A consumer might see a beanie, beach bracelet, or bag and think about the fashion statement it sends.
Patricia Lucero looks at the same product and focuses on the social statement it makes.
Ms. Lucero is cofounder and product developer for beyondBeanie, a social clothing company that makes beanies and accessories that support talented artisans in Bolivia and also help provide meals, school supplies, uniforms, and dental care to children in need.
“Each product sold really does make a difference in Bolivia,” Lucero says.
The idea for beyondBeanie came about in 2013, when Tito Alvarez took a trip from Switzerland to Bolivia to visit his friend, Lucero. Two things struck Mr. Alvarez during the trip: the talented women hand-making woolen products on the street, and the poverty experienced by children living on the streets.
Alvarez brought some beanies back home with him, and their popularity helped spark the founding of beyondBeanie.
After successful trials selling the beanies outside of Bolivia, Alvarez and Lucero got to work putting together their organization. More than marketing a popular product, beyondBeanie helps to boost the confidence of the artisans who create the handmade beanies and other products. Most of the women had little confidence in themselves and their work; some were single mothers struggling to get by.
“In Bolivia, the lives of the local women are very humble and yet difficult. We wanted to help by giving them work that enables them to be close to their children by working from home,” Lucero says. “They have excellent skills for weaving ... their mothers and grandmothers taught them.”
Even more, each item is hand signed by the artisan. Buyers also have the opportunity to send a message of appreciation to the woman who have crafted their new accessory.
“There is an element of culture heritage seeping through the products they create,” Lucero says. “These women inspire me because they have been hard workers since childhood, despite the various difficulties" in their lives.
Each purchase from beyondBeanie supports an individual Bolivian artisan. Tthe proceeds also provide support to children in need using a simple formula: 1 beanie sold = 5 meals; 1 bag = 1 set of school supplies; 1 poncho = 1 school uniform; and 1 bracelet = dental care.
Online sales began in March 2014.
“What started as a humble project has so far amounted to 6,000 meals, 2,200 dental visits and services, and 200 kits of school supplies and uniforms provided,” Lucero says.
That outreach is made possible through a partnership between beyondBeanie and the Amanecer Salomon Klein Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia, which works to provide care to orphaned children, some abandoned as infants.
The initial trio of artisans producing items for beyondBeanie has since swelled to more than 15, Lucero says.
For Lucero, a native of Cochabamba, Bolivia, the cause is personal. An architect by profession, she recently put her career on hold to dedicate full time to beyondBeanie, where she is responsible for product design and social projects and leads the team in Bolivia.
“I love collaborating with the artisans and seeing them be able to provide for their families,” she says. "To be able to offer them a small window of opportunity to improve their working conditions and see their self-esteem and confidence rising is truly gratifying.”
Her next steps now are both individual and collective.
“My goals are to grow as a person through this experience of helping others and to show my country, Bolivia, through the vivid colors of its culture reflected on our products,” she says. “Every product carries a personal touch in the signatures of the artisans who made it, boosting their self-esteem and teaching them to take pride in their beautiful work.“
• To learn more visit http://beyondbeanie.org.