A graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, with a Master’s Degree in Economic Development of Latin America, Alyssa McGarry 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 rural Guatemala since 2011. 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, which can be found on the brand’s website.
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.
Where did the idea for Hiptipico come from?
I was working in creating access for education in rural Guatemala for a non-profit when the idea for Hiptipico came about. I was performing home interviews and teacher trainings in the mountains of rural Guatemala. I had conversations with women, mothers and teachers every day. When conducting these interviews it was always the same topic. If they had a steady source of income, they would buy their children new shoes. Or a new backpack. Or healthier food. During all of these interviews the women were home alone with children strapped to their back, sitting next to them or playing nearby. Also, they were weaving. A gorgeous intricate design. Listening to their desire to earn a living, hearing that they were confined to the house to raise the children, and watching them weave was my A-HA moment. The women had a talent, a skill and a way to make a living. They just needed access to markets.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
We have a small office on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Panajachel, Guatemala. The day starts with my rescue pup and I heading to the office. We are greeted by our local staff, street dogs looking for breakfast and all our neighbors. Saying “buenos dias” at least 10 times to everyone I pass is customary to start my day. The day includes a lot of product photography, website updates, social media posts and video production. 3 days a week we head to the local textile market or to our artisan’s home. No two days are the same and no day is boring!
How do you bring ideas to life?
I am all about creating without a filter. I love to try new things and just let the energy flow. My main focus is on education and social justice in all the projects I create. Storytelling with the intention of bringing about issues relating to human rights make creating more worthwhile!
What’s one trend that excites you?
The trend that ethical fashion is becoming more and more mainstream. I am so excited that more people care about where their products are coming from and how they are made!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I wake up and go. I do not waste time in getting my day started.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Do not compromise yourself for anyone.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
My life is not glamorous.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Listen to your gut. It sounds simple, but there is so much noise around us it’s hard to decipher what is your gut. Only you know and you have to tune in to it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Social Media. Harnessing the power of social media since 2012 has allowed us to reach our customers. As a direct to consumer business operating abroad, that was our only way to build a network. Directing people to our website through social media marketing is what keeps our business growing.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Human resources was one of the main struggles I had as a budding entrepreneur. Starting my company alone at 25 meant managing a team at the age 25. I will be honest and say that I was not a good manager and it took me years to learn how to be a leader. Through ups and downs I learned how to put my ego aside and lead through example. Taking the time to accept mistakes, learn from them and move on was crucial. I can now confidently say that I manage my staff well and create a positive work environment.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A repatriation program for people to connect with their ancestral land.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A massage. It is a very nurturing way for me to clear my head and relieve stress. Getting a massage helps me be more productive, focus better and create more clearly.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Planoly. It helps us to schedule all our social media posts, organize them as a team and execute marketing strategies.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Confessions of an Economic Hitman. It is a great narrative on consumerism, corporations and the global economy. Very relevant and an easy read for anyone interested in global issues or development economics.
What is your favorite quote?
Your life unfolds in proportion to your courage.
- Your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.
- Doing the right thing isn’t always easy.
- Leave the world a better place than how you found it.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.