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Talya Weinberg, social entrepreneur of the week

27 September, 2018 - Autor: Recon Colombia

Yumajai is a social fashion brand, specializing in process design, co-creation and solutions for social entrepreneurship. They use social technologies to solve needs and transform realities, improving and creating access to opportunities and resources. They participated in the RECON 2017/18 contest.

We spoke with founder, Talya Weinberg, and she told us more about this project.

RECON: Who is Talya?

Talya Weinberg: I am a social enterprising woman, an innovator and an activist. I love the sea, I love doing apnea, that is, diving without a tank. I have prepared and trained for what I do, I studied Gestalt psychology, I majored in theater and hospital clown and eventually social clown.

I worked with Patch Adams and I love to build bridges in the communities to contribute to their development. I have worked with many vulnerable communities in the world. I lived for 16 years in Israel where I worked in areas of the Palestinian-Israel conflict. I have worked in different vulnerable communities in Latin America.

REC: What is Yumajai?

TW: Yumajai is an ethical fashion brand based in Colombia. We collaborate and use a process of co-creation with craftsmen, talented local designers or promising young people in Colombia to merge handicrafts and ancient art with a modern design approach to create unique designs.

Our collection offers fresh designs, while supporting the culture of the native tribes, the preservation of crafts, designs and ancestral wisdom. Each purchase of our jewelry, handbags and accessories enables financing training for local artisans.

REC: How did Yumajai come about?

TW: I lived in Israel and four years ago I came to visit a project in the Pacific, and I came to Cali. I understood there was a massive displacement of native Embera-Chamí from Pueblo Rico, Risaralda. It concerned me so I decided to approach the community and there I found Gabriela, a native of this community, who was in Cali with her children and her husband. I saw her crafts and I was glad to see that there was a way to help. Initially I bought collars and bracelets and I took them to sell them in Israel.

In Israel, people were very interested in the products, so we kept on buying crafts to sell them there and so we supported the work of natives and we did that for two years. But one day we visited the community, we saw their living conditions and the precarious way in which they live, a great number of persons living crammed into small spaces.

I practice clown, and the practice of this art has allowed me to approach the communities and use joy, play and theater as pretexts to approach the indigenous communities.

We wanted to do something larger and more sustainable, something that went beyond buying their products whenever we were coming. For seven months we were thinking about the project and came to the conclusion that ethical fashion was the niche to which we want to belong and in which we wanted to work. It is at that moment when we decided to come to live in Colombia with my husband, who is also my partner in Yumajai.

REC: How did the process begin?

TW: We arrived two years ago and we made a call for designers, we wanted to work with students to give them a job opportunity and do a co-creation process between the designers and the indigenous people, to see how to mix ancestral art with modern designs to expand the market.

From this process came the first collection and we assembled the web page. For the second collection I ventured alone to do the co-creation process of the designs with the natives. It was a very beautiful and successful process.

REC: How has this process of working with communities been like?

TW: It has been something very cool, because they become friends, family, it is an enriching process to share with them, eat with them, be with them and support them. We are from very different cultures and sadly many indigenous communities are accustomed to handouts, we must teach them that they have the ability and talent to work, to make an effort and build the life they want. It is a much deeper work than doing handicrafts, it is a process that transcends beyond what is tangible.

We are about to release the third collection, all this time it has been a challenging process, because we not only want to sell jewelry but contribute to the solution of problems in the communities, such as capacity building, we have identified some needs of many of them. Some are illiterate, they have only completed primary school, very few have a high school degree and none have a university degree.

REC: How does the business model work?

TW: We (my husband and I) made an investment in the company with our savings. The first year we made a high investment, what makes the business sustainable is the commercialization of handicrafts, which are sold through the online store and wholesales for merchants. In this second year, there is a greater amount of sales and we have a better flow. In addition, we give workshops on social innovation and that separates our sustainability.

Every three months, we visit the communities and develop a co-creation process, we make a prototype of the crafts that we are going to make in each collection, and then we make orders for what we need, they make the pieces and send them to us, we pay them for each piece produced, giving them a fair price that we have previously agreed with them.
With this model we are preventing them from going out to sell on the street with their children.

Each community is working from their homes. 5% of each piece we sell goes to a fund and with the proceeds we bring workshops to the communities in three lines: entrepreneurship, leadership and creativity.

REC: What is the commercialization process like?

TW: We take out several collections a year, according to the trends and we look for stores, networks, merchants, among others, that want to buy wholesale. In the same way we do retail sales in showrooms, every time we travel we promote the brand internationally.
We also market through our website, where we have an online store, we offer the products and interested people can buy them directly. The website is:

REC: Do you work only with the Embera-Chamí or have you become involved with other communities?

TW: No, at this moment we are working with four communities: Indigenous Embera-Chamí; Kamsá women, displaced from Putumayo who are currently in Nariño; We work with an Association of Rural Women Victims of Violence in Sandona, Nariño; and a Guambiana family from Silvia, Cauca.

What happens is that with the Embera-Chami community, there is a strong commitment because they are the ones we started with and they are also those who are in the most precarious and vulnerable conditions. There are two other communities with which we are starting to work.

REC: How many people benefit?

TW: We are directly benefiting 70 people in the 4 communities.

REC: When dealing with communities that are in vulnerable conditions has it been easy for them to understand the business model and the commercialization process?

TW: At the beginning there was distrust and they questioned why we sold so expensive, we explained the business model, the investments we had made and they understood. In this way a relationship of mutual respect is built and not one of hierarchies. If one goes well, we all do well.

REC: Has communication with the Embera-Chami been easy?

TW: We have worked with three families and we have managed to connect very well. But we have a spokesperson with whom we communicate frequently and it is he who speaks with us, this spokesman is the youngest and who has the best command of Spanish. However, in the approach that we do we have managed to communicate and understand women and children as well. With these families we identified that the young people had a motivation to start this venture with us because they could earn money and at the same time they are interested in preserving their ancestral knowledge.

REC: Do you advise these communities on the proper use of the profits they receive for the sale of the crafts?

TW: For now, the question of the money they receive allows them to live with what is necessary, but properly, in decent conditions. As larger orders are placed that generate more income, we plan to hold entrepreneurship, leadership and resource management workshops. For now, their dream is to have their own house, they are focused on that and it is a topic that is talked about openly. This is a process, we are young, we have only two years in, and we are going to grow to support them in these aspects.

REC: Apart from the work of co-creation in the designs, what other work do you do with these communities?

TW: We have done clown work with the children, with the indigenous communities it is not so easy to reach the children in the first instance, to reach them, the relationship is built first with the mother and when there is trust they let you closer to the children.

REC: What do you consider to be the most important achievements for Yumajai?

TW: The most visible achievement for me is that they are in their homes working, when I met them they were in the street, they came to Cali to sell things and they slept in the street with all their children, that shocked me and made me move, the idea that indigenous communities had to live in the city as beggars having so much talent. They no longer come to Cali to beg and that is an achievement for me. At the beginning, they asked for a lot of money, getting them to understand the importance of working to earn money and not getting money handouts is a model that was difficult to explain and make them understand, but now they have it clear and it is another great achievement.

And the permission to be able to approach the children of the community, is something that is given after a process, it is an approach that has to be done step by step, but it is very nice, now I will be the godmother of one of the children and that for me is very valuable.

REC: What do you dream about what happens with Yumajai?

TW: Our dream is to be able to work with all the indigenous communities of Colombia. There are 102, of which 46 are in danger of extinction. I dream of an online store, leader of the Latin American ethical fashion, known in the United States and Europe, I dream that we sell a lot. I want to be able to link many communities in Colombia and expand to other communities where we feel there is something that appeals to us and that there is talent that can be made known. The more money we have, the more training we can take to the communities. We can set an example to the world of fashion and have business models that can be worked on and that generate a positive social impact and can be sustainable in the future.

Be encouraged to contribute to the construction of a different future and opportunities! Learn more about this project.