Mexico is a big country! When you are born anywhere else looking at Mexico on a map, you do not really realize, that Mexico is about the size of the entire western Europe and that it is a country with 50 different official languages! In Europe we see precious little products born out of the old artisanal traditions, which are very much alive everywhere in the gigantic country. In Denmark a yong woman, has taken it upon her, to bring Mexican artisanal products to the market. This is a small interview with the owner of Mexa.Space.
Q: Who are you? (Name, age, where do you come from, etc)
My name is Vanessa Arellano; I am a 30-year-old Mexican and moved to Denmark in 2017. I studied business administration and after graduation, worked for five years in multinationals companies thinking that was the path I wanted for my life.
In the practice, I realized that although my career was getting great development, inside I couldn’t feel satisfied, and things such as the limited possibilities of traveling that the working system in Mexico allows pushed me to rethink my life’s goal.
I decided to quit, left my department, sold all my belongings, and start traveling around Europe for three months and together with my best friend (who funny enough, was in a similar situation as me).
It was my first time so far from home and the first time I felt so happy, alive, and myself. My best friend and I prepared a list of the places we wanted to visit; I chose Denmark because I’ve always loved the Little Mermaid and was my dream to see her (and was not a disappointment at all!). Once here, I felt I belong to Denmark and picture myself doing a life project.
The next thing was to define how to do so.
Q: Your studies – what aspect of your studies did you find most interesting?
After a long process of several steps including finding the right program, be accepted into the school, get the English certification, raise funds, get the visa, and moved to a new country… I finally started the program of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Copenhagen Business School.
What I’ve found the most exciting is the broad diversity from CBS and Denmark in general. Being in an environment so different with backgrounds so diverse has enriched me culturally as nothing else before.
The Master itself had programs that I liked better than others; I was particularly interested in the practical ones since I had recent experience working, contrary to studying literature. In particular, I loved one class: Social Entrepreneurship. The fact of ideating a business model with a positive impact on society and/or the environment clicked with my ideals, interests, and logic.
Therefore, I decided two things: to do my thesis research project about social businesses in Mexico. And the second, to run my own social project and practice what I have learned from my working experience, Master’s, and my thesis research.
Q: You are selling Mexican arts and crafts… What made you take an interest in Mexican arts and crafts?
As someone living in a foreign country, there are several challenges to go through daily. You must deal with new weather, another language, different diet, new social circles, paperwork, tight budget, … but what weighs the most for me is not living my culture and feel I’m moving away from it. Therefore, I am determined to seize my working experience, academic learnings, and interest in social businesses to start entrepreneurship that aligns with my ideology.
I chose Mexican handicrafts because it differentiates from any Nordic and European deco. I do consider it has great market potential and a niche willing to color their homes with culture and tradition. Furthermore, it is a product that provides space to pivot with more possibility to manage risks.
Q: Some of the goods seem to come from different parts of Mexico. Can you tell a little about regional differences?
Q: Where do you get your products?
It is quite different the kind of product that you find from one region to another. One of the most beautiful things about Mexican artistry is its cultural diversity even inside the country. Each region has different craftsmanship traditions and practices.
Every time that I go back home, I visit a new region to find new artisans who I can include in the project. I introduce to them Mexa, and they get excited to know that their creations will be exposed abroad. Then we exchange contact information so that I can get in touch for new purchases. For them it is so important that their job is appreciated; they are passionate and proud makers, but in the end, fair trade is what makes it possible to keep alive their artistry tradition.
Some places and artistry techniques that are part of the catalog are Teotihuacán / volcanic stone obsidian; Tepoztlán / palm baskets; Mexico City, Cuernavaca and Oaxaca / red clay; Puerto Escondido / black clay; Puebla / rag dolls; Hidalgo / embroidered textiles; Jalisco / Huichol art; among others.
Q: Who has made your shop and how does it work?
The initial idea was to collaborate with physical stores to expose the handicrafts. This approach came after several cultural events where we saw how engagement level changes when people have the piece in their hands and learn about the story behind it.
However, this year has made us redesign the way to promote the product. Since online businesses have growth rapidly due to social restrictions, we just tried to seize the momentum and build an online channel.
The downside is that this project is still in the early stages of its development, and the income goes directly to cover basic costs and reinvest in new purchase orders to our artisans. Therefore, I’ve been responsible for every aspect of the business, including building the website, at least until it is possible to afford experts.
It took a while and many headaches, but now the webshop is working and is connected to the social media channels. I launch a digital campaign on Facebook – according to the season – and thus get traction to the webshop. You can buy anything available in the shop and decide whether to pick it up for free or shipping for a fee. I am still working on defining the best option cost-wise talking to ship in all Denmark and Europe.
Q: Are you going to expand on your list of products?
Yes. The vision of Mexa is to scale the project and impact as many artisans as possible; therefore, the list of products should also expand. For doing so, I would need to retake the initial idea of a B2B model where the product will be exposed in different settings such as museums or boutiques. The diversity of the craftsmanship allows this to not be the same catalog from one place to another. Another alternative would be to scaling is expanding the market from Denmark to the rest of Europe. In this sense, I would need first to understand all the requirements and analyze the cost impact.
Q: How do you like working in Denmark? Is it any difficult from Mexico?
It is so great working in Denmark mainly because everything works as it should be. The system is incredibly functional, and I feel secure with the processes and information I find on official sites.
Collaborating with other people has also been a wonderful experience. The mindset from the people who live here and more those who also have some entrepreneurship or project is extremely friendly and supportive. Several options are fostering an entrepreneurship ecosystem and I can decide how much I’d like to seize these resources.
On the other hand, I still struggle with practicalities mainly for the language barrier and lack of information for being newish in the country. Sometimes I feel I could do things much faster or more efficiently, but because I am learning over the practice, it will take time until I get fluency. In this sense, it would be so helpful to have a local mentor who could drive me on the entrepreneur path, being a foreigner.