Central American women are gaining a foothold in eCommerce through a program aimed at selling handmade products online.
Handmade goods from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama are becoming more popular as the demand for non-mass produced items soar. Accordingly, markets with such demand include the EU and North America.
Until recently, it’s been hard for consumers to have access to authentic, handmade Central American products without visiting these countries. This is due to many skilled business owners not having an online presence, and focusing mostly on tourists.
Additionally, it’s even harder for Central American businesses to get exposure to American, EU, and Asian markets without relying solely on the tourist industry. Then in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic all but ended global tourism. As a result, consumers are traveling less which poses a major challenge for many of these Central American craft businesses.
Helping Central American, Women-Led businesses
However, cut back to early 2019, several parties, including the International Trade Centre (ITC), the European Union (EU), Women Business Enterprises (WBE), and the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration (SIECA) began working together. These parties banded together to help women-led enterprises in Central America sell their wares online, to a global market.
Initial research from ITC revealed that the workforce of the Central American craft industry was roughly 80% female, with only 25% of businesses owned by women. To address and shift this gender imbalance, ITC launched a project aimed at empowering Central American women to create an online market for their products by offering training and education in eCommerce.
The project, “Central America: Women and e-commerce“, gives women-led craft businesses in Central America the skills, training, and guidance needed to reach a global audience.
The organization reached out to Marmalead to help these female entrepreneurs develop an online foundation for their brand.
After an intense week of face-to-face and online learning, entrepreneurs learned the basics of eCommerce: how to develop a website, manage payments, and shipping and delivery.
Workshops focus on the basics of running an online business, as well as the finer details of selling handmade goods on marketplaces such as Amazon handmade, eBay, and Etsy. Marmalead is delighted to be one of the go-to tools used to help these female entrepreneurs make their products more visible on Etsy.
After the workshops, experts worked with each business in a one-on-one setting. These workshops help lay the foundation of their online store to create a long-term eCommerce strategy.
After the first six months of the project’s rollout, participating businesses saw:
- 48 online orders from the US, Switzerland, Puerto Rico, UK, Italy, Austria, Russia and Guatemala
- 15,403 visits of webshops, eBay and Etsy stores
- 855 products listed on eBay, Etsy and websites
- 3000 new Instagram followers
ITC also organized a more comprehensive session for advanced businesses. This helps educate them about measuring, testing, and learning from their past efforts. In turn, more advanced companies can share their findings with beginners.
The community then supports itself by bringing businesses closer together, which fosters the continued growth of the industry.
eBay, Etsy, PayPal, Payoneer, and DHL support the program with expert advice and offer preferential pricing for participants of the project. In December 2019, eBay launched the eBay Central America Hub, promoting over 45 businesses selling jewelry, textiles, ceramics, and leather goods.
The ITC program is still underway since December 2019 and as of October 2020:
- 11 stores optimized on Etsy using Marmalead
- 1,554 products listed online
- 96,544 online visits
- USD 21,917 in revenue
- 434 online orders
- 45 companies developed 202 new products for online sales thus far
- 117 Companies individually coached to develop new products for online sales
The Success of Nicahat
Maria Isabel Montoya, the founder of Nicugraguan brand NicaHat, uses Etsy to sell her products to the United States. Due to the established presence of NicaHat on Etsy, her business is kept alive during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Maria joined the program in early 2019. So when local sales started to suffer as a result of the pandemic, she applied her skills learned from the workshops. She analyzed how to export new markets and create high-quality, engaging content to help sell her products.
Maria says that her most significant achievement was the launch of her Etsy store in March 2020. She owes its rapid growth and success to the ITC program and the effectiveness of its partners like Marmalead.
“If I had not been prepared to sell online, I would have been forced to close the business; however, the training and tools provided by the project helped us cope,” says Maria.
Marmalead and ITC
Marmalead is honored to be part of the ITC project since its inception.
Richie and Gordon, the co-founders of Marmalead, say that “being part of the ITC project is close to all of our hearts here at Marmalead, and being able to help women-run businesses in other parts of the world is something that’s only more heart-warming.”
ITC is continuing its efforts to empower Central American women through eCommerce. The program is funded by the EU, implemented by the Central American Economic Integration (SIECA), and supported by Marmalead.