Is the NATA drawing paper strictly checked?

How does sustainable entrepreneurship work, Nata y Limón?

Interview with the two social business founders Marlene and Anne

Terms like social startup or sustainable entrepreneurship we are now seeing more and more people. That's great, because it means that more and more companies value their ecological footprint and the well-being of their employees and are working on a truly sustainable business model. - Or ?!

Unfortunately not quite. These terms, some of which have spread like a buzzword, as more and more consumers are praiseworthy for them, are often used without proper explanation and not checked. From the outside it is unfortunately quite difficult to judge whether a company is doing green washing or whether it really wants to be truly sustainable. If the latter is the case, it usually doesn't happen overnight, but is a long process in which stones often have to be cleared out of the way and new paths to be explored.

Marlene Walter and Anne Schneider from Textile label Nata y Limón made. Almost exactly three years ago, I was able to ask the two founders about their then freshly launched startup.I found out what is behind the name, why they want to start a social enterprise and what role sustainability plays in their own lives.

Since then, I have followed her path with great interest, especially via social media, and I have to say that I have met few startups that have pursued their mission in such a consistent, structured and personable way.

I absolutely wanted to have an update interview with them and find out how they really managed to do it fair and sustainable business model to build up with women's cooperatives in Guatemala, with which tools they work and structure themselves and how they made it into British Vogue. Incidentally, Marlene also became a mom two years ago. Since I am already wondering how I will do the Independence and being a mom I was naturally interested in Marlene's very personal approach to it. And for everyone who is still looking for a beautiful and meaningful Christmas present Anne and Marlene also brought their tips with them. So now: Have fun with the interview!

We conducted our first interview three years ago. At that time you just launched your Kickstarter campaign. In short: what has happened since then?

An overwhelming amount has happened in our life with Nata Y Limón during this time. With the campaign, we launched our first home decor and accessories collection and thus the first production round with our various groups of weavers in Guatemala. That was a very important moment for us. Our crowd has made it possible for us to take this step and to set our first foot as a social brand in the craft sector to create impact for indigenous communities in Guatemala. 

What has emerged in the last three years can be described briefly and concisely with more clarity about the vision of Nata Y Limón and our impact business model derived from it. Who are we at the core? In which areas do we want to raise awareness? What do we want to achieve?

How would you describe your vision?

Our vision is humanity. Our mission is Women Empowerment through Global Sisterhood.

With Nata Y Limón we celebrate women as the true heroines of the hour and as the center of the family; we raise awareness of the movement for the rights of indigenous peoples and for the protection of the Amazon.

And how do you actually implement the whole thing?

Today we work directly with a permanent group of 14 weavers and tailors. Our direct cooperation is based on individually drawn up cooperation agreements that guarantee our women in Guatemala commitment and a fair monthly income, for which we have used the hourly wages vs. product wages as a basis for calculation. It's hard to believe, but with this Impact model we are setting absolutely new standards in the craft sector.

It's hard to believe, but with this Impact model we are setting absolutely new standards in the craft sector.“ 

At the same time as the direct production infrastructure in Guatemala, our products are only available directly from us - since 2020 we have had our own online shop with our heroine bags collection and selected decors and our interior products can be found in individual interior design projects, such as the Gambino Hotel in Munich.

At that time you mainly focused on pillow cases, blankets and cosmetic bags. Has anything changed in your product range?

In addition to these products, this year we launched a handbag collection with the title “Heroine Bag Collection” in order to bring our vision even broader into the fashion and accessories area and thereby enable additional work for our women in Guatemala. With our Heroine collection, we celebrate women as the true heroines of the hour - and far beyond. A collection that emphasizes the luminous diversity of its wearers with timeless classics and a minimalist color spectrum.

What are your favorite products at the moment?

If we had to pick something from our heroine collection, our choice would be the Diamond Phone Pouch Juana and Diamond Shoulder Clutch Angelita. Both are very elegant and practical bags for day and night, in which the most important everyday items such as cell phone, mask, keys and cosmetics can be stowed. The simple design can be combined with any outfit and regardless of the season. And we also love the importance of the diamond pattern. As one of the most important symbols of Mayan textile art, the diamond embodies the four corners of the universe, the four corners of the earth and contains the heart of the community in its center.

Have you been back at your cooperative in Guatemala in the meantime? How is the cooperation going?

Marlene was in Guatemala at the end of February, shortly before the lockdown, to sign the cooperation agreements with our twelve weavers and two dressmakers. It was an extremely important moment that was also very emotional. The process of drafting the agreements was very intensive because there are no documents or similar agreements for this type of cooperation. This kind of binding cooperation does not exist in the craft sector. With the process of drafting the agreements, we had to ask ourselves exactly how we understand impact, what are fair working conditions for artisans, what responsibility we can and want to assume, etc. Without our lawyer Monica Moisin, the expert in working with Artisans is worldwide, this intensive process would not have been possible.

"We had to ask ourselves how we understand Impact, what fair working conditions are for female artisans and what responsibility we can and want to take on."

Our employee Fabiola is responsible for regular production coordination in Guatemala. She lives in Quetzaltenango / Guatemala and visits our two weaving groups and tailors every two to four weeks.

Right from the start you have dealt a lot with sustainable entrepreneurship. What are your learnings from the last few years?

Our focus is on sustainable entrepreneurship in the craft sector and we can say with confidence that we have unfortunately found that the status quo of the craft sector does not reflect sustainable entrepreneurship. Far and wide it is adorned with the slogans “fair production”, “supporting indigenous artisans”, “promoting handicrafts”, “creating work” etc., but unfortunately in most cases there is no binding and transparent impact model behind it. In one of our last blog articles, for example, we shed light on the problem of marketing vintage textiles, which are often referred to as fair-made textiles. As a consumer, it is extremely difficult to get behind it and that is why we want to deliberately differentiate ourselves from other companies in the craft sector with our transparent impact model and pricing and set a new standard.

Do you still work from Berlin and Munich? How has your team changed and how do you structure your work?

The Berlin-Munich-Guatemala connection has remained in place. We are also still organized completely remotely. In addition to the two founders, we have three other employees on our team. We have a completely transparent monthly focus plan in which clear timings and responsibilities are assigned. We use the project management tool Monday to document this and to discuss the status quo in our Skype Call team on a weekly basis. We adhere very strictly to creating and reflecting on the focus planning month after month in order to be able to work in a focused and clear manner. If possible, we meet in person every six to eight weeks for a team day. Then it's not about working out things, but about team bonding. Here is a podcast interview tip with Sandro Dalla Torre from Klarheit, which inspired us a lot when designing our work structures.

Marlene, in the meantime you have also become a mom. Hand on heart: How challenging is it as a self-employed person? Did you take a break?

In the first year I stepped back a little so that I could focus on my new role as a mom. Nata Y Limón has always stayed by my side as my “first baby”. I used the initially long sleep phases for work and had to find new routines and ways to find time for Nata Y Limón next to my baby. Sometimes it wasn't so easy, especially because there were so many mums around me on completely non-working parental leave who wanted to meet for a walk etc. Like my baby, I always saw Nata Y Limón as a major life's work and, even if it was sometimes extremely stressful, I always had great pleasure and desire to combine the two. Today my daughter is already two years old and with childcare the independence and mum role can be managed very well in parallel, if you can organize yourself well and the partner is involved in equal parts.

British Vogue reported on you in the spring! Mega! How did that happen?

Of course we were really happy about it! For us and our work, it is extremely valued to be named and promoted by probably the most relevant fashion magazine. How did it come about? We were actually just written to in February of this year. Sometimes it can go that fast.

Christmas is around the corner. Do you have gift tips for everyone who wants to give away something meaningful and sustainable?

Definitely! For everyone who would like to support our work and create 'Impact for Christmas', there will be special gift sets in our online shop. We find our Care Packages with the little Guatemalan worry dolls as gifts to friends and family to be particularly beautiful and suitable for this turbulent year 2020. We have also prepared some really nice Advent specials for our Instagram community. Here you can follow us and be surprised.

"First and foremost, cultural recognition means seeing the people behind the handicrafts."

Last time we asked where you would see each other in a year or two. The same question now again.

Our future goal is to work more with traditional brocade textiles. Brocade weaving on a hip loom is the most complex and time-consuming weave and arguably the most famous art form from Guatemala and the Maya. With our work in the next few years, we aim to raise the standards in dealing with indigenous handicrafts, because cultural recognition primarily means seeing the people behind the handicrafts. It means appreciating the time it takes to create traditional textile art (that is, in concrete terms, payment at the “living wage” level) as well as honoring the traditional cultural knowledge that the Mayan women knew how to keep alive. To achieve this, it is our goal to establish innovative and visionary approaches and to shape the craft industry with Nata Y Limón.

Thank you for the interview and all the best!