Andean Collection: creating sustainable accessories to support Ecuadorian artisans

Andean Collection: creating sustainable accessories to support Ecuadorian artisans

Ecuador
Organization type: 
for profit
Budget: 
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Andean Collection is a fashion forward company founded to encourage sustainable economic change in rural communities in South America. Through the manufacture of our high quality handmade accessories in Ecuador, we are working to bring economic opportunities to regions of the world previously excluded from the benefits of the global marketplace. Our company is also contributing to a shift in consumer choice in the United States by providing stylish products that buyers can appreciate for design as well as for fair trade status. AC proves to customers that they can be fashionable as well as ethical; we offer every buyer the opportunity to support local artisans and promote environmentally sustainable practices.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Andean Collection engages a community of artisans from a rural mountainous region of northern Ecuador. The limited market for their traditional jewelry-making crafts has long resulted in life below the poverty line. When Andean Collection was founded, these families were struggling to survive financially by selling their jewelry in the marketplace and hardly able to afford the traditional uniforms for school that proudly demonstrate their cultural heritage. From the very beginning, Andean Collection has established close relationships with our artisans and an appreciation for their talents. Our familiarity with and respect for Ecuadorian traditional culture guides us in providing employment opportunities and educational benefits for the children of our artisans that both protect and affirm indigenous heritage.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Andean Collection is innovative because we are bringing fair trade into the mainstream by creating fashion forward designs with fair trade principles. For too long, economic opportunities for underprivileged regions of the world have depended upon the limited popularity of traditional or fair trade designs. Our designers contribute models inspired by the New York fashion world to the natural beauty of materials found in a region of the world with a tradition of craftsmanship. In doing this, AC gives artisans the opportunity to continue their craftsmanship with new products that appeal to a larger customer base. As AC products have gained popularity in the United States and Europe, the quantity of artisans employed by the company has grown; this in turn has expanded employment without requiring that artisans abandon their traditional crafts. Each unique product contains the story of the artisan who fashioned it, thereby including the customer as a part of our environmental fashion movement for social change. The environmental sustainability of AC products is guaranteed by the use of seed materials that do not harm rainforest trees when harvested. The result of AC's innovation is an affordable product that is eco-friendly and high quality; a unique fair trade accessory that does not sacrifice style.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Andean Collection employs artisans in Ecuador who craft handmade accessories from all-natural materials. The creation of our pieces from naturally harvested seeds brings sustainable economic development to underprivileged communities in rural Ecuador and simultaneously protects the Amazon rainforest by providing an economic incentive to protect biodiversity. Our one-of-a-kind products are sold online and in retail stores across the US and in Europe.
About You
Organization:
Andean Collection
About You
First Name

Amanda

Last Name

Judge

About Your Organization
Organization Name

Andean Collection

Organization Country

, NY, New York County

Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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Innovation
What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

While working on assessment of micro-finance loans abroad, Amanda Judge became aware of a persistent obstacle: many families who were receiving loans were often unable to repay them due to the lack of markets for their expanding businesses. When Amanda met the Ecuadorian families who became the initial artisans for Andean Collection, she proposed a business partnership; by exporting their jewelry to a larger group of customers who would appreciate the stunning colors and natural materials of the Ecuadorian seed jewelry, Amanda could assure these families that their crafts would gain popularity in a wider market. Over time, these families have been able to hire dozens of their friends and family members to participate in the increasing production of AC accessories. The traditional Ecuadorian pieces are complemented by new designs that Amanda's team brings from New York twice a year, creating an ongoing collaboration that results in dynamic collections.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

In less than three years Andean Collection has expanded to now employ over 55 artisans in Ecuador who specialize in weaving, seed cutting and dying, and jewelry making. AC products are now available in over 500 retail stores to customers across North America and Europe. We measure our success primarily through the growing sales of our products and through our annual artisan well-being surveys that measure the improved standard of living for our artisans. We are proud to observe that all our lead artisans, who were living well below the poverty line when AC was created in late 2008, are now stable members of the Ecuadorian middle class.

How many people have been impacted by your project?

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

101- 1,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

The future vision of AC is guided by a continued commitment to the production of high-quality accessories from natural materials. In the next three years we plan to expand our customer base worldwide through the addition of accessories from other artisan communities in South America, including a new line of alpaca products from Peru. This diversification of our products to form new AC collections will go hand-in-hand with increased employment in the Ecuadorian communities where the company originated. We hope to evolve as a brand increasingly known within the echelons of the high fashion world as well as a social enterprise that has redefined standards for fair trade and ethical business across North America and Europe.

Sustainability
What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Andean Collection's greatest potential barrier is the ongoing challenge of meeting ever-increasing demand for company expansion, both on the business and social sides of our company. In Ecuador, we are challenged to continue to provide employment and training for artisans and to uphold our commitment to paying the educational costs of attending school for the children of our artisans, a benefit guaranteed to every AC employee. To ensure that these challenges do not hinder the potential growth of Andean Collection, we plan to invest heavily in training new employees both in New York and Ecuador. We also spend a significant amount of time and attention on streamlining production in Ecuador to make business as efficient as possible. The investment of these resources will further our on-the-ground development and ensure that AC can expand employment to include as many artisans as production requires.

Tell us about your partnerships

Andean Collection is currently a member of informal networking clubs in New York, but we are not presently involved in formal partnerships with other organizations.

Explain your selections

Funding for Andean Collection depends solely on the revenue from the sales of our sustainable accessories. This sole reliance on our own profits both protects and ensures the efficiency and sustainability of our business model.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

We plan to strengthen Andean Collection in the next three years by increasing employment in the communities of Ecuador where we currently operate, complemented by the expansion of our production to include new collections from regions of South America where artisans live below the poverty line. To both satisfy and encourage demand for our accessories here in the United States, Canada, and Europe, we are committed to rapidly expanding the reach of our online sales and the location of our accessories into retail stores across the continent without losing sight of the values that make our company unique and innovative: the personal relationships we maintain with our artisans, our commitment to sustainability in harvesting natural materials, and our affirmation of education and fair trade as a means to rise out of poverty.

Challenges
Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.

PRIMARY

Restricted access to new markets

SECONDARY

Underemployment

TERTIARY

Restrictive cultural norms

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

Andean Collection addresses restricted access to new markets and underemployment in Ecuador by providing a connection to markets in the United States and Europe where consumers are increasingly interested in products made from sustainable materials by artisans who are paid fair wages. The increasing popularity of these products (and the attention that AC has already gained as a stylish and ethical brand) is building employment as more artisans are recruited to participate in AC workshops. Additionally, the New York styles that Andean Collection designers bring from the heart of the fashion world provides a marketing benefit that would otherwise limit the sales of these Ecuadorian crafts.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.

PRIMARY

Grown geographic reach: Multi-country

SECONDARY

Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services

TERTIARY

Influenced other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

Our immediate growth in scale will include expansion of our current collections to other countries beyond the United States where customers will have access to Andean Collection’s accessories from Ecuadorian. In the immediate future we plan to add a line of alpaca accessories from Peru, which will impact an entirely new community of artisans living in poverty.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?