How many of you have bought clothes during this last year? (Yes, that’s me!) This last month? (Also me :D) Last week? (I had to think on that one, but yes, I have!)
Are you aware of where your clothes were made? (Well, I almost always check the labels.)
Or who made them? (*Crickets*)
I’ve done some sewing since having girls (it’s just so much easier to sew girls’ dresses and skirts than boys’, well, anything!). And I know how much work, planning and talent goes into making a really good product (I’ve yet to meet that mark :D). I have so much respect for those who work crafting and creating clothing because I know it’s oftentimes a labour of love – and yet too often goes unnoticed and unrecognized.
There is a movement happening in the world today – a movement where many people are turning away from the commercialized products and turning again toward the traditional ways of doing things – homesteading, making some kinds of food instead of buying it, dyeing and weaving their own wool and cloth, sewing clothes.
Not everyone can or will do all or even some of these things (Lest you think I’m that kind of person, I certainly would love to have my own garden, but for now I’m content with making my own bread :D). But everyone can have an impact on the way our culture is beginning to turn away from sweatshop produced products.
Our eyes are being opened to a whole new world of opportunity out there in the world of fair trade, ethically produced products that make a difference. I’m not saying we HAVE to buy everything fair trade (because at this point it’s not possible nor economical) but we can certainly change the way we shop for some things.
beyondBeanie – Changing Lives in Bolivia
beyondBeanie is one of those companies that seeks to open our eyes and connect the consumer to the deep need of others around the world and how we can meet that need.
They want you to know where your hat was made and the name of the woman who made it.
They want you to know the story of the beautiful woman who poured her labour of love into creating the Andina Bag.
They want you to know her name, hear her story, write her a thank you note, and know that you are having an impact on her family’s life that will extend for generations to come.
beyondBeanie products don’t just bring a smile to your face, they provide meals, shelter and education that a family in Bolivia so desperately needs and desires.
I had the opportunity to chat with Paty Lucero, a Bolivian native and partner in the business with the founder Hector, and she was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions about beyond Beanie!
How and why did beyond Beanie begin?
About two summers ago, my friend Hector (Tito) Alvarez and his wife travelled from Switzerland to Bolivia to visit me. During the trip, Tito saw many women artisans making and selling hand-made woollen products on the streets of La Paz. He also noticed the presence of street children making a living by selling sweets, doing street performances or asking tourists for money for food.
Impressed by the artisans’ creations and wanting to support their work, Tito brought some beanies back to Europe. Once winter set in, people often asked him where he got the cool and colourful beanies from. And thus the idea for beyondBeanie was born.
Tito asked me if I wanted to be involved in the project which would bring the beautiful culture of Bolivia to Europe and beyond in the form of traditional handcrafted woollen products which would support women artisans and children in Bolivia. I loved the idea and jumped at the chance to help the people in my country and at the same time showcase the culture. I put my career as an architect on hold to dedicate myself 100% to beyondBeanie where I supervised production while Tito worked on building the brand.
beyondBeanie started online operations in March 2014 and currently carries a collection of summer, winter and spring beanies, bags, summer and winter ponchos and pretty beach bracelets.
Who are your artisans and how are they impacted by working at bB?
I initially got to know the female artisans by speaking to them, one by one on the streets of Bolivia’s capital, La Paz (an eight hour bus journey from my city in Cochabamba). Gradually, I earned their trust and they invited me to their homes and introduced me to their families. I started making numerous trips from Cochabamba to La Paz to meet the artisans who made the initial bB prototypes and learned that many of them came from challenging backgrounds and led difficult lives.
Several were single mothers with little or no education who struggled to provide their children with basic necessities such as food and appropriate winter clothing.
I believe that beyondbeanie gives the talented female artisans an opportunity to work from their homes by doing something that they enjoy and also allows them to care for their children and in particular realize that their work is valued by others. Many of these women did not have confidence in themselves and put little or no value in their work.
Wanting to change this situation, we evolved the brand to make it one where every product carries the signature of the artisan who made it, which boosts the artisans’ self-esteem and teaches them to take pride in their beautiful work. Moreover, the biography of each of our artisans is featured on our website (click here).
Another unique feature of beyondBeanie is that you can contact the artisan and send a message of appreciation… or simply a hello…or ‘hola.’ I regularly print all messages received online and personally give it to the artisans, which really makes their day more brighter!
What is the greatest victory or change you personally have experienced through working at beyond Beanie?
I get immense satisfaction collaborating with the humble female artisans who work extremely hard to provide for their families. To be able to offer them a small window of opportunity to improve their working conditions and see how their self- esteem and confidence has risen is truly gratifying. I feel blessed that my friend Tito and I initiated this project and that beyondBeanie is going from strength to strength and is changing the lives of women artisans and children in need in Bolivia.
In terms of a great victory, Tito and I are fortunate that there have been a few momentous occasions where beyondBeanie has achieved tremendous recognition. A few months ago, beyondBeanie was announced as the winner of the 2014 fan choice award at the Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum in Geneva. Recently, beyondBeanie was featured in a blog by Microsoft and in a TEDx presentation.
What is your desire to see happen through the work you’re doing?
I would like to see beyondBeanie continue to grow in order to provide more opportunities to many Bolivian female artisans and at the same time help children in need. In addition, it would be fantastic if more retailers over the world stock bB products and it would be wonderful to open bB stores too!
I would love to see beyondBeanie products being worn by people in Canada to Croatia, Australia to Antarctica! Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and each product sold really does make a difference.
(Just for fun) What is your personal favourite product from beyond Beanie?
Great question…but a tough one! Naturally I love all beyondBeanie products, but if I was stranded on a desert island and could only have one bB product with me, I would bring the red chullo….
….actually I’ve changed my mind… the grey kota! (looks cool and would keep me warm at night!)
Which would you choose?
Beanies aren’t just for the winter – beyondBeanie’s lightweight summer beanies are perfect for everyday! And you can bet I’ll be bringing my Grey cosmos with me for camping!