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Don't worry, we speak : Español (Spanish), too!

E-commerce empowering community: Indigenous artisans hit the global digital market

Don't worry, we speak : Español (Spanish), too!

Today’s Soapbox opinion was written by Nadine Heir is a writer, creator, and marketer.

Contxto – While indigenous traditions are centuries old, there’s nothing outdated about how they reach audiences today.

Tourists are primary consumers of indigenous communities’ artwork in Latin America, but to date, the distribution of their products has been largely informal. Mass-produced, imported fast fashion has dominated retail and handmade textiles simply don’t cater to this market.

E-commerce is changing this. 2020’s social distancing policies spurred e-commerce adoption in Latin America, a previously lagging region in terms of users. eMarketer’s Latin America Ecommerce report cited double-digit growth in June, and growth estimates for Q4 are up almost 20 percent for this sector. 

Internet shopping provides a platform for indigenous artisans to stand out in the saturated retail sector. A digital-native generation, proud of their heritage, is simultaneously looking for ways to catalyze indigenous communities’ growth, not only preserve them.

As a result, Latin American initiatives that boast authenticity are using technology to aim the spotlight at artisans, bringing the world stage to them. 

Many boutique-style stores were showing interest in selling artisanal textiles before Covid became widespread. But coronavirus changed everything. 

This is what Anthea Darychuk says. She is the Founder of Florezca Designs, a startup connecting alpaca farmers and Chilean weavers with North American consumers:

“As physical stores closed, we started to focus our efforts on Shopify Store. We also looked into Facebook and Instagram Shops, in order to grow as a small business in spite of social distancing.”

Social distancing and online shopping

Companies using e-commerce before the pandemic rammed their toes into this foothold in March, and started scaling the market. First-time online shoppers, according to eMarketer, will total 10.8 million in 2020.

Meaning, 191.7 million Latin Americans will be familiar with e-commerce by the end of the year. 

A Mexican business that adds artisanal design to travelers’ gear, Someone Somewhere began its online presence four years ago. But its Founders had already been working to develop indigenous communities for years prior to launch.

One of them, Fátima Álvarez, told us, “being online has been the key to connecting these indigenous communities in Mexico with the rest of the world.” 

As an established brand with physical stores, Someone Somewhere also performed a 180 to survive quarantine.

“We were ready to open four sales points in the US at the beginning of 2020. Covid thwarted that idea and we had to reinvent ourselves. We refocused on corporations, and began making cool, unusual gifts for their employees with our artisans’ touch.” Adelaida Correa, CPO at Someone Somewhere.

Someone Somewhere’s artisans integrated their identity with the logos of Campo Vivo, Pandora, and even start-ups including YouTube and Jump by Uber.

“When the virus forced businesses to close, we saw our e-commerce sales triple in Mexico,” says Andrea Correa, CPO at Someone Somewhere.

Online sales helped retailers with a socially conscious purpose get through this period, but many are still betting on brick-and-mortar. Someone Somewhere plans to go ahead with its US launch once social distancing is over and open another store in Mexico City. 

Digital does not mean industrial

Fast fashion lost appeal with the home office revolution and our need for a constantly changing wardrobe dropped off. Social distancing also led to less consumption and travel, which drew attention to how the environment was recovering from human activity.

The beauty of a less polluted world spurred consumers to look for longevity in fashion and to lower their environmental impact. Indigenous communities producing textiles traditionally do just that. 

“We work with the natural colours of alpaca wool, because tints and dyes in the fast fashion industry are a top water contaminant,” Darychuk says. “Florezca is pushing for global change by connecting women entrepreneurs with environmentally conscious shoppers. At the moment, 100 percent of this is happening online.”

pink blue and yellow wooden musical instrument

Adding value: sustainable and unique

Another sustainable brand, Hiptipico has featured in online shopping giant Asos, as well as Topshop and Urban Outfitters. But via its own website, Hiptipico has a store for customizable products. Shoppers can commission accessories to be handmade in Guatemala with Mayan embroidery, a value-add that no highstreet store is offering.

Small companies are known for agility. No exception to the rule, Hiptipico also swivelled to face masks as soon as they became mandatory in Latin American cities.

The brand’s online shop explains that, “utilizing leftover scraps of fabrics from past projects to preserve handwoven textiles, each [mask] is handmade using 100% recycled textiles from the region of Zunil, Guatemala,” reinforcing the sustainable message that indigenous communities are sharing by design.

Both our planet and indigenous culture is being preserved using technology. Moreover, the same companies that are focusing on building a platform for indigenous artists, are reinvesting in cooperatives and creating dignified job opportunities that don’t displace populations.

Social media game changers for businesses

Any retailer will confirm how difficult it is to start with brick-and-mortar stores without a global pandemic. Coronavirus further complicated the launch of budding fashion brands. However, it also provided a captive audience. Incoming engagements increased by 44 per day across all platforms and industries in April, according to Sprout Social.

With so many targeting tools at our disposal, social networks are the place to be if the mission is to reach a greater audience who’s actively looking for new brands.

We all have a friend who decided to launch their own project during quarantine, and these entrepreneurs fit the profile of companies that Facebook and Instagram specifically supported with the launch of Shops mid-quarantine.

These marketing platforms are aimed at small businesses and mean sellers can be up and running swiftly, without having to contract a website developer. Nascent businesses can use platforms they’re familiar with and directly target the following they’ve already cultivated. 

BCorps are relying on e-commerce to make their brands scalable—as are all retailers in fact. Through technology, indigenous artisans have successfully conquered modern Latam retail and can stand proud in the global marketplace.

Nadine Heir is a Mexico-based writer, creator, and marketer. Originally from England, today Nadine collaborates with North and Latin American companies expanding globally.

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