Mamahuhu is a Colombian shoe and accessory company that hires unemployed artisans to handcraft beautiful, sustainable, and recycled leather shoes. The founders of Mamahuhu, Carolina Rodriguez and Luis Moreno, support artisans not only through employment, but by giving them the means to become successful business owners themselves. Not to mention that all of the leather used to create Mamahuhu products are recycled!
See below for a Q&A with the co— founder and lead designer of Mamahuhu, Luis Moreno.
Mamahuhu actually sounds like the ideal place to work for artisans in Colombia. How do your fair trade practices compare to other industries in Colombia?
We are indeed pretty well known for being a great place to work in, and a great team to work with. We not only pay around 25% more than classic factories (we want our artisans to be extra motivated) but also we give them tools to become their own bosses, to have flexible time, and to learn new skills to offer their improved services to other brands too. We receive new offers weekly from artisans. We take as many as we can, but only as we grow, so that we can ensure and constant and good enough flow of resources. So far we have employed and helped over 200 artisans since 2010.
Where are your artisans primarily working out of?
They have their own workshops (either they had them or we help them to build them). They are mainly in Bogota and Medellin, in disadvantages areas of these cities.
Tell us more about your recycled leather coming from the food industry!
This is a very important point in fact. All the leather we use is a by-product of meat, meaning no animal is sacrificed for its leather, we just use what would be otherwise a left-over. Moreover, we are sourcing leather only from those tanneries in Itagui (near Medellin) that can offer Crome-Free Certificated and Vegetal Tanning processes. Because of these facts, our leather is usually up to 100% more expensive than others, but in exchange we get better quality, eco-certificates and many advantages when exporting to USA and to EU with the Free Trade Agreements.
How long does it typically take for a Mamahuhu artisan to pay back their microloan? Are there any issues with loans not being paid back?
All the loans are paid with products, not cash payments, and therefore it is pretty easy for the artisans to pay back, and very interesting and productive for us, a total win-win situation. It usually takes 6 months, no more, to produce enough shoes so that the workshop become of their fully own property.
Tell us more about how you are empowering your artisans to be their own business owners.
We are basically establishing a b2b relation with them. The more they produce, the more they earn, the faster they get fully ownership of the machines and tools, and the more people they can hire. We also encourage them and guide them on the process of registering as official companies, pay taxes and work with VAT and invoices. As a requirement, after one year, we requiere every workshop to give us invoices, VAT and social securities for their employees. With some of them we are even helping them to become exporters (ordering directly to them from our overseas shops).