VOZ: From Chile, Bringing ‘Triple E’ Fashion and Connecting BoP Artisans With Luxury Markets
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in NextBillion en Espanol. The Southern Chile company VOZ, “voice” in Spanish, connects indigenous artisans with fashion industry.
She looks Latina and has an undeniable gringo accent, even though she is in tune with the messy Chilean way of speaking, and sometimes lets out a “cachai” (slang for “Do you understand?”) making her more familiar. She sits down at my side at lunch with the local board of First Tuesday Temuco, thanks to the speakers of the “Embark Young” event, in which five people under 35 will tell 300 people “how they did it.” Jasmine Aarons, CEO of Voz, is one of them.
As I listen to her, Aarons sounds like a vital and determined young woman, who seems to say ‘with help or without help, we would do the same.’ After a couple of questions, it is clear that standing before me is a social entrepreneur with a bright future and remarkable strength. I am grateful that this young product designer, who graduated from Stanford, trained in innovation, cultural anthropology and art, has chosen the Araucanía Region of Chile to launch VOZ, a start-up that seeks to promote fair trade in luxury ethnic fashion, based on collaborative, environmentally-friendly design and production methods.
“We arrived in 2009, made contacts with organizations that support the work of Mapuche women in La Araucania and decided to settle in the rural heart to work collaboratively with groups of women to build together a sustainable alternative with respect to fashion, fair trade, environmental protection and good design,” she says to me.
Hector Jorquera: I once heard a prominent professor and international consultant say that Mapuche products couldn’t succeed in European markets, for example, because it wasn’t a well-known culture in the world and because in general their design couldn’t compete with other, more developed ones. Why do you think your model can contradict that opinion?
Jasmine Aarons: The Mapuche culture is probably less known than others in the world and it is a factor that we work with and doesn’t bother us. What we feel is needed is to offer to millions of clients eager for high-quality ethnic design products that reflect an aesthetic, which, beyond functionality, fits in with their conscious, sophisticated and ethical lifestyle. It’s about supporting design, which women already do, and taking it to the next level with new techniques and better production to conquer these expanding niche markets.
HJ: Do you propose a “triple E” revolution in free trade? Ethnic fashion with new aesthetics and above all, ethical production and commercialization?
JA: I know that it is possible, by means of co-creation and collaborative work, to get high-quality, high-value designs for the client and good benefits for the Mapuche women and for VOZ. We don’t want to be intermediaries, buying crafts at a low price and selling at a high price with big profits to higher income segments. No. We want more to be sold in luxury markets for good design, the women to charge more for their products and for us to earn what is fair for our technological and social support that makes this possible.
HJ: What difficulties did you find in the way that women in Mapuche communities produce and market their products, and how does VOZ overcome them?
JA: There are two areas in which VOZ creates value: access to luxury markets and support for production of luxury items for these markets. When we talk about production, we aren’t just talking about material processes or technologies. Any form of production is primarily a way to organize, coexist and to relate. This is where the Mapuche culture has its advantages because collaboration and exchange, care for nature and connecting with it, are central elements of their way of being. So what we do is educate in new design techniques as much as we do manufacturing, preserving tradition and combining aesthetics. They use 100 percent natural and ecologically sourced materials.
We said goodbye after lunch. For the afternoon, already on the First Tuesday stage, the attendees will learn about the “Triple E” Revolution led by Jasmine, so that thousands of Latin American women may have a strong and clear VOZ heard in the sophisticated world of luxury.