From Guatemala With Love: Changing Lives With Imports

For Atlanta-based Coleccion Luna, a wholesale importer and exporter of Guatemalan art and textiles, business should go beyond a simple financial exchange: It should be a way of life.

Creating a personal relationship with indigenous partners that produce traditional Mayan-styled lines of handbags, pillows, woodcarvings and more was a goal from the start and has been crucial to the company’s success, says CEO and President Stephanie Jolluck.

Now sold in more than 100 retail outlets throughout CanadaEcuadorItalyMexico, and the United States, including Mingei World Arts in downtown Decatur, Coleccion Luna products are made with “PURE LOVE,” a Coleccion slogan, and directly benefit more than 20 families in the Highland region of Guatemala.

Hand-crafted in the artisan’s home, each piece is uniquely constructed from reclaimed indigenous clothing based on designs Ms. Jolluck sends each season.

The women set the price for each article, which Ms. Jolluck buys and exports to retailers across the globe.

And as Ms. Jolluck’s business has grown over the last 13 years, so have her relationships with her “Guatemalan family” – some of whom she’s seen personally grow up.

Although she visits with the women between four and six times a year, she says that during her last few trips she stayed several days with one family, bonding even more closely with them than usual.

“They told me for the first time truly how I affected their life,” she told GlobalAtlanta. “I got to see the house my business built and heard stories.”

On her last trip, one woman and her daughter told Ms. Jollock that without the medical care the mother was able to afford thanks to her work with Coleccion, she might have died in childbirth on two separate occasions.

“The 13-year-old [daughter] was telling me this with tears in her eyes how I’d saved her brother and sister,” Ms. Jolluck said. “I knew I’d affected their lives, but when you hear the little details and the little stories about how I’ve made an impact… it was really special.”

Coleccion Luna works with more than 70 Guatemalan villages but does the majority of its work in Chichicastenango, a small town known for its traditional K’iche’ Maya culture, and near Lake Atitlan, sites that employ more than 100 women.

Fresh from graduation with a degree in Latin American literature and anthropology from Georgia State University, Ms. Jolluck formed her for-profit import and export business after volunteering on a Mayan Indian co-op in Guatemala and spending two months backpacking throughout the country in 1997.

What she saw, the juxtaposition between the tremendous poverty of the area, which had just concluded a brutal 36-year civil war, and the rich color and history of the textiles produced by the indigenous people, she said, inspired her to create a business model that could empower local artisans through fair trade.

“As I traveled around Guatemala, I became enchanted with the rich, intricate and gorgeous textiles the women were weaving,” she said. “As I studied these stunning textiles and learned it was a 2,000-year-old tradition, I couldn’t help but think what pure geniuses these women were.”

Ms. Jolluck now advocates that others adopt fair trade measures that ensure foreign workers are adequately paid for their labor.

In recent months she’s been recognized for her social and entrepreneurial work, including by Womenetics, an Atlanta-based women’s empowerment group.

She’s also scheduled to speak with seven other successful Atlanta entrepreneurs at a Wednesday, June 20,  Womenetics symposium at The Retreat at Perimeter Summit, which she says is important because of its focus on ways to empower women to become business leaders.

Ms. Jolluck also uses her connections and resources from Coleccion Luna to support various non-profits focused on human rights and women’s empowerment, particularly in Guatemala, including CARE50 Cents Period and Safe Passage.

Coleccion Luna and its handcrafted bead co-op in Guatelmala are also partnering with We Want Peace, a nonprofit created by Emmanuel Jal, a former Sudanese child soldier turned international peace activist, musician and writer, to stop the genocide in Sudan and promote lasting peace.

In that way, she says, even those with very little can make a difference.

“I have learned that it takes very little to have a positive social impact on the world,” she said. “We are truly a global community and it is important to be the change you wish to be in the world.”

For more information on Coleccion Luna, see www.coleccionluna.com.

 

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This story first appeared on GlobalAtlanta.com on June 19.

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