Established in 2006 by Kiej de los Bosques, a social enterprise in Guatemala with the mission of generating income in disconnected rural communities, Wakami is a socially conscious brand that designs handmade fashion accessories. As on of the finalists for the 2015 Chivas Regal The Venture, an international contest open to social entrepreneurs who are using their business as a force for good, we speak to Wakami's founder, Maria Pacheco on her experiences being a part of The Venture and how being its finalist has helped Wakami with its dreams.
ESQUIRE: Can you tell us about Wakami and what it's all about?
MARIA PACHECO: Our brand represents a rustic, yet urban lifestyle and encourages people to connect with one another—the Earth—their dreams. We aim to enrich the lives of both the artisans who create Wakami products and those who buy them, inspiring them to do what they love most. Through our entrepreneurial driven model, artisans are able to empower themselves and become leaders of change in their communities.
ESQ: How did the idea come about?
MP: The idea came about when communities, especially rural women in very vulnerable communities said: "If you can sell what we produce, the rest we can do." We then had a vision of what great communities would look like. This vision has transformed into the Wakami's dream that all communities have houses and that all houses have a window, that from all windows you may see a garden and that in all gardens there is a ball, that all the balls belong to boys and girls who go to school, and that all schools have committees of parents who work, that all who work can reach the markets, and that markets multiply the houses with windows, that from all the windows, birds and trees are multiplied, and so that the sky may be blue and the sun shine for everyone.
At Wakami, we believe in the power of dreams as the source of transformation and the power of the markets as the source of sustained prosperity. Wakami then links rural communities to global markets as a way to generate income and transform cycles of poverty into cycles of prosperity.
ESQ: How has Wakami contributed in helping the rural communities of Guatemala?
MP: Wakami’s products are currently being produced by almost 500 women belonging to 18 communities of Guatemala. The income generated by the producers and business owners translates into formal education for their children (especially for girls)—140 percent more school attendance than the national average and a better nutritional status—56 percent of children improving their nutritional status. Wakami shows that when women have a source of income, they become powerful agents of change.
ESQ: Run us through the process of how an accessory is made from the start to delivery?
MP: It all starts with the dreams of women in the village: dreams of having a different life, where healthy children go to school and become their own dream. Through the Inclusive Business Methodology, groups of women are transformed into formal businesses whose first client is Wakami.
The business leader travels to the city to be trained in the products to be produced (products designed by the Wakami design team following global fashion trends). She distributes the work among the group of women she works with, according to their availability of time. Women produce and return the finished product to the business leader, who then travels to the city to turn it in, get paid, and get the new production.
Products are packaged and exported by plane to the different countries so people of the world can enjoy them. As of December, products are available on our website.
ESQ: How did Chivas The Venture help with Wakami’s vision?
MP: In many ways actually, we've had to explain in 5 minutes what we do and it got us to create a powerful message, not just for Chivas The Venture, but for different stakeholders. The visibility we got with the event was also a boost, we went from 25,000 fans to 56,000 fans in 5 weeks! We also learned a lot from other contestants and the accelerator week, it helped have a better business case.
With the funds from the voting and the pitch during Chivas The Venture, Wakami now has enough resources to create strong branding, communication and marketing materials. Just last week, we launched our website for the US and Canada. Chivas The Venture also helped to put social entrepreneurship at a new level—so all businesses benefit from a great exposure.
ESQ: What are some of the biggest challenges Wakami faces and how has it grown after a year?
MP: Communicating a system that transforms people—not just the villages, but everybody involved in a process where hope is returned to communities through the connection to markets—which is a connection to people. In terms of growth, in 2016, we increased Wakami’s income by 35 percent! We are incubating six more rural businesses and are ready to launch more diverse and higher-end products!
ESQ: What are the next plans moving forward for Wakami?
MP: Penetrate the US market, and create a brand of lifestlye products that reflects the Wakami way of life—empathy, friendship, love for people and the earth.