There’s a hell of a lot more than margaritas getting made in Mexico – and with its age-old artisan culture, it could well be the place to realise (and materialise) your business dreams. Such was the case for Mich Gilbert, the founder of e-store Your Tomorrow, whose line of leather goods came by way of an adventure to the cacti-studded nation (and a glass of wine with her bestie, who was pining for a bag that properly stored her loot). With her Eve Tote and Pocket Pouch currently being ethically crafted in a boutique, sibling-run leather workshop, Mich shares why Mexico’s got it made.
Why did you decide to get your bag made in Mexico?
Having just been to Mexico scoping out another project, I’d come across some absolutely gorgeous high-quality materials and some incredibly talented and passionate artisans. The other upside was the enormous craft culture in Mexico, along with the fact that the artisans were really open to collaborating and celebrating their craft. There was full transparency of materials and working conditions, small-batch production was not an issue, and I would have the opportunity to work with delightful people. Working at such a grass roots level, I realised, too, that I could also make a difference in people’s lives by benefiting the artisans, their families and the local communities.
“Some of the workplaces are very simple and basic, but all are very organised and highly functional, while often being a part of the family home.”
How did you find your makers in Mexico?
Initially, I had planned on meeting a ‘friend of a friend’ in Mexico who was going to make some introductions, but two days before I was meant to jump on a plane, she had an emergency and had to fly home. She recommended I literally walk the streets, go into shops, visit galleries, wander down back streets and sniff out workshops on my own. A slightly daunting task in your own country, let alone a foreign country! Good ol’ Google also came to the rescue, and visiting local trade fairs and community events were also great places to find leads.
How did you ensure their working conditions were ethical?
I’ve met all of my artisans that I work with personally, and inspected where they work. Some of the workplaces are very simple and basic, but all are very organised and highly functional, while often being a part of the family home. I’m making regular visits to work on samples, check production and source new materials and suppliers, so I’m able to check on working conditions myself. Being on the ground, you get a sense of what’s going on and it allows you to keep up-to-date with any potential changes.
What’s your working-relationship like?
I really try to promote a collaborative environment within the leather workshop – after all, they have amazing experience that I so love tapping into. In return, they enjoy hearing about what’s going on in other parts of the world, so we are both learning from our conversations. Often, we’ll start with a simple concept and then we’ll all brainstorm as we review, so it’s definitely a team effort. If I’m not working with them in person, then email, phone and video calls are the standard modes of communication. On occasion, I even need to go totally ‘old school’ and resort to using snail mail!
What was the process for getting your bag exactly as you wanted?
I had loads of false starts and dead ends. People quite often promised they could get things done, but when you really dug in and started asking questions, many times they really weren’t able to deliver exactly what you had requested. Having a really good idea of what it is you want, then building a really clear brief to share, gives you a very solid foundation to work from. I collected all types of samples, created moodboards, produced product specs and CAD drawings. I really wanted my team to be able to see my vision. Before we started, we were then able to review every element, spot potential challenges, discuss options and come up with viable solutions, making the sampling run pretty smooth.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to make their product in Mexico?
You’ll need bucketloads of patience as you explore, expand, build relationships and navigate issues. We are so accustomed to instant gratification in our fast-paced society and having the job done yesterday; this isn’t so much the case in Mexico. Deadlines, therefore, tend be a little more fluid. If there’s a family event, a holiday, a strike, someone gets ill, crops need to be harvested or because you’re not physically there, things can move at a much slower pace. Being in a rush and attempting to work on Mexican time will just end in tears. Also, you’ll have false starts and dead ends, but then you’ll see something or speak to someone that leads you in a new direction and a possible solution to a problem. And, finally, be open. You’ll need to be open to learning new things, be able to adapt and change direction on the fly to find a way through and get problems solved.