from scratch several times… Rosa is resilient! 
Rosa's son built her storefront, workshop, and home (all-in-one) which is pictured above.  She has certainly come a long way from the cardboard boxes she slept on with her children when she first moved to Lima.
Rosa generously presented Simon with a small stuffed vicuna as a gift during our visit.

Rafael del Campo

Alison’s and my primary responsibility with Manos Amigas these days is visiting artisans, photographing them in their workshops, and writing their stories.  One recent visit was with Rafael del Campo.

“I am a painter, drawer, sculptor, and artisan,” Rafael del Campo says when I ask what type of artesanía he produces. “Currently, I produce decorative objects.” At present, his most popular product is nativities.

Rafael and his wife pictured in his workshop.
He is from Matucana, about 3 hours from Lima, in the central jungle. His wife is from Barranco, a southern district of Lima. He came to Lima for his education. “Everyone comes here for their studies because, even though there are universities in other parts of Peru, they do not offer all of the options that Lima universities do. Everyone believes that the capital is the future. The problem is that then there are no more opportunities in the jungle, since all the young people have gone to the city.”

He learned artesanía by working in other workshops. While his parents were artistic and appreciated various art forms, they didn’t cultivate artistic expression in their children. He studied at Bellas Artes, the fine arts academy. Rafael started working in artesanía in 1986 and opened his own workshop in 1990. His work then was more artistic, less commercial than his current work.

He established his current workshop in 2006 and is careful to explain that “Ceramica Nueva” refers to his commitment to Christianity six years ago. Prior to that, he says, there were days when he and his family woke up without any money to buy even bread. But since he has dedicated himself to God, he has been successful.

He lives and works in a small one story building, most of it taken up by his workshop. “We are in the process of expanding,” he says, showing me the two cramped rooms where 12 people work, creating the molds, drying the figures, firing two kilns, painting the figurines and assembling the pieces. “We have applied for the necessary permits to expand, but,” he says, with a shrug, “what can you do? We have been waiting for 2 months for approval and I know we’ll have to wait for at least 2 months more before we get the approval for a roof. We are also talking to the bank for the financing we need to complete the expansion.”

Every inch of space is used in Rafael’s small but busy workshop.  Upon entering it is plain to see it is a place full of life and activity.

Rafael’s business has been impacted by the falling dollar, but in a different way than most: “We have been affected tremendously. But while we receive less money for our work, we are now getting more orders.” He is thankful to have so much work when that is not a common story among his colleagues. He has not had to lay off any workers or take on additional jobs to make ends meet. “Before I opened Ceramica Nueva, I had to supplement my income with sculpting, but now I can make enough to support my family.”

He is busy with orders from Manos Amigas and other clients. “I have three clients but don’t have the capacity to take on more.” He has worked with Manos Amigas for two and a half years, since 2009. One of his friends worked in a workshop that sold to Manos Amigas and introduced him to Manos Amigas. Manos Amigas currently represents 40% of his annual sales.

Manos Amigas is his only fair trade client. It is very important to him to work with fair trade, since he can trust that he will get paid, that he will get paid on time, and that he will receive the 50% advance to purchase his materials and pay his workers. “Others delay with the payment and it affects me.”

An order is being fulfilled for a Japanese client of Manos Amigas.

Rafael showed us additional product samples he had created, functional objects with creative twists, such as a pitcher with two knobs instead of a handle; a teapot that heats up the teacup and fits perfectly inside; a platter that is meant to evoke a potato, Peru’s most popular crop, complete with eyes.

He hopes to be able to expand in this direction, using different glazes, different styles, incorporating more of his artistic skills, in the future. “I would like to diversify into producing these utilitarian objects as well, but I need another, higher-quality kiln to successfully expand into that area.”

Pictured above is a teapot cup combination design that Rafael has made in his attempt to branch out to more utilitarian products.

He and his wife have three children: Julio, 13, Gabriel, 11, and José María, 8. His children help out in the workshop at times and he gives them monetary tips for their work. He thinks they will all follow in his footsteps to be artisans: “They can see how well we have done for ourselves via artesanía. They want to study administration and other subjects to bring that knowledge back to the workshop too.”

Rafael demonstrates the utilitarian use of his artistically designed water pitcher.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

It's a Small, Small World

One of my great pleasures in spending time in Peru and volunteering with Manos Amigas is making connections with numerous artisans who make the items we sell at Global Gifts.  My wife Alison and I recently had the pleasure of visiting Fermin Vilcapoma who makes the beautiful teardrop turquoise earring and necklace set pictured below (and sold at Global Gifts).

In fact, Fermin was in the process of creating this necklace and earring set when we visited (see process description later in post).

(Necklace $130, Earrings $54)

After chatting with Fermin for about 30 minutes he asked where we were from.  We answered the United States and he asked which state we came from.  Alison said Indiana and an excited expression came across his face.   “I visited Bloomington, Indiana last year!” he said.  He explained that he was part of a group hosted by the IU business school that travelled from Peru to IU to talk about how they have grown their export business.  “I have a store in Bloomington!” I responded just as excitedly.  “I visited a fair trade store when I was in Bloomington” exclaimed Fermin.  “It had some of my jewelry for sale there.  I was excited to see my jewelry for sale so I had my picture taken with it” he continued.  As he tried to recall the name of the store I said, “Was it Global Gifts?”  “Yes!” said Fermin.

What were the chances that we could make a connection like this?  Later I recalled that Dave, the manager of the Bloomington Global Gifts, had told me about a group of Peruvians that had visited the store early in 2011.  In fact, “One of the Peruvians had found some of his jewelry in our store,” Dave had told me.  “He even had his picture taken with it” Dave had said.  At the time I didn’t think too much of this.  Normally when an artisan visits one of our stores it is because we have arranged it.  Dave nor I had any prior knowledge about this visit so I took it as an interesting and somewhat curious event but didn’t give it more thought after that.  But now here I was with that very artisan.  It felt like finding the missing link of a riddle I had forgotten to solve. 

(Sam pictured with Fermin outside of his workshop/home)

Jewelry Making Process

(Above: When we visited Fermin’s workshop, he was in the process of filling an order for one of his best-selling pairs of earrings.  They are beautiful Peruvian turquoise stone earrings set in silver in the shape of teardrops.  Fermin is holding a chunk of the as-yet-unprocessed turquoise that comes out of the copper mines of Peru. Also pictured is a piece of silver where the design of the earrings has been etched in.)

(Above: 1) Each earring is cut by hand from the silver and 2) the silver earring hooks are cut and formed from what looks like long pieces of silver thread.)

(Above: 1) A neat pile of silver thread, cut for the earring hooks. 2) Finishing touches are made to the earrings when the sides are smoothed and the hooks are attached under the heat of a blowtorch.  3) Last the stone is set within the silver.  We did not have the opportunity to see the stone being cut and polished but this process takes place in the workshop as well.)

More About Fermin

Fermín Vilcapoma Bohórquez is a native of Canta, a province three hours from Lima. He moved to Lima with his mother when he was pretty young; he has lived here since 1st grade. His wife, Magdalena, is from Lima. They have two sons, Franco (14 years old) and Aaron (11 years old). His workshop and home are located in San Juan de Lurigancho. Fermín produces beautiful jewelry: earrings, pendants, brooches, rings.

He learned jewelry making from his father. Fermín wanted to study systems engineering but was not able to go to university, so he started making a living based on his training. He was the oldest brother and therefore felt somewhat obligated to be an example and join the family business. He has 3 siblings, two brothers and a sister. While his sister is an English teacher, the brothers are also jewelry makers. Although he was not able to attend university, he’s been able to study administration and accounting to benefit his business,.

The number of people he employs in his workshop has fluctuated over time. For example, in 1995 he had 5 employees. In 2000, he employed 15. In 2012, he has 5 (in addition to himself and his wife, Magdalena). Of the current seven employees, 2 are women.

He purchases his materials once an order has been placed, since silver is expensive (for example, a kilo of silver can cost between USD $1,200-$1,800). He is also careful to use all the silver, and saves and melts down the extra parts (that have been cut out from a design, for example) for reuse.

His designs come from various places. Sometimes he designs the products. Frequently his clients do too. They will send him a drawing of something they’d like, and Fermín will trade drawings back and forth with them until they arrive at a design the client likes and that Fermín can produce.

He’s been in his current workshop since 2000. Prior to moving here, he has worked in workshops first in his mother’s home and later in his father-in-law’s house. His living and working conditions have improved considerably from when he started: he was living and working in a tin shack. Now Fermín has a four-story cement building that continues to serve as both his home and workshop, although the spaces are well-divided.

His dream for the future is to move his living space out of his workshop building and use that space as a jewelry school. He and his wife would like to be able to teach poor people the craft of jewelry making so they can improve their living situations and lives.

Fermín hopes his sons will be involved in the family business as adults but strongly believes they need to discover what makes them happy and do it.

(Above: Fermin pictured with his sons Franco, top, and Aaron, bottom)

Fermín is the secretary of a fair trade organization called APTEC (, the only one in Peru that is formed exclusively of producers. Different product lines are represented, like weavers, clothing, potters, and jewelry.  He’s been part of this group for 3 years and while he is proud of them, he feels like there has been a lot of work without much success so far. Still, he has hope that investing time and resources into this group which will help each of the producers be more successful in the coming years.

His business has been hit hard by the recession. In the last 2 years, he has had to lay off 8 workers. He is hopeful that business will rebound as the worldwide economy improves.

A goal of his is to expand his market and gain more clients. In 2008, he and Magdalena began to travel to the US once a year for a craft fair in Manhattan. They went three times, made many product samples per potential clients’ requests, yet gained only one client. As Magdalena mentioned, they ended 2010 with no money after traveling to the US several times! So while they would love more international clients, they are currently unsure how to accomplish this without losing more money.

When Fermín was asked what he likes most about his work, he offered several examples: How his business has grown in the last 25 years. How he and his employees have been able to support themselves and be successful through fair trade. Seeing his products in stores (like Global Gifts).