Before starting Purse & Clutch, I had no idea how the things I bought were made.
Knew nothing about production or wages of workers. I'd simply never given it any thought.
My journey into thoughtful purchasing came as a result of running Purse & Clutch, from seeing how the design of an item impacted how long it lasted, from learning about how much things cost to make when everyone along the way was paid a fair wage.
I now take the time to notice the nuance of construction since I'm now entrenched in all that goes into producing an item.
What has surprised me, however, is how this has begun to permeate other areas of my life.
How I delight more details around me. The color combination of dinner veggies. The way my two year old's dancing changes from week to week. The first sip of sparkling water after mowing the yard.
Slowing down & taking notice is becoming increasingly important to me. Maybe it's just getting older : )
Or maybe, I'm finding more ways to slowly fashion the life that truly reflects my values of connection, beauty & generosity.
Our new marketing cards now have the words SLOW FASHIONED as the main visual.
A phrase I keep coming back to when I describe Purse & Clutch, and how I want to be able to describe my life.
To me it implies intentionality. But it also implies style.
And I want to find more & more ways to make life beautiful.
But not Pinterest beautiful. A playlist for my girls that starts with "Shake your wiggles out" & somehow turns to "Shake your bon bon" beautiful.
Cheers to slow living & to figuring it out together, -- Jen Lewis Founder of Purse & Clutch
I first connected with Hayro Lopez in 2017 on Instagram through a mutual friend. We exchanged notes about working together but the timing wasn't quite right.
Two years later I got to take a buyers trip to Antigua, Guatemala to an artisan marketplace. Hayro & I spent some time together & I saw the beautiful work of the artisans he was overseeing, but again the details never seemed to work out & it didn't happen.
When he reached out on Instagram a few months ago, the timing was perfect! We were ready to expand & his artisans were really in need of additional work after a tough few years due to COVID.
I asked him to answer a few questions to let us get to know him a bit better & to introduce you to the great work he's doing in Guatemala. Here's the interview:
JL - Tell us a bit about the artisan groups you partner with. Who are they? What do they specialize in?
HL - We have two groups, one in Santiago, Atitlan and other one in Chichicastenango. They specializes in back strap loom technique. All the huipiles are made in back strap loom.
In Santiago Atitlan, 3 master weavers make handmade embroidery.
We have a group of 7 master weavers that can make new woven huipiles in Chichicastenango.
All of them are women that live in small villages.
All the process is handmade, even when we cut the leather and make the measurements of each handbag by hand make the process very unique.
We have 7 bag makers in the workshop that earn a payroll each 15 days.
The weavers earn according to the demand of their amazing work, so for that reason we really want to give them constantly income thanks to shops like you.
JL - How did you get connected with these different artisan groups?
HL - When I was in college, I learned a lot about the communities that live in poverty, they told me we really need to sale our art, but they didn't have nice materials to give an exportation quality. So I started to visit many communities. And contacting them.
JL - How is a huipil made?
HL - We use both new & vintage huipiles :)
New woven and one of a kind huipiles that make just more beautiful the handbags and accessories we offer to the world.
Huipil is made in a back strap loom and some of them take around 6 months to complete. Many of the huipiles usually are ready in 2 months.
JL - Where is your leather from?
HL - We use only full grain leather dyed by hand and sometimes by machines in two regions of Guatemala.
JL - Tell us about the bag lining: what’s the story behind the upcycled denim? The handwoven ikat?
HL - Upcycled denim comes from the huge denims factories that have left over when they cut the denim fabric to make new jeans.
They took the little swatches and then they make all the process until they start again in yarn until new upcycled denim fabrics.
Handwoven ikat fabric need more than 22 steps to just make one yard, per yard.
It is dyed by hand and they need a lot of physical space to dye each little design for the ikat fabric.
The special region to make these amazing ikat fabrics is in Totonicapan.
JL - What impact have you seen fair wage employment to have on the artisans & their communities?
HL - The master weavers start to have their own income and starting to be more independent and the bag makers start to have a consistency work including in 2020 year when the pandemic covid season was hard.
And start to help their husbands in the communities.
JL - What do you wish more people knew about the handmade process in Guatemala?
HL - To really believe and appreciate all the work that is in all the handmade process.
And that even when we found similar huipiles never never they will found an exactly the same huipil.
And that they are making very important change in the people that is involved in all the process of the handbags they purchase with you.
With my 4 year old entertaining herself in the other room, I turn my attention to my 21 month old. Paige signs to me that she's hungry so I grab the box of Cheerios, her favorite afternoon snack.
I set two down on the other side of the couch. Properly motivated, Paige pulls herself up & cruises down to her snack. I've set up the play cushions just far enough from the couch that she can lean over & weight shift to grab the other Cheerios I've put just out of reach.
I mentally run through the therapies we've done most recently:
Working on her pincer grasp grabbing Cheerios out of a small bowl for her Occupational Therapy goal, check
Practicing signing "more" & working to get Paige to initiate the "mmm" sound for her Speech Therapy goal, check
Okay. Yes, the best use of this time is to focus on her Physical Therapy goal: to get in as many steps in as we can to encourage walking.
I don't let myself ask why a snack can't just be a snack. I've learned in the last 21 months since Paige's surprise birth diagnosis of Down syndrome that it's best to stay in the moment. To be present, celebrating each win as it comes in our own timing.
When we first learned that Paige may have Down syndrome when she was in the NICU, all we heard about were the possible medical complications. About half of babies born with Down syndrome have a heart defect that requires surgery. She's at higher risk for leukemia, Alzheimer's, hearing loss. Etc, etc, etc.
In less than 2 years we've seen just about every specialist:
Prosthetics & Orthotics
We've had 2 trips to the ER & 7 days in the PICU. One was discovering Paige had a milk protein allergy when she was 1 month old (instead of the intestinal bleeding that was suspected) the other a case of pneumonia that took a bad turn just before Christmas a few months ago.
I count ourselves lucky that we've haven't had any surgeries.
Paige has Physical Therapy once or twice a week. Speech Therapy & Occupation Therapy every other week. We have follow up appointments at a high risk speciality clinic & a monthly vaccine to keep her respiratory system protected.
It's a lot.
And honestly, I'm tired.
But what they don't tell you about Down syndrome is that these things, while overwhelming at times, don't actually matter.
While having a medically complicated kid is challenging, Paige is Paige. And who she is, is absolutely beautiful. And I'm not just saying that as her mom. Really! Ask anyone who has had the pleasure of spending time with her.
When Paige looks at you, she studies you. She wants to know you & she peers deep into your eyes, possibly your soul. She leans her whole body over until she catches your eye & smiles.
And when she smiles, it's with her whole body.
A few weeks ago while waiting to get bloodwork in a chaotic & anxious waiting room, Paige looked at everyone individually, connecting with them. She waved & eased the tension in the room. When we leave, everyone in the waiting room smiles, exchanging glances with each other, suddenly in the "in crowd" because Paige waved at them, too - brightening up days even when she's just had her arm poked.
Because everything is harder for her, she shows her incredible work ethic - at 21 month old - with incredible grace.
I'm still so new to the Down syndrome world & I know we have a tough journey of medical challenges ahead but of this I am certain:
The world is a better place because there are people who have Down syndrome.
If you're not lucky enough to have anyone with Down syndrome in your life, I highly recommend finding a way to change that.
Monday is Down Syndrome Awareness Day - 3/21 chosen specifically because Down syndrome, also known as Trisomy 21, occurs when your generic code has 3 copies of the 21st chromosome instead of 2.
I'm choosing to use my biggest place of influence, my business, to bring awareness to my experience with Down syndrome as well as to share with you the opportunity to support not only fair wages for Purse & Clutch artisans, but to also support a new foundation that truly aligns with my views of my precious daughter.
Now through Monday, we're donating 21% of sales to The Lucky Few Foundation, a global storytelling movement, shifting narratives to create a more inclusive world where everyone belongs.
The Lucky Few Foundation believes in a fully-inclusive world where our differences are not just accepted but celebrated, embraced & encouraged.
Before we begin a new partnership with an artisan group, there's so many factors we consider.
Factors like: 1) How are fair wages determined for the artisans & when are they paid?
2) Can we as a business sustain a steady level of inventory demand so that we can commit to a long term partnership the artisan group can rely upon?
3) What local, traditional techniques are available & how can we strike a healthy balance between honoring these important cultural traditions while still maintaining our style as a brand?
We've begun our next steps with a possible long term partnership in Guatemala by having a sample collection made - it's currently in production!
Once the handbags arrive, I can assess the timeliness of the production, calculate any extra, unforeseen costs (there's ALWAYS something) & examine the quality of the finished products & artisans' + manager's accuracy in following our design tech packs.
Then, we'll showcase the new collection in a fun pre-order Live Facebook Sale so you can see the bags up close & hear the details of how they're handcrafted. Your feedback in this step is so helpful in determining if we can commit to a long term partnership.
Don't worry! I'll be sure to let you know when we're ready to have the pre-order sale : )
Questions about our expansion process? Let's chat in the comments below:
This week has been all on the go. Between two sick kids who have generously shared their ailments with me, most of my time this week has been spent driving to various doctors appointments and doing loads & loads (& loads!) of laundry.
And I'm choosing to let that be okay.
Yes, I have a pile of work - fun work - exciting plans to make for this year with new artisan groups (Guatemala! India!) & our long terms partners alike - but this week, I'm sinking into my mom role fully.
That being said - we did get in a restock from Ethiopia yesterday that will be shipping your way this weekend so run over & snag a best seller before they're out of stock, again...
Around this time last year, I had just had a baby - in a pandemic - with a surprise birth diagnosis of Down syndrome.
I was feeling overwhelmed with trying to keep things running with Purse & Clutch, especially after having overproduced Embossed Leather Wristletsfor a non-profit partnership that was less than successful.
And y'all stepped up. I asked for help & you responded with such enthusiastic generosity I was, and continue to be, blown away with this community that's formed around the brand I've been building for the past 10 years.
So it's about time that I create a (virtual) space for us to gather. To share more of our artisans stories, my design process, your feedback.
And, of course, early access to new styles & limited edition small batch products.
I'm so grateful for the ways in which y'all have continually partnered with me to help create & sustain employment for our artisan partners in Mexico & Ethiopia.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! I look forward to getting to know you even better in our Insiders Community.