Business Success Stories: Tierra de los Artesanos
|Name: Yvonne Mendoza, LMSW
Title: Business Owner, FounderCompany
Address: 720 A Telephone Rd. Houston, TX 77023
Company Phone: (281)-896-0296
Website URL: tierradelosartesanos.com
Number of Locations: Various Pop-up shops
Number of employees: 3
Street Markets are an evolving concept in Houston, where locals are able to create their own brands and sell, for the most part, homemade goods. These street markets take place in various parts of Houston from the Heights, to the East End, to Rice Village. Almost every weekend there is a new street market posted up with a variety of vendors ready to sell their goods. If you haven’t been to one, you should definitely try to check one out.
Creativity is everywhere at these street markets, and fortunately, I was able to meet with a local vendor that is frequently making appearances on the street market scene. Yvonne Mendoza is a social worker and a proud graduate of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She is also the founder and owner of Tierra de los Artesanos, which translates to Land of the Artisans. She travels to small towns in Mexico where she’s formed multiple partnerships with people from Yucatan, and Chiapas. Her pop up shop serves as a marketplace where Mexican goods can be bought and sold. As a Mexican American and local Houstonian, I quickly acknowledged this concept and became interested in Yvonne’s story. So I invited her out for coffee to interview her on Tierra de los Artesanos to gain more insight of her business and the awareness her pop up shop is creating in the community.
Tell me a little about your business.
“There are two main components to my business, a local and an international mission.
The local mission focuses on providing Houston Mexican-immigrants the ability to continue to create handcrafted goods here, in Houston. Paying them a fair wage for each item handcrafted. We are finding people in Houston who are Mexican immigrants, that have the same set of skills that they had in Mexico, such as embroidery work, pottery making, and ceramics to name a few. Helping them financially, by building on their art with our platform is the main goal that we strive for. We want them to be able to express themselves, their culture, and traditions in the U.S. without exploiting them.
The international mission supports artisans in Mexico by purchasing fair-trade goods, paying each artisan more than the price of their items to promote a higher quality of life. I work closely with each artisan to establish a banking account and way of communication to maintain a long distant relationship. Everything Tierra de los Artesanos carries contains the name of the artisan with their story attached to it. We are the avenue for them, all the credit goes to them and their artwork. We help them grow so they can find financial stability in Mexico. All in all, paying the artisans a fair price for their craft is what we believe in, it’s what Tierra de Los Artesanos is all about.”
Why did you start Tierra de los Artesanos?
“It was during graduate school where I began to learn about the exploitation and workplace injustice for the Latino community here in Houston. I was learning the effects of migration and the
trauma that’s associated with it. I wanted to find a way to alleviate both of those things. So I took the economic empowerment model and began to form Tierra de los Artesanos. I wanted to support Mexican artisans in Mexico so that they are able to live fulfilled lives in their country as well as work with the Latino communities here in Houston to create a workplace where they would be paid a fair wage for their work.”
What do you think was the most challenging aspect of starting your business?
“Although I am working for someone as a social worker right now, inevitably I aspire to make this my fulltime job. The concept of coming up with a small business is easy, especially if you’re passionate about it, but it’s hard when you’re leaving school with debt. Lack of funds was probably the most challenging thing for me. I was a graduate student on graduate money. I couldn’t build on my dreams or pursue my goals as efficiently as I’d hope because of the lack of funds. So getting a full-time job to keep this dream alive is probably one of the most challenging things I’ve had to balance.”
What keeps you motivated to continue your business?
“I always wake up with the same persistent voice in my head saying, ‘What if this actually works? What if instead of sustaining 3 artisans, we end up sustaining 300 in Mexico. Or, what if instead of supporting 4 local women we are able to support 400 local women in Houston?’ Those thoughts are always going through my head, they keep me motivated and driven. My family is also very supportive of my dream, that’s another huge part of what keeps me motivated to keep Tierra de los Artesanos alive.”
How long did it take you to start seeing a return on your initial investment in your company?
“That’s a good question… At times it feels like I’m still waiting, but then again we are growing, we recently were able to hire another employee onto our team. My mother is a business owner, and she’s given me the advice to stick with a business plan for at least three years. This is our one-and-a-half mark, we’re still very new to the Houston pop-up market scene so I’m looking forward to making that three-year mark to see the overall return on my investment.
What was your greatest fear when you started your business, and how did you overcome it?
“‘What if I don’t sell anything? Is this going to fail? Are we going to make a return on our investment?’”, I still wrestle with those questions at every pop-up shop market that I go to. At these pop-up markets, owners only have a limited time to make their presence known, to talk about their cause and why they’re doing what they’re doing. People are constantly walking by our tent and either they’re going to be interested or not. So you know getting people to stop, listen, and interact with us is definitely hard and can be intimidating. We’ve overcome that fear by seeing growth, it’s not like we’re stagnant, we constantly get good feedback on our work and our cause which is why we are still able to continue attending these markets. You also have to rely on your good circle of friends as well as your family for encouragement.”
Describe a typical day for you at your business.
“On a daily basis, once I leave my full-time job I get home around 3:30 pm and begin to work on Tierra. I check inventory, package any
items that have been ordered online and also check social media… a lot! I brainstorm daily with my PR specialist, Marlen Mendoza, on how we can expand Tierra de los Artesanos.”
On a Market day, we get up bright and early! We make sure to have a good breakfast with plenty of coffee, then we begin to pack the car. We load the car with our tent, chairs, signs, and products. We drive to the Market check-in with the market organizer and start setting up. The set-up is probably the most tedious part for us, we begin to decorate and arrange the table, it takes us about an hour. Once the market is in full swing we get excited to meet new customers and tell them about Tierra’s story. Customers always comment, “It’s so bright over here”, and it is, Mexico’s colors and vibrancy definitely reflect at our table. We love seeing repeat customers buying more of our merchandise for themselves or buying our products as gifts for their loved ones. One of the great
things about markets is making friends with other business owners. They have their own causes and reasonings for starting their pop-up shop. They’re hustling and working hard to reach their own goals. You can tell that they’re passionate about what they do, I admire and respect that so very much.”
Now I like to ask a fun question once in awhile so, if you weren’t a business owner what would you be and why?
“Haha, I think I would most likely be a dancer, just because it requires the same drive as owning a business. You have to put in the hours, practice a lot,
perform and repeat! In a way, it sounds like putting together a pop-up market. From the time I was 6 years old until graduating high school, I danced, I love it! You’ve got to be able to let out your stress somehow. I used to tap dance,
perform ballet, and most recently learned Ballet Folklorico. My hip hop days weren’t that great so we’ll leave that out.”
What do you think is the best thing about being a business owner?
“It’s really a double-edged sword. Nobody stops you, no one manages you, no one is able to tell you no. I stop me, and there’s so much freedom in that. I am able to say ‘Yes let’s try something new or different,’ and it only affects my business. I reap those benefits or consequences, and that helps me to be more creative and a much more critical thinker. When someone is putting limitations on you, you can’t be as free with your ideas as you’d like to be.”
What is the single most important piece of advice you would give someone starting a business?
“If you see that there is a problem and you have a passion for that problem, then find a solution and let your business be that solution. In social work, I was constantly exposed to the harsh realities of society and I wanted to find a solution. I figured, surely there is strength in all of this and in the people. There has to be a solution, and even if there’s a small one in Houston, I want to build on that and run with it full-force.”
Do you own a successful business that should be featured in Success Stories? Email L’oreal Hunter at lhunter@TheGreensheet.com and tell her about your business.
Tierra de los Artesanos Social Media
All photography is accredited to Marlen Mendoza.