I’m Chantale De Breceda, the founder of LUZ Collection. I am originally from Canada, Vancouver Island, to be precise. I’m an indigenous person from the Cree Nation on my Mother’s side.
I started LUZ Collection in 2013 when I started selling some handmade textiles from Mexico at my store, YES, in Los Angeles. Later I started designing textile and leather items and having them made by the artisans I was working with and at the same time I started making these items available to other stores. I got a booth at a trade show and things took off right away. Eventually my store closed and LUZ Collection became my full-time job.
Working in Mexico has been a dream come true, I make a living by travelling, like a constant adventure, and I’ve gained entry to places and communities that I feel privileged to experience firsthand. I work primarily with Maya people in the state of Chiapas and Zapotec people in Oaxaca but also with Wixárika people in Nayarit and some silversmiths and weavers in Guerrero.
I am often asked if this is a Fair Trade business and no, it is not certified Fair Trade. Fair Trade certification is costly to get and to maintain and I would prefer to use that money to offer more favorable agreements with our suppliers. We practice direct trade in most cases, meaning payments go directly to the artisan and not to an intermediary. When it is necessary to work with an intermediary, we see it as an opportunity to support another family and see no reason that they should not be able to earn a living from the hard work that they do, coordinating shipments of products from multiple artisans in remote communities. I appreciate that our customers are savvy about fair trade practices and want to be sure that their purchase is supporting traditional craft in indigenous communities using an ethical and environmentally sustainable model. I applaud your good taste and admirable values.
I sometimes think this question is asked with the assumption that our business model is inherently exploitative. It’s easy to see why someone might think this if they have ever visited Mexico. You can easily find items that are similar to ours for a fraction of the price that we advertise. It seems logical to conclude that the retail price that you see on our website minus the original cost of the item is our profit. However, this could not be further from the truth. There are so many expenses involved in getting that item from the artisan to you, the consumer, including travel, shipping and office overhead. The cost for our booth at that very first trade show was $3000 US! Now we need an even bigger booth to accommodate all the products we carry and our booth costs more than double that for a three day trade show!
We participate in these shows in order to connect with retailers so we can get these items into stores. This benefits not only us and the retailer but also provides a steadier income stream to the artisans who make the goods as it allows us entry to the wholesale market, so this is a necessary expense along with travel for myself and my assistant to shows in New York and other cities.
In addition to those expenses there are my assistant’s wages, travel to Mexico for both of us, including flights, accommodations, meals, and ground transportation.
Other business expenses include shipping from Mexico to the US for which we must also pay a customs broker in Mexico and a customs broker in the US in addition to paying a trucking company or FedEx.
We have business licenses in both Mexico and the US and so we pay taxes in both countries as well and pay for accounting and book keeping services in both countries.
Once the products arrive in the US they are unloaded at our office, which luckily we pay a very fair rent for and of course we pay utilities, city business taxes and the costs of equipment like computers and printer ink.
In addition to this there are expenses associated with maintaining a website, we pay fees to Shopify and services associated with them, we pay a photographer for some of our photographs and we pay fees to credit card processors.
And then, of course, I pay myself. My annual income puts me in one of the lowest income brackets for Los Angeles county. I am lucky to have cheap rent on my one bedroom apartment for now and no children, so my needs are small, I had a small amount of savings until I used it to pay suppliers at the beginning of the pandemic. I currently have no health insurance and no savings but I do own my car.
So, as you can see from this information, I am not getting rich by running this business, in fact I could probably make more money if I haggled over prices with suppliers, but I am comfortable the way I am and want the people we work with to also be comfortable.
I harbour no illusions that I am going to change the world with this business but I want to work in a way that is aligned with my values and respects the artisans who make the products and others who help us to get these goods to you.
In 2021 our goal is to set up a system to provide micro-financing, loans or advances of up to $1000 US for our suppliers to make improvements to their operations. These loans will be repaid with products rather than with cash, with no interest or other fees.
From this same funding we will offer emergency medical assistance to our suppliers and their immediate families, in amounts of up to $500 US. Eventually we hope to expand this to pay for schooling for the children of our suppliers.
Some of the artisans we work with reside within the Autonomous Zapatista or EZLN communities of Chiapas and have access to community health and education initiatives, therefore we would like to make financial contributions directly to those efforts.