Luisa is a mother of two from Taxadho, a rural indigenous community in Hidalgo, Mexico. In this village, women traditionally have had few rights and even fewer opportunities for employment. Many produce artisan goods using ixtle, a fiber from the maguey plant.
Because of their rural location, family duties and lack of business training, they sell their products to intermediaries who resell them at higher prices, leaving them with very little profit. “We’re the ones who put our hearts and souls into assembling our products. Intermediaries come and pay you the minimum, and we say, why not us? Why don’t we produce, sell and market the products ourselves?”
“Building my business has been difficult because I started working out of a little suitcase, knocking on door after door trying to sell my products. I have many memories of working at expos, for example, of walking miles to get home in the middle of the night, with two small children.”
Prior to joining Pro Mujer in 2005, Luisa had no income of her own. She depended on what her husband could give her to run the household and care for their two children: Luis Enrique, 12, and Maria de los Angeles, 4. Their home had dirt floors, the walls were incomplete and 4×4 plywood boards and sandbags provided the only protection from the elements and intruders. A friend invited her to join her communal bank, Diamante (Diamond). An initial loan of $168 allowed her to start her own ixtle business. She created first-of-its-kind bath kits that included soap and loofahs. She later diversified her range of products to include jewelry, table runners and purses incorporating recycled and/or biodegradable materials.
Encouraged by Pro Mujer staff and other women in her communal bank group, Luisa began to network and sell her products at important expos in Hidalgo and in Mexico City.
Within her community, Luisa’s behavior is considered radical and unacceptable. Outside of Taxadho, Luisa faces additional challenges. “The indigenous woman is very discriminated against…But these are our origins, and we can’t forget them.” Despite these seemingly insurmountable odds, Luisa’s long list of achievements continues to grow. Today, Luisa bypasses the intermediaries and manages all aspects of the production, sales and distribution of her products. She sells directly to the public and employs 13 relatives to help run three small businesses—a convenience store, her ixtle business and a roadside café.
Back in 2010, Banamex named Luisa “Microentrepreneur of the Year,” in the “Urban Microbusiness” category for young development enterprises. Not only is she a savvy businesswoman, she is a leader. Luisa has mobilized a group of 31 women artisans who will help her continue the production, sales and distribution of her bath kits as well as their own products. She petitioned her municipality and secured a plot of land. They received a donation of approximately US$12,500 from Ernst & Young to build an ixtle workshop. The artisans pooled the remaining amount, and together they were able to make their dream of housing their ixtle workshop a reality.
She hopes to expand her business to new regions, provide more employment opportunities for her family and community and one day export her products internationally.
Her hard work has allowed her to provide a better education for her children and help her community. Today, each of her children has a bed, the house has cement floors, and it is one of the few houses in her village that has been finished and painted. The bright orange paint on the outside of her house is symbolic of the pride in her many achievements.