Giovanna, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I worked in the corporate world for a few years and always knew something was missing. I was going through the motions. Bored. Feeling stuck and unhappy. So, I took a trip to visit my brother living in Thailand to get away. While there, I had one of those AHA! moments, where I knew from one second to the next my life had to change. I discovered that I had a purpose in this life and that was to help less fortunate people. It was simple, but also terrifying since that wasn’t exactly a clear message. Help people how? What people? Where? With what money? I’d been such a good little rule-follower for so long, and now I was just going to up and quit my life to…go help people somewhere? It seemed insane. But, the message persisted. As soon as I landed back in the states, I took action. I began selling everything. I mean EVERYTHING. What I didn’t sell, I donated. And I saved every cent I made. Nine months later, I was on a plane to India with my mom. Carless, homeless, my few treasured belongings in a small storage unit back home and a backpack carrying everything I needed. The adventure began, and honestly, my life changed forever.
We stumbled upon artisan villages and artisan’s homes where we were welcomed. We saw natural and world wonders. We learned how to meditate in an Ashram. We met excited little children ready to practice their English words with us in every country. We saw beautiful homages to all kinds of gods. We saw poverty to a degree I have never imagined and living in that poverty were the happiest, most generous people I have ever encountered. Those that had barely anything wanted to share it all with us. I cried a lot seeing this (I cry a lot by nature, but this sent me over the top). Over and over, in every country, so much poverty, so little opportunity. How was this fair? Why did I have such an easy existence when this was happening in the world?? It was humbling and moving. It stirred something in me that made me realize it was the same voice that had told me almost a year before that my purpose was to help people. Along with every step of the way, the universe was laying out a path to make this happen; I just couldn’t see back then.
So, as we met more artisans (mainly women), we sat with them, drank tea, laughed, heard their stories and it became evident to me. I needed to support their ancient crafts and give them tools to succeed. I learned that if you give a woman a job and a skill, she will feed her family; she will make sure her kids are educated; she will help her community. It was so clear. So, I began buying these beautiful treasures, learning how they are made and the history behind them. I wrote down everything I learned. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it all, but I knew this was a way to support them. So, I started shipping box after box to my future self in the US from one country then the next. Six countries and a few months later we flew home and my business had somehow begun. I still didn’t know it, but it did.
After a couple of months in the states (and quite a few home shows where I sold all the treasures) and after telling everyone that would listen what I had seen, smelled, tasted and learned, I decided to take off again, this time on my own, to my home country – Mexico — to learn more about handcrafts and the women behind them. The trip was just as eye-opening as the first, and the path continued to get laid out for me. I met artisans, sat with them, laughed, ate, sometimes cried when hearing their stories, bought their creations, shipped them home and moved on to the next place. It felt great, but something was missing. I felt like I was putting a Band-Aid on a large wound; somewhat helping the problem, but not really fixing anything or making a real change.
It wasn’t until I arrived in Guatemala (on my way to South America) that I knew this was where I needed to stay: where my energy, funds and time needed to be focused. I learned of a village on the edge of the most beautiful lake I had ever seen, where women had been the main income earners for their families creating beadwork jewelry. So, I took myself there and began my search for artisans. Walking down a small alley one day, I happened to see a small, toothless woman sitting on a tiny stool in a tiny room, working on a beautiful beaded bracelet on a small wooden room. I peeked my head in and said hi and she introduced herself as Rosita. For the next two hours, she told me her life story, how she taught herself to bead in order to raise her four kids after her husband’s sudden death, how she had to quit school after second grade to sell to tourists on the streets. I fell in love with her that afternoon, and I knew she was who I’d been searching for. I knew this was where I could make a difference, starting with her and her family. And the rest is history.
Has it been a smooth road?
Overall, it has been a smooth road. But I have certainly slammed my face into some walls, was mortified in case anyone saw me do it, nervously laughed, dusted myself off and kept going. Sometime slammed my face into the same wall again. But looking back at the last 10 years, I am thankful for all those walls and all those lessons because it made me a better business owner. They humbled me.
Money has been one of my mail struggles since I am self-funded and have stayed that way until today.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Lumily story. Tell us more about the business.
We have grown to partner with over 75 artisans in three countries and carry more than 300 fairly traded, handmade products. However, the purpose remains the same: to provide economic opportunities in poor and destitute areas while at the same time preserving cultural traditions and craft making techniques that have been passed on for generations.
I’m most proud of our commitment to fair trade. Each item represents relationships, sustainability, and hope. More than their beauty and craftsmanship, it is truly the stories that make them come alive. Rosita sat on a 12” stool and beaded that bracelet. Maria created that necklace. Francisco took a traditional blouse and up-cycled it into that handbag.
Each item is carefully crafted based on cultural traditions. When consumers purchase these products, they are also purchasing the story behind them. In the end, this contributes to an enriched understanding of a global community and a better life for everyone.
For me, it fills my cup and keeps me going when I visit our artisans and sit with them in their homes, seeing their children happily in school (instead of working on the streets to make money) and seeing their homes improve thanks for the work we can provide. That is everything to me. It’s the way my batteries get charged and it’s what keeps me going through any tough times we proceed as a business. It motivates and humbles me every single visit and it keeps me grounded and focused. It’s one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve ever experienced.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
With online stores being the new way to shop, I think we will need to work on a better online presence in order to continue to be successful. Also, although the boho/handmade look is very very in right now, it will pass and we will keep up with changing trends.