Its tough to run a small business anywhere, especially 13,000 feet high in Perus Andes Mountains. But thats where longtime seamstress and Alexandrian Eleanor Geiger found the elements of business in tact through the everyday art of the isolated Waianae communitys culture and ready to export to the international market to better the locals incomes and lives.
Geiger is not an investor in the traditional sense. Shes a volunteer for Partners for Just Trade (PJT), a nonprofit organization that connects impoverished artisans (most often women) with labor-conscious consumers. PJT ethically catapults otherwise inaccessible products into the mammoth flea market that is international trade. The organization works to achieve fair wages for local artisans while simultaneously ensuring for them a sustainable business model.
One of the women sold orange juice from the door of her home and that was the source of her income, said Geiger of the first group she helped in a shantytown outside of Lima. And she tried to make some purses, but her hands were always dirty and her purses smelled of orange juice. So she had limited sales, but just incredible spirit and desire to get some income.
Situations like these are where Geiger and her fellow volunteers come in. Using art forms and fabrics ingrained in Peruvian culture, Geiger and her colleague Ruth Ferell offer insight for their manta place mats and comforters, tweaking them for a test market in Lima, and eventually the United States.
Geiger and Ferell helped educate the entrepreneurs. Aside from advancing the money, they taught basic business tenets like buying in bulk and depreciation to the locals, who were usually poorly educated and previously lost money on products because they lacked basic production knowledge.[The Waianae] had been weavers all of their lives, but they had always just made bed spreads, Geiger said. Everybody in this little community made the identical item. So if they wanted to sell something, they had to undercut their neighbor to do it. It was not to anybodys benefit to be so competitive.
Geiger said that at first, some products were rough, and we couldnt sell them, so wed teach them to redo this, straighten a seam and theyd be upset at first, and yet, thats how they began to realize that quality control was important to the sellability of a product.
Geigers goodwill has helped some Peruvians open bank accounts, and many of the original participants keep their own accounting books. They own a little piece of the world market, exporting from Peru with paperwork and all, with only instructional help from Geiger and PJT on marketable trends in America, where their products are sold at select shops and church functions. There are plans to export them to Europe as well.
Geiger now basks in what she calls her store, a bar area in her basement enshrined with colorful products made by the more than 230 Peruvian artisans now involved in Partners for Just Trade. The fair trade movement has grown, Geiger says, and with it the quality of life for previously poor and isolated artisans. Some Peruvian artisans have even traveled to America to talk about their improved life since marketing their products worldwide. Such visits reflect one of PJTs major principles, hinging on educating the consumer on the social benefits of knowing where a product originated.
Theyre realizing that some people out there are buying, Geiger said. Theres a whole element of self worth and dignity that has grown through this, because they are now earning maybe only $30 a month, but its $30 more than they ever had before.