Share Your Start-Up Story: Ethical Business ‘Chilpa’ Made With Love
Chilpa is an ethical business selling handmade Mexican accessories made with love.
Maru Rojas, 33, initially struggled to find work before launching Chilpa in 2014 with her husband. On top of running her business, she freelances as an Art facilitator and also works part-time as a radio coordinator with dyslexic children producing weekly podcasts.
She envisioned Chilpa as a way to promote the work of Mexican artisans in a fair and ethical way.
More About Chilpa
All our products are artisanal. I started Chilpa with my partner (now husband) in 2014, mainly because we wanted more financial independence and at the time I was struggling to find work. We also wanted to promote the work of Mexican artisans in a fair trade and ethical way.
I’m originally from Mexico, so the scarves and textiles were an obvious choice. I still have a say in some creative decisions and I design some of our products from start to finish, which I really like.
We named our business Chilpa because it comes from the Spanish work “chilpayate” which in turn comes from the Nahuatl word “chilpayatl or tzilpayatl” and means small child in a rebozo.
How did you discover it?
I’ve always known about rebozos – They are traditional Mexican scarves used to carry babies or heavy loads and as fashion accessories.
When we were researching possible business ventures in 2013, rebozos came to mind because they fitted with what we wanted our products to be: unique to the UK, ethical & sustainable, Mexican & handmade.
I knew some forms of traditional weaving are at risk of disappearing under the pressures of fast fashion and because younger generations rather prefer to find work elsewhere than learn the skill. So we set up our enterprise to counter this from the beginning.
While researching, I got in touch with two artisans in Mexico and we started from there. The first year was very much trial & error and market research as I didn’t know which colours or patterns would prove popular.
I then realised there was definitely a market for Mexican rebozos and I started having more input in the products themselves – First choosing colours and patterns then later designing our own and exclusive range of bags using the fabric.
Since last year we’ve expanded our offer to include other textiles – Wool rebozos and throws, Otomi embroidered cushions and traditional paper bunting. I still work directly with all of the artisans and everything is handmade.
How do you manage working part-time, freelancing and running Chilpa?
I use new technologies such as video, animation and radio to give children a creative voice and to support their learning.
My role is two days/week so I have the rest of the week to work on Chilpa and other projects. It’s certainly a balancing act – For example, if an express order comes in, on the day I’m at the school, then I need to make sure it’s wrapped and packaged early next morning before doing a post run at lunchtime.
Your interest in entrepreneurship?
I wanted to bring artisanal Mexican products to the UK and give recognition, and a percentage of our profits back to the people who make them.
At the time, I was also working freelance and jobs were few, and far between. I felt I needed something that was my own and I could also have control over, even if it didn’t represent my main source of income.
At the moment, we’re selling online only so our aim is to approach independent and ethical retailers this year. We’re also aiming to increase our distribution in Europe, especially Germany – We’re already starting to work with an online marketplace there.
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