Social Entrepreneurship in Action: Part II of the Teysha Story

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Teysha is so thrilled to launch our first collection of handcrafted products made exclusively for Whole Planet Foundation. 10% of sales of this collection will be donated to Whole Planet Foundation to fund even more microloans around the globe. I could not be prouder to bring this idea full-circle from my internship ten years ago to today, and am so grateful for all of your support. View the collection here.

This guest blog post comes to us from Sophie, founder of Teysha. If you missed part one of the series, check it out here.

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Looking back on the past ten years since my first trip to Guatemala and reflecting on our achievements with Teysha so far, I know that none of it would have been possible if I had not taken that initial leap to get outside of my comfort zone, be in a new place long enough to learn from the people there, and to try something new during my summers in Guatemala and Peru. The initial experiences as an intern with the Whole Planet Foundation were pivotal in creating my own social enterprise, Teysha. If you missed the beginning of my story, check out this blog post.

Teysha in guatemala with whole planet foundation and group of women

Myself with Whole Planet Executive Director, Philip Sansone, and Chiara with a group of women microfinance clients in Chichicastenango, Guatemala in 2008.

Teysha: The Beginnings

After graduating from the University of Texas, I knew that I wanted to work in Latin America, do something that improved the lives of others, and do something that was interesting to me. I looked at jobs in the International Development field, however, most of them at that time required a graduate degree and multiple years of experience. Being the impatient person that I am, I was ready to get started on working on my dream career path, on my own terms. I figured I didn’t have much to lose to at least try and start my own project.

I thought back to the women artisans I had met in Guatemala and Peru, tons of women with incredible, handwoven textiles and pieces of art, who were literally standing on the side of the road in a remote area, trying to sell their textiles. I knew that those textiles possessed incredible cultural significance and woven histories. I also knew that as they were, the textiles in themselves were a bit unapproachable to the modern “consumer” since people had remarked there were only so many ways to display a textile. It was clear to me that the textiles, if they were to create more opportunities for the artisans, needed to find another way for people to connect to them. My goal was to create as many opportunities for the artisans as possible and to do that, the textiles needed to approachable and create value for someone.

backstrap loom weaver guatemala

A woman from Santa Catarina La Laguna, Guatemala, weaving on a traditional backstrap loom. It’s an incredibly intricate process!

The idea of shoes came as something that was useful in everyday life, and as it happened, was also a traditional craft that employed people in rural Latin America. As any person with a modicum of retail experience will tell you, shoes are the most difficult thing to do, the inventory, the sizing, the fit, oh my goodness… Luckily, I had zero retail experience, and not much business experience, so the idea sounded like a grand adventure. And thus, the idea for Teysha was ready to launch — creating artisan made goods with a modern and functional design.

guatemalan women with textiles

Two young girls helping their mother sell textiles around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. While the textiles are so beautiful, sometimes they need to be presented in a way that is more approachable to someone. My goal is to provide as much work for the women as possible, so they are less reliant on daily sales.

After traveling through several countries in Latin America looking for artisan shoemakers, I remembered having visited a small town in Guatemala in 2008 during my Whole Planet Foundation internship where you could have custom-made cowboy boots within a few days. It seemed like the perfect place to centralize Teysha’s operations due to the plethora of textile artisans, leather artisans, and just the creative energy in general.

meeting with guatemalan artisan woman and fabrics

Much of my beginning stages of Teysha were spent meeting and learning from different artisans, trying to figure out how I could help bring market access.

As a startup, my team and I did not have the capital to invest in making a bunch of shoes, thus came the idea of custom-made boots. Choose your textile, leather, and shoe style, and we will make it for you! It was a crazy idea, but it turned out to be our secret sauce for getting started. We found a small group of shoemakers in Pastores, Guatemala, who were able to make the first batch, and we started to promote the idea on our nascent Facebook page. I was stunned by the amount of traction we received initially, and it was definitely a validation for the market and that people did want cool, customizable, unique goods.

teysha boots with textiles from guatemala

A photo of the first batch of custom boots Teysha created in Guatemala – one of a kind and featuring hand-woven and upcycled textiles.

Advice for Future Entrepreneurs

For anyone who has an idea of something they’d like to try as a business, I truly believe it is so easy now to get started very simply and at least test the idea and see if there is a market for it.  The worst thing, in my opinion, would be to spend months or years and tons of money investing in an idea or product without getting feedback or finding your target market, only to find after launch that there actually wasn’t a need for your good or service.

The great thing about starting from little to no experience is that you are learning every single day, trying new things, and basically realizing that there is no right or wrong way to do things.  The first few years were full of different in-person events, pop-up-shops, figuring out how to market and sell online, trying wholesale relationships, making new products, and building out our supply chain and production team. Throughout the whole experience, the team from Whole Planet Foundation has provided incredible guidance on both the impact and business side, and really cheered Teysha on every step of the way.

sophie in guatemala with artisan woman

One of my favorite parts of growing the business has been meeting artisans throughout Guatemala and learning more about their needs, abilities, and dreams.

Today, six years after incorporating, Teysha works with 15 shoemakers in Pastores, Guatemala, we have a robust network of women artisans and small-businesses who we work with to create textiles, and we have an ever-expanding collection of shoes and accessories. Every day is different, and I am always kept on my toes by the growth of our social enterprise.  

teysha shoes and products from guatemala

Teysha has grown to have an amazing array of handcrafted shoes and accessories – I am continuously impressed by the creativity of our team and artisans!

Ten years after first interning with the Whole Planet Foundation, I am so thrilled that we will be working together once again to create a line of artisan-made goods, the sales of which will contribute funds to new microfinance programs. We have plans in place to create more opportunities to service the needs of women entrepreneurs and artisans in Latin America, and are excited to announce new programs soon.

teysha guatemala christmas ornaments gifts

Selections from the new Teysha for Whole Planet Foundation collection. Click to shop.

You can shop our debut collection here — 10% of sales of these products will be donated back to Whole Planet Foundation to continue the cycle of investing in entrepreneurs globally.  

teysha debuts items at Whole Planet Foundation party with a purpose

Debuting our new collection at Whole Planet Foundation’s annual Party with a Purpose. Pictured here with my mother, Liliana, and Executive Director Philip Sansone.

 

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