Empowering Rural Women | Costa Rica | Sustainable Sewing
Project "Miss Manos"! Help us fund our project & change lives!
Sewing the Seeds of dignity and independence.
Our Mission: Empowering women and improving their quality of life through a shared initiative. A fair-wage sewing venture that creates beautiful eco and animal friendly handbags and accessories.
Learning some new techniques
Hello Indiegogo Friends and Pura Vida!
For the past 6 years GG2g, which is located in Milford, Connecticut, has been successful at making handbags and accessories from a variety of recycled, animal-free materials. At the height of the business we were in over 150 stores! But significant business interruptions with contract manufacturers had a major impact on our company’s operations. At that point we decided to try to turn our problem into a positive! With orders still coming in we made a (painful) choice to stop all production, try to resolve our manufacturing issues, while continuing to develop our product lines.
As fate would have it, in 2012 I was given the opportunity to participate in a Women's Empowerment Fellowship Program through the U.S. State Department, the University of Connecticut and the University for Peace, Costa Rica. Through the fellowship process, I met my counterpart (and soul sister), Natascha Moscoa (founder of HipN’Verde) in Costa Rica, and a shared vision was discovered.
By working together we realized we could change the lives of women in under served-populations and a new idea was born. Natascha already had an established group of women to sew her line of fabulous eco-friendly handbags but had the opposite issue that we did - People to sew, but few orders coming in. The lightbulb goes on!
It was an epiphany; we would join our companies and focus on 360 degrees of sustainability by establishing a social enterprise to further our already Green mission!
We saw an opportunity not only to continue on with sustainability, but to weave into our mission the elements of caring and compassion, which would benefit women in underserved populations!
To make both the sourcing and sale of our bags include caring and compassion, we also made a decision to donate a portion of our retail sales proceeds to Farm Sanctuary, who work to end cruelty to farm animals and promote compassionate living through rescue, education and advocacy.
Miss Manos - We have chosen the name carefully, with one word in English and one word in Spanish. "Miss" being a respectful nod to the feminine, and "Manos" the Spanish word for hands. We felt it important that the name reflect our cross cultural, dignity building and artisan made endevour.
The Sewing Studios:
Our initial idea was to bring everyone together under one roof but as I have just learned on my recent trip, Costa Rica is a very family oriented society and it is very common to have 3 - 4 generations living under one roof which means that there is always someone needing care within the home.
For rural women in Costa Rica, it is therefore best for each woman to work primarily from her home, and have a central sewing studio with specialized sewing machines and a meeting room.
When a woman is working from home, she is free to tend to her family's needs and sew when it fits in her daily schedule.
Making some samples
With the Funds
We will use the funds to update each woman's sewing studios. Things like good sewing scissors, additional sewing feet, plastic bins for storing fabric (lots of critters in the jungle that like to nest in fabric), better lighting, fans for cooling (so hot there!). In the moment there are four women who each have an industrial sewing machine in their home (donated by a German NGO, Futouris), each machine is in need of repair and a tune-up. We need to purchase 3 speciality machines that are used for sewing handbags and we need to move an initial cache of salvaged fabrics from one point to another. We also need a little start up money for new tags, and postcards, and to buy some lining fabrics and hardware. If you are someone who likes details here is an itemized list:
- Shipping reclaimed fabrics and all hardware in my current inventory
from USA to Florencia de San Carlos, Costa Rica $1000
(One time cost, in the future these fabrics will be salvaged in CR)
- Purchase of 3 sewing machines specific to handbag industry
1 Post sewing machine $800.
1 Top stitch machine $800.
1 Industrial serger $1000.
- Purchase of Handbag components:
Various hardware, lining fabric (organic cotton), backing fabric, fabric stiffners, zippers, labels. Etc. $5000.
- Promotional material:
New tags, labels, postcards, e-commerce site, $3000.
- Workshop upgrades:
For 4 workshops - Scales, lamps for machines, large plastic storage bins, fans for each workshop, new scissors, cutting surfaces, etc. $3000
- Tune-ups for all 4 existing machines in Costa Rica
(These machines are 1.5 years old and were donated by Futuris,
a German NGO) $400.
Total ............... $15,000.oo
How the Project will Work:
1. Natascha and I will be designing bags, choosing fabrics, getting the word out, and garnering orders from U.S.A and abroad.
2. In Costa Rica, Natascha will act as a designer and coordinator overseeing fabric selections, cutting and giving each women a specific task to complete.
3. Our shop forman, Ruth (affectionately called Tia Ruth) will see that everyone understands the sewing and construction concepts, deadlines and complexities of the current sewing order and make it happen.
4. Quality control will then be implemented (that's Natascha's job) and goods will be shipped to the USA (to me) for North American orders, and directly to the customer for European orders.
5. Good news!!!! - We have LOIs (letters of intent) from 7 resellers already!!!
Where Exactly are These Sewing Studios?
Pénjamo, Florencia de San Carlos, Alajuela, Costa Rica - Pénjamo a small village inside of Florencia de San Carlos. The canton of San Carlos encompasses a major portion of the Llanura de San Carlos (San Carlos Plain), a wide expanse on the Caribbean side of the Central Mountain Range. San Carlos is noted as the home of Arenal Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The canton's principal economic activities include the production of oranges, yuca, pineapple, sugar cane, beef and dairy products.
Arenal Volcano, San Carlos, Costa Rica
Down the Road
We see the Miss Manos project as a means to lift these hardworking women from poverty and also as an opportunity for community development. As the studios grow we would like to implement some educational and community development programs and projects. There are many issues that need to be addressed in Pénjamo but we feel a strong start is with the women who show leadership skills.
One of the beautiful aspects of this venture is that by paying a fair wage to these women we can quickly change their current situation which will then spill out into their community. In the near future we would like to offer workshops on the environment, childcare, banking, and computer skills.
We have many connections to strong, successful women leaders through our group of Fellows from the US State Department Fellowship program and through the University of Peace in San Jose, who have agreed to come and give workshops. Should this venture be successful we would like to implement this model in other parts of South and Central America and the Caribbean.
Special Thanks go out to four creative geniuses!!!
Film maker Adrian Correia for making an amazing video for us (and in the middle of a crazy filming schedule).
Graphic Designer Anna Rubino for her passion about our project and her "getting it" interpretation for our graphics.
Designer Alison Grieveson for her limitless talents, unwavering willingness to help and for being her lovely self! We owe you all big!!!!
James Fairweather without you none of this is possible. You get the "Husband of the Year Award", again. Love you!
To the lovely women of San Carlos for being there! Your intrepid hearts and willing spirits drive us forward!
Special Thank's to Blue Attack-Latin Vibe (Original Mix) for our music video, by Blue_Attack is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Risks and challenges
We know that there will be challenges along the way but we have a wonderful team of positive-minded women. We can meet our challenges head on.
Since we will be shipping from Costa Rica to the U.S. and Europe, we know that we have some learning to do regarding import/export regulations. At this time I'm working with an import broker to figure out the best way to handle any situation that may arise.
On a very positive note the U.S and Costa Rica share a very amicable relationship and trade is encouraged.
We anticipate some delays in shipping in the first few months of production and will allow for that by 1) Giving our clients a realistic expectation regarding delivery date 2) Allowing for time delays in our own estimated deadlines.
The U.S. and Costa Rica have different methods of doing business and cultural differences, but we feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about and address those differences through a course at the University for Peace in San Jose.
We also feel confident that should any unanticipated problems arise that we have the support of family, coworkers, peers and a myriad of knowledge at our fingertips through the amazing women from our Fellowship.
Natascha and I are seasoned professional with a shared goal. We feel that our commitment and drive will carry us through any rough patch we may encounter.