Mavens | Emily Rathmanner of Made by Minga

“We’re on a mission to create a more connected and environmentally-conscious world”

One of the coolest things about The Basic Goods is having a platform that makes it easy to meet other like-minded people. So, it’s fitting to have Emily Rathmanner, globetrotting gal behind Made by Minga , as our second Maven to be featured this month.

Emily’s mission is inspiring to say the least and her brand is a testament to what true connection, heart and a desire to make a difference can do for the world. My biggest take away from this passion project turned-successful-small-biz is how committed Emily was to seeing her vision through carte blanche — which is something I’m sure so many others dream of doing.

So, before you continue reading, make sure to watch Emily’s own videos with more background on how she got started, here and here. Enjoy the interview!

Emily! I’m so happy to have you here on The Basic Goods as one of the featured woman entrepreneurs this February. As your videos already explained (if you scrolled past those, go back and watch!), you started Made by Minga after a trip to Ecuador. I’m so curious how you got the courage and moxie to start this? It seems like a big undertaking. 

Thank you for inviting me to be apart of your community and share my story. I love everything that The Basic Goods sends out to the world and I’m grateful to be apart of it. 

I decided to pursue a project like Minga after many years of traveling and exploring unique ways of living and making money while freelancing as a graphic designer. As I traveled, I was always drawn to artisan-made good–The colors, craft and quality were things I admired and sought after. I would often buy directly from artisans in places like Morocco, Indonesia or Peru to resell in the US, but soon realized that this relationship wasn’t very sustainable. I wanted to create something that was ongoing and could be built upon. I started to search for artisans who were looking for business help and was eventually led to Ecuador. Traveling has taught me how to trust your instincts and that gut feeling. That risks are worth taking and how important is it to share and connect. When I arrived to Ecuador and met my artisan partners for the first time, it just felt right. I knew we could create something beautiful together so we went for it and here we are. 

Fair wages, equality and respect of all living things are pillars of The Basic Goods —  both the site and in the real world. Sometimes it feels like “Fair Trade” is just a buzzword that doesn’t quite hit home. Yet this is more than a certification, it’s symbolic that communities are being treated well and that’s hugely important. It’s obvious that Made by Minga truly takes this to heart. How has this played into your experience while working with indigenous farmers, craftspeople and the greater community through your company? 

For me personally, I think the idea of fair-trade boils down to taking the time to get to know the people and craft you are working with to understand their wants and needs. I lived with my artisan partners for 6 weeks to understand their day to day way of life and being. We had ongoing conversations about how we wanted to work together and what we needed from one another. We gained each other trusts while developing a friendship. This led us to being comfortable to talk about topics like money in the open. They know I’m not here to make tons of money or exploit their ideas, I’m here because I want to work with them and promote their amazing craft. Our process for determining a fair payment is ongoing, but we started with group meetings to agree on prices and discuss things like cost of materials, how many hours they really spend on each step. This ensures that our project is sustainable for every person involved. We’re still having these conversations and currently looking into smarter business practices to lower our costs, like growing our own plant materials instead of buying from famers. 

As climate change begins to shape our world even more, how have you seen it impact the people in Ecuador and the crops that they use to create the bags? In your opinion, what can we do to help lessen the blow?

A huge problem Ecuador is encountering right now that impacts not only the communities where we are working, but also our planet’s environment, is mining. The mining means many things for this region and its inhabitants: Deforestation, water contamination, endangered species and the manipulation of locals. DECOIN, a grassroots organization in Intag fighting against the mining companies, states that, “Every year, Ecuador loses another 2.3 percent of its forests – it has the highest deforestation rate in South America.” 

This is so sad to see, especially since Ecuador has so much nutrient-rich, diverse forests perfect for growing food and that are home to a variety of unique plants and animals. When talking to my artisan partners about the mining, you can see the fear in their faces; it’s something they worry about daily, they say. They want to live in peace in their beautiful homes. 

Last year, when I first arrived to Intag to meet my artisan partners, I wasn’t aware of the mining. I didn’t realize that by offering an ethical, environmentally job, that I would be adding to a sustainable economy to fight against the country’s mining industry. Our project, along with other grassroots organizations, are offering these kind of jobs so locals don’t have to work for the mining companies. By promoting these type of projects and educating the public on what’s going on in Ecuador, we’re drawing attention to the mining. The more awareness we bring, the better we can fight.

Luckily, you’re in Ecuador this month. Can you give us some updates from the field? 

Yes! I’m here in mountains of Ecuador to kickstart our second year of production. We are planning new designs and products while catching up on our first year. My goals are to document the amazing cabuya-crafting process, learn more about the plant dyes we are using, and share as much as I can with the women. We are discussing what I learned from selling our bags in the US market, like which styles sold best or the questions customers are asking, and how we can improve our partnership. I feel at home in Ecuador and it reminds me of why I started this project in the first place. Check out Made by Minga on Instagram to see what we are up to and lots of behind the scenes updates (oh and also lots of great views, food and smiles!)

Finally, what is your vision for the future of Made by Minga and how we can be a part of it?! 

All of this is still so new for me. Owning my own business, managing the many aspects of it like production times, marketing, shipping, etc. all the while maintaining  our creative process and coming up with new ideas. My vision for Minga is constantly evolving, but one thing that will always remain certain is working with all-natural materials to promote ancient arts and the people who make them. I am looking into expanding our collection to not only include bags, but other products like hats, homewares and more. I’d love to partner with other artisan groups in other countries, but want to take my time and grow slowly. As we say, poco a poco 🙂

If you’re interested in learning more about our project, check out our website Made by Minga or follow our journey on Instagram. I’d be so grateful to have you there! And as always, if you’d like to support our small and growing brand and see what we’re all about, consider buying one of our bags handmade from cactus or tell a friend about our story, Made by Minga!

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Green living and lifestyle writer. Blogger at The Basic Goods. People person.

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