Unique Assignment Expands Volunteers’ Expertise to the Jewelry-Making Business in Ecuador
Cooperativa de Producción Artesanal Orfebres Unidos Chordeleg, otherwise referred to as Union de Joyeros Chordeleg (Chordeleg Union of Jewelers), was established in 2017 with the goal of increasing the amounts of jewelry sold and improving the quality of products. The co-op is located in the Chordeleg canton (administrative division), in which half of the population is dedicated to manufacturing artisan handicrafts, especially gold and silver filigree jewelry. Therefore, the jewelry industry is very competitive, and its associates need to stand out in order to find adequate sales channels. The male members of the co-op are more active in the manufacturing of jewelry, while their female counterparts are in charge of sales and finding new clients in Chordeleg, Cuenca and other cities.
The co-op’s main activities are jewelry design, manufacturing and retail. The artisan jewelry they produce includes rings, earrings and necklaces, as well as crowns and ornaments commissioned by clients. These jewelry pieces are made primarily from silver with stones, such as zircons. The co-op finds inspiration in both the culture of the indigenous group in the area, the Cañari, and the elements to create their jewelry. These elements include nature, the sky, stars, the connection with Mother Earth ("Pachamama"), the Father Sun ("Inti") and water, and they represent the Andean cosmovision (or worldview). The co-op's products are sold mostly to middlemen, as well as to local jewelry shops in Chordeleg and Cuenca.
The jewelers were having a hard time finding inspiration for the design and creation of their jewelry. Many of the jewelers’ designs were downloaded and redrawn to adapt to their manufacturing process. Since they have many competitors, the market is oversaturated, with the same designs appearing in local stores. With the help of the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) CLUSA’s USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer Program, volunteer Paula Harvey set out on a virtual assignment to assist the jewelers in generating new ideas, fashion trends and original designs that would allow them to stand out from their competitors. They hope to have original pieces to sell directly to their clients and stop selling to middlemen.
Harvey has worked in jewelry and accessory design for almost 30 years for large American retailers and as an independent executive design consultant. She has broad experience in jewelry concept and design, marketing, fashion trends, brand creation and new business development. By the end of the assignment, training participants knew how to design original jewelry that provide product differentiation and leads to more competition in the market. She also helped jewelers tap into their creativity to identify adequate raw materials. Harvey supported the co-op to diversify their Cañari culture-inspired jewelry, advising jewelers to include designs not only for women but also for men and adding new materials, such as wood and leather. During the assignment, Harvey also worked with co-op members to fuse international fashion trends with Cañari culture to make their designs more original and stand out from the rest.
“Paula opened our eyes to other types of jewelry and to the importance of creating collections,” said Victor Jara, jeweler and president of Union de Joyeros Chordeleg. “It was interesting to know that there is demand for jewelry for men and other trends in the international market, as well as knowing how the interaction between the jeweler and the clients should be and what the international consumer demands.”
This flexible assignment was unique and different from the main Farmer-to-Farmer activities within the country. In Ecuador, the main value chains supported by Farmer-to-Farmer are coffee and cacao. This assignment was carried out because the jewelers have a high potential in the industry. Additionally, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ecuador asked the program directly to help them within their "Creciendo con su Negocio" ("Growing with Your Business") program, which they implement in partnership with the Jardin Azuayo Savings and Credit Cooperative (COACJA). This program aims to improve the competitiveness of small and medium enterprises, provide access to larger markets, establish long-term relationships with their clients and increase revenues that will be better distributed to beneficiaries throughout the value chain. UNDP Ecuador provides support in legalization, governance, marketing, quality management, financial management, commercialization and gender-related issues.
The co-op, like many businesses around the world, has been struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Co-op members have been alternating their jewelry activities with agriculture activities to provide additional income to their families. Although co-op members felt unmotivated at the start of the pandemic, Jara said that they are now hopeful for the future, thanks to the support of the Farmer-to-Farmer Program and other partners. Co-op members were reenergized following Harvey’s assignment, and they are looking forward to making progress in their businesses, despite the challenges this year threw at them. In September, the Union de Joyeros Chordeleg wrapped up a second Farmer-to-Farmer assignment with volunteers Alston Taggart and Kevin Sample of Studio Red Design, a woman-owned graphic design firm. Taggart and Sample worked with the co-op to create a logo for their brand, “Cántaro,” and taught members to create a digital catalog that members can distribute to clients via email and social media channels. COACJA and the local government run an online sales platform that the co-op plans to join in order to sell their products to a larger, international market. The association members are also working on the introduction of new products, such as home goods, photo frames for special events and glasses frames with filigree.
NCBA CLUSA’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program currently offers virtual assignments in Ecuador and Peru, with future opportunities in Cambodia and Honduras. To check open volunteer positions, visit NCBA CLUSA’s volunteer recruitment page. In-person assignments for US-based volunteers will resume once it is safe to travel internationally.