Fashion with Purpose

Is the purpose of fashion as an industry simply to make beautiful things?

If there's one thing I've learned in the twelve years that I've been in this industry, it's this: People want to buy beautiful things and feel good about their purchase. People want to know how the products are made and where they come from. This is especially true in places where the alpaca apparel market is relatively new. It's no surprise that I frequently get asked how our products are made. The story of the people behind our products is one of the more exciting things about our business — so I love talking about it!

Origins and Origenes.

When I started my first business in the alpaca industry in 2003, called Orígenes, I knew I had fallen in love with the feel and qualities of alpaca fiber. I knew I was also obsessed with making beautiful products using this noble fiber. But as a trained Economist — I have a BA and a MA in Economics — I was looking for something else that would make me passionate about my work.

I soon discovered that most of the artisan women whom I was hiring for Orígenes on a full-time basis actually preferred to work from home, under their own terms and hours. This initially surprised me, because it meant that they were giving up many social benefits dictated by the Bolivian Labor Law. But then it hit me! Working from home as independent contractors meant they could maximize their well-being. They could set their own hours, take care of their children, and still earn a reasonable wage. 

Opportunities from Passions.
Knitting using hand-operated machines.
Knitting in hand-operated machines

At Orígenes, we helped organize our artisans into micro- enterprises and trained them in workshops to standardize production. We made sure the quality of every product would be the same across the different workshops. We worked to keep a constant flow of work for our artisans. That allowed them to apply for loans and buy their own hand-operated machines. We helped them become legal microenterprises, which opened them up to work with any company that required their services, and not just us!

More than 12 years have passed since then and we managed to consolidate a business model that works for our clients, for our artisans, and now not only for Orígenes but also for our U.S. company: Ella Ember.

On a personal level, this also works for me, because I found my real passion: empowering women to become financially independent, while giving them the opportunity to stay at home to take care of their children. This has been by far one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.

Challenges Yield Growth.
An Ella Ember artisan hand-weaving from home.

At a business level, it remains a challenge, because keeping our high quality standards means we need to train new artisans on a regular basis to ensure their production skills match the market requirements. But the wide variety of artisans we work with is what allows us to be versatile enough to produce apparel pieces using various production methods, from hand-weaving, hand- knitting, crocheting, and macramé, to knitting in hand-operated machines. This versatility means we can produce one-of-a-kind pieces for customers all over the world, with the quantity and quality demanded by the international market.

So next time you buy from us, know that you are supporting a cause that goes far beyond the clothes: Giving women in Bolivia the opportunity to be financially independent while working at home. At the same time, our company Ella Ember — located in Indiana — is committed to giving back to the communities where we operate. In the end, the idea of creating fashion with a purpose is what keeps us going. We hope you find our story interesting and that it inspires you to create your own purpose.


Ella Ember founder, Claudia Mendez, with some of her artisans.
Claudia Mendez (top row,far left) with some of her artisans.