Inspiring Women: Meet the Founder of Boutique Mexico, an Accessories Brand with a Purpose
Jennifer Olson's 100% artisan-made handbag and accessories brand is one we can all get behind.
In a world of mass-produced everything, isn't it refreshing to come across a totally amazing product that's handmade? Especially when it's 100% artisan made by women (and even men!) in Mexico, who previously didn't have a way to market and sell their beautiful pieces themselves? Well, Boutique Mexico is just that.
The handbag and accessory brand, founded by Jennifer Olson, is the result of a mutually beneficial partnership with Mexican artisans living in Guerrero, Hidalgo, Puebla, Chiapas, and Oaxaca. Each vibrant piece is a stunning work of art, and the people who work with Olson are able to work from home, achieve financial stability for their families, and preserve their creative native traditions through this relationship. What's not to love about that? Plus, the gorgeous Boutique Mexico products will completely satisfy your desires for colorful pom-pom laden accessories.
Olson has already seen a positive impact on the artisans and region (the brand also helps support a local school for needy children and World Heritage site near Tulum), and her vision for Boutique Mexico's future is one everyone can get behind.
Below Olson tells us more about her mission and her plans for the future of Boutique Mexico.
Livingly: What made you want to start Boutique Mexico?
Jennifer Olson: My husband and I live in Cancun, Mexico and we are constantly exploring. Often we end up in the huts of locals Mayans that have taken us to undiscovered pyramids or underground rivers. In these huts I started noticing the embroidery the women were doing was amazing, but they had no way of selling their embroidery to anyone who would pay what it was worth. Obviously the neighbor was not going to buy it, because she embroidered just as well. So while talking with them they said they wanted to earn extra income to help provide for the family and I thought to myself, "I can sell this for sure." So we made up a design and I asked them to make a few handbags... The next week I came back to pick up the bags and I ended up selling them all on Etsy.
When I went back to the artisans to place another order, they were so happy and proud of themselves. You could see it in their eyes. It was this look that really made me want to do more.
I interviewed a few of our artisans a few months ago and the comment that really stuck in my head was a little boy, about 7, that told me he noticed his mom was a lot less stressed out because of the work she had. Then he told me he was going to learn how to embroider to help out his family.
It was these little comments that I kept hearing from the artisans that made me want to grow BoutiqueMexico into a bigger brand.
So then I went to Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Chiapas to meet more artisans and design more products.
I was hoping to strike a cord with people that like to wear unique items with a story. You can buy handbags, jewelry or clothes anywhere, but to buy and wear a bag that you know was made by someone that really needed the income makes you feel good and it makes the artisan feel good. Not only that, the item is super unique so you know you will be one of very few people to own it.
Where did you find inspiration for the brand?
The artisans inspired me with their work. I also have so much fun going to visit them in their villages. That alone was inspiration to create the brand so I could keep going into remote places in Mexico.
I would have to say that Ariane Dutzi (shopdutzi.com) is doing really amazing things in her community of Valladolid and when I went to visit her, she inspired me. She is a German lady that moved to a little town in Valladolid and started a handbag company. She works exclusively with artisans from a neighboring community. She was named “Ambassador of Valladolid.” That is a big deal for a foreigner in a small town in Mexico. With all of the press her company gets, she has singlehandedly help put Valladolid on the map.
What kind of woman loves Boutique Mexico?
The woman that loves Boutique Mexico is someone that loves to travel, loves color, is interested in supporting artisans or other important causes. She loves wearing a statement piece that tells a story. She is independent and worldly. She also loves the brand because it makes her feel independent, stylish and one of a kind.
How do you see the company evolving over time?
In a year I would like to be working with sales representatives across the country so our products can be in boutiques all over the US. We will also be expanding within Mexico, which is so exciting.
In 5 years I would like to have a place in Cancun where the parents of the school we sponsor, Escuelita de Sonia, can come and make our jewelry line and make an income. There are some very poor communities near Cancun.
I would also like to set up a place where designers from all over the world can come and train artisans. This way they can learn how to do different things and can have an edge in the market.
Why was it so important to create a brand that gives back to native artisans?
I got to know the artisans while my husband and I traveled around. We like to get off the beaten path. I noticed they needed jobs, but had so many barriers to cross. They are in isolated villages, most of them are illiterate, and they have very strong traditions. The women stay at home and take care of the family and the men go work the fields. That is how it is.
So the items that are made for Boutique Mexico are made in homes. I love it when I get our pompoms and they smell like a bonfire. That is because the artisans use wood and fire to cook and keep their homes warm.
I see our artisans a lot happier. The artisans in Hidalgo for example (the ones that make the Camila clutch) can now buy nice shoes for their kids. I went to visit them a month ago and all of their kids had on fluorescent green Nike shoes. The kids and the moms were so proud of themselves. We even have some of their husbands embroidering for us, which is amazing for Mexico.
Which is your favorite Boutique Mexico piece?
My favorite is any one of the Camila Clutches. So much goes into each one of these embroidery pieces. We let the artisans draw their own designs and pick where the colors go. They tell me that the design and color depends a lot on their mood. It also takes about 8 hours to make one, so a lot of time and effort go into these.
What advice do you have for other women who are looking to start their own business?
Do it! Make sure you have a little money saved up when you start. But it is such a gratifying experience to have your own business. It’s also stressful at times, so you have to be able to handle that as well.
What do you love most about your job?
That I get to go into places that most people never get to go to. Our artisans invite us into their homes to special Christmas holiday celebrations, Easter celebrations. They take us into the jungle to undiscovered pyramids and sink holes. Show us around towns in Chiapas that we would otherwise not be allowed into. These events are beautiful and the food is fabulous.
I also love talking with them. They have such a tranquil and happy outlook on life. It’s so refreshing to talk with someone that has so little, yet is genuinely happy.
At Livingly, our motto is "Live life beautifully." What does living beautifully mean to you?
Living beautifully means spending quality time with the people you love and giving back to the people who have less than you or to a cause that is important to you. I think if you do that, you will have a pretty fulfilled life.