We were thrilled to chat with Jenn, the founder of Boutique Mexico. She has taken the talents from artisans in Mexico and helped them sell their goods for fair prices and give them the livelihood that they deserve. Plus she's made an incredible career and company out of it from selling on Etsy to the floor at Nordstroms. Read more about her story!
ST: We love that your business gives back to the community. Right now, you give a portion of your proceeds to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and La Escuelita de Sonia School. Why did you select those organizations?
BM:The Sian Ka'an Biosphere is a 1 million acre reserve south of Tulum. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth! It's so peaceful, serene and untouched you just can't help but fall in love with the place. So when I had a chance to hep out that was the 1st place that came to mind. Amigos de Sian Ka'an which is the non-profit that works to protect the biosphere has done a wonderful job. They have taught the locals how to make a living by implementing the use of sustainable tourism. So now the locals live off of low impact tourism instead of having to live off of the jungle, which means not having to go hunt for food and cut down wood for the fire to cook. They have also allowed scientists in the reserve to study the turtle population, the effects of climate change on the reefs, etc. They are just a great organization. La escuelita de Sonia came about while I was talking to a friend and she mentioned a school that taught undocumented kids. When I say undocumented I don't mean kids that are not from Mexico, I mean kids where their parents have not registered them with the government so therefore they cannot attend public schools. I thought it was such an amazing story how one lady "Sonia" decided to teach these kids. She has since had 450 kids graduate from her school from kinder to high school. The teachers are her old students who have come back to teach and who are in university. She has a very high rate of graduation and of kids attending college. This is amazing considering the poverty that these kids live in. She is doing an amazing job and we wanted to help. So we are currently paying for the salaries of some of the teachers. Hopefully soon, we can pay for more teachers.
ST: What inspired your desire to start Boutique Mexico?
BM: 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, b/c 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 selling them all on etsy. They artisans were so happy that they had extra income and that they could provide something to the family....You could even see it in their demeanur! They felt useful...So I started having them make me more bags. One of the little boys told me one day that he wanted to start embroidering b/c he saw how much less stressed his mom was now. That comment stuck with me! So then I went to Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, etc and started working with artisans there and giving them my designs and color patterns. So it all started with the artisans from Yucatan.
ST: Why did you decide to move back to Mexico after college?
BM: I grew up in Mexico and after going to high school and college in the US I never thought I would end up back in Mexico. But love came calling and I was introduced to my now husband, who has had the exact life as me (raised in Mexico by US parents, totally bi-cultural, bi-lingual, etc..and that was it. He was in San Antonio doing his masters and I was there recovering from a skiing accident. We met and I was living in Cancun soon after that...I've been here 12 years now.
ST: Can you tell us about your favorite artisan partnership and why it was special for you?
BM: I love working with all of my artisans. They are all so special and so eager to work with. I think my favorite couple is the Manuel and Lucia from Chiapas. I met Lucia in Puerto Morelos, while she was selling friendship bracelets and belts on the beach. I started talking with her and now her husband and their team make all of our pompoms. They make about 300-400 pompoms/week for us. It's been fun watching the process from beach vendor to organizing other artisans in their home town, doing quality control, etc...
ST: What has been your biggest career success with Boutique Mexico, and also a failure that you have learned from?
BM: Biggest career success was getting into Nordstoms and we are about to go into another huge retailer (I can't say who it is yet)...Biggest failure....was by far when we were accused of stealing someone else's design. You never want to be accused of that..we had never even heard of the designer and the weave was a classic weave made in Chiapas. Anyway...now when we come out with a design we try to look everywhere we possible can to make sure someone else doesn't have a similar design.
ST: Can you give us some local tips for your favorite cities to visit in Mexico?
BM: Mexico DF-The Coyoacan Market and the Frida Kahlo museum are amazing. The little restaurants in this area are delicious as well.
Tulum - Kitchen Table is absolutley delicious. NOMAD beach club is super trendy with great music oh and let's not forget we just opened a boutique there :) It is caddy corner to Ahau Tulum. Ahau is also a very fun place to hang out. DJ's arrive in the afternoon and the food is delicous.