We recently connected with Lena May and have shared our conversation below.
Lena, thanks for joining us, excited to have you contributing your stories and insights. What was it like going from idea to execution? Can you share some of the backstory and some of the major steps or milestones?
Inspire Me Latin America, a fair-trade company dedicated to creating economic access and changing the lives of women & indigenous families in Latin American countries started as an idea between two friends who shard a love for travel, culture, community and business empowerment.
Michelle Elkin, a St. Louis, MO native, took a leap of faith, leaving her corporate job behind at Edward Jones of almost nine years to start a new adventure abroad. Elkin left behind her family, friends, and career to move to Guatemala City, knowing very little Spanish and a handful of other unknowns. During her first year living abroad, Elkin learned how difficult it was to sustain employment in Guatemala, learn a new language, and adjust to new cultural norms. She became an English teacher making only $5.45 an hour between learning Spanish and standing in long lines at the Guatemalan Immigration office to obtain the required documentation to become a resident.
Co-founder Lena May, a Buffalo, NY native, grew up working in her family’s retail floral chain starting at the ripe age of nine. May would frequently travel to NYC during summer break to feed her interest in design and fashion. In 2010, May turned a hobby into a side business of designing jewelry. She curated pop-up boutiques across the United States while managing a career in technology. After helping lead projects for large-scale tech companies in corporate America for 14 years, she saw an opportunity to intersect her passion for design and fashion and her technology experience in Central America.
In 2018 after a visit to Guatemala, Lena and Michelle brainstormed ideas to overcome some of the employment & technology challenges entrepreneurs faced in Central America. After visiting some local artisan shops, Michelle located a few artisan partners who would be a good fit into our brand concept. After this first step, Inspire Me Latin America was born, launching our first pop up in Texas in 2019.
Once our online sales platform, social media channels and brand entered the market in Guatemala, artists started contacting us to pitch their products and partnerships. In 2020, the pandemic hit. Our international shipping partner UTZ Box (https://www.utzmeansgood.com/) continued to coordinate shipments from across Guatemala to the US during a very challenging time for Guatemalans as tourism completely stopped. Our entrepreneur partners were extremely grateful that we had strong online sales during a time when online commerce was the only option for retail sales. With IP Blocking in place restricting international online commerce, our artisan partners were limited to how they could drive online sales. We partnered with Austin, TX based Indie Gogh to relaunch our online store to showcase not only the products we sell but also to tell the story each of our artisan partners story.
Inspire Me Latin America now represents 15 artisan partners and 168 team members who create hand-made leather goods, jewelry, scarves, kimonos, and children’s bilingual learning materials. Our goal is to double our artisan reach by 2023, continue to drive new sales channels and partnerships and promote international business between Central America and The United States.
You can learn more about Inspire Me Latin America and its founders by watching their video!
- Intro Video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcHMX4xnFKs
- Shop Our Products – www.inspiremelatinamerica.com
- Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/inspiremelatinamerica/
Lena, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
We are passionate about partnering with artisans in Central America and providing entrepreneurs a chance to do business with America for the first time. We are a fair trade company, working directly with our artisan partners to guide the design process, curating a collection of items that appeal to the United States. Our artisan partners are more than suppliers of handmade items, they are the heart of our business, a voice for Central America and an inspiration to other entrepreneurs who are eager to join our organization.
How’d you meet your business partner?
Lena and Michelle met through mutual friends at a winery in Augusta, MO, celebrating Michelle’s birthday.
Any insights you can share with us about how you built up your social media presence?
We hired an intern, Phoebe Mazariegos, from the Graphic Design program at the Universidad del Istmo in Guatemala City to run our social media channels. She has really done a great job engaging our customers, followers and new likes. We also worked with professional photographer Christine Spencer who organized a fashion shoot on Canyon Lake, TX to generate fresh content.
- Website: www.inspiremelatinamerica.com
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/inspiremelatinamerica
- Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/inspiremelatinamerica
- Youtube: https://youtube.com/channel/UCfXhlyxKpr7hEsZuKB0htTg
Christine Spencer, CS Photography