A graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, with a Master's Degree in Economic Development of Latin America, Alyssa moved to rural Guatemala in 2011. At the age of 25, she followed her dream to get more involved in bottom-up community development focused on indigenous cultural preservation. And for the past 8 years, that's what she's been focusing on.
Building upon her past non-profit experiences at KIVA, Pencils of Promise and extensive global travel, Alyssa recognized the hardships marginalized populations faced in their efforts to escape poverty. But it wasn't until a chance encounter on the streets with a Maya artisan named Maria in Panajachel, Guatemala that Alyssa was inspired to launch her own social enterprise. In August of 2012, after months of living in the highlands of rural Guatemala, Alyssa launched Hiptipico.
Alyssa takes a personal approach to running her company, living and working on the ground in Guatemala. Alyssa is dedicated to spending quality time with the artisans regularly and she knows about the depths of their lives.
“Living in Panajachel allows me to maintain truthful, longstanding and personal relationships with our artisan partners,” Alyssa says. “We communicate openly; finding ways to emphasize their abilities, talents, and culture to help them escape poverty by utilizing the strengths they already have. Our artisan partners are not just vendors or a business venture; they are my extended family.”
Furthermore, Alyssa reiterates that the artisans are not working "for" her, but she is working for them. "I started Hiptipico to help create dignified job opportunities for Maya artisans. They want to sell their goods and my job is to help find them clients." Using the platform of Hiptipico, ethical travel and sustainable sourcing allows her to show their products and share their genuine story.
Maintaining transparency and open lines of communication with the artisans and customers is the vision Alyssa had when starting Hiptipico. She shares real-time videos from Guatemala and updates her personal social media regularly allowing shoppers to feel the essence behind each product and get to know each artisan personally. She also made it her priority to hire local Guatemalans as full-time staff.
Taking it a step further, Alyssa and her local staff offer insight trips, sourcing tours and textile workshops out of their office in Panajachel. This is an opportunity to show transparency by inviting travelers and buyers to see their ethical operations and get to know the artisan partners firsthand. Known as Immersion Tours, these trips are ideal for solo travelers with a penchant for authentic experiences as well as groups looking for alternative spring break options.
A Letter From Our Founder:
When I founded Hiptipico, the inspiration came from one place. The women. In 2011, when I first arrived in Guatemala I was working for a non-profit focused on education. I conducted home visits and interviewed many mothers - mainly about their children's schooling. I always received the same response. 'I wish I could provide a better future for my children. If I had a source of income I would buy school supplies, new shoes and even healthier food for my kids.' Always thinking about the wellbeing of the next generation. Mentioning all of this to me while she's sitting there weaving an intricate and thoughtful design. Feeling like she has no way of contributing financially to the home - I immediately saw her value.
Rarely leaving their community and without much Spanish, many indigenous women in Guatemala maintain the home and weave in their spare time. With no access to buyers or a viable markets and eager to support the future of their children - emerged the idea for Hiptipico. An ethical fashion marketplace featuring fair trade artisanal goods.
But to be honest, it’s really hard for me to put into words exactly what “fair” is or even how to define the relationship I have with Guatemala and its people. And in my opinion, I don’t believe it’s my place to tell our artisan partners what is fair. That is why, since the inception of Hiptipico, pricing, design, production - everything has been a conversation. The artisans are the experts and I just want to support them and provide them with more resources. If I can give them more knowledge or value their products higher than they are asking, I will.
At Hiptipico, I always tell the women, that I work for them. Not the other way around. My job is to share their story and products with the world in order to get them more orders to help support their family. Simple.
And that's also why I even have a hard time describing to people what my job actually is. A regular day at work is a combination of monitoring production, quality control, design, marketing, account management - but more so it's about relationship building. It's about providing the families with a steady and consistent support system. Not only do I bring them clients and orders, but also I hug their children. And we laugh and gossip and have fun. And I also know about their struggles and most importantly I listen. And to be honest, I don’t just worry about if I am paying them a fair wage, I am worrying about topics that are just so beyond that.
We worry about corruption, landslides, access to healthcare, community violence and just making it until tomorrow.
Looking back to 2012, I attended our first tradeshow in NYC showcasing all handmade goods from our artisan partners in Guatemala. Unlike other ethical brands, I didn't go to a Fair Trade show or a Handmade show. I personally took artisan-level products straight to one of the best high fashion tradeshows in the industry.
Why? Hiptipico's curated collection features various artisans - all indigenous, all worthy of global recognition, all able to compete at the highest level. While Mayan artisans in Guatemala did not go to fashion design school they can compete with the best of the best in the fashion industry. Their techniques have been perfected across generations. I believe people, all people, deserve to have equal opportunities.
I am not a traveler, an adventurer, a blogger, a buyer, a stranger. This is my life. I have lived in rural Guatemala for over 8 years now and have since cultivated loyal relationships and deep friendships.
To me, ethical is more than a label. Ethical encompasses the way we conduct ourselves, each and every day. With a smile. With positive energy. With an effort to make the world a better place than how we found it.
Learn more about our founder Alyssa by following her journey on instagram @alyssaya ♡
Want an authentic immersions experience in Guatemala? Sign up to travel with her!