My SOL Textiles business features a line of beautiful and colorful purses and handbags made in Guatemala by a highly skilled craftsman. My bags come in a variety of styles, but the signature quality of each is that the colors and designs are woven into a rich tapestry. I always imagine that tapestries speak to the heart in a universal language because the patterns and colors come together in aharmony that illustrates the hundreds of circumstances that, like the threads in one of my bags, are woven together to create the unique kaleidoscope of what someone referred to as our “deeply intertwingled” lives.
I return much of the profits from my business to needy residents of Guatemala. Therefore, acquiring a beautiful SOL Textiles handbag becomes a purchase with a purpose. Customers appreciate the fact that they are buying something so they can give back something and make a difference in the world. The philanthropic context isn’t necessary, however, because the bags sell themselves. Each transaction is a feel good purchase that warms the buyer’s heart.
SOL in the name refers to the sun and to its life energy that connects usall. Plus, it resonates with the word “soul,” which is appropriate because my business is “soulful” in the most literal meaning of the word. The name is also the last syllable of my name. The first syllable, “mari” in my name refers to the sea.
My sun and sea themed logo came to me in a moment of inspiration. Even though I’m no artist, the image suddenly flashed into my mind with crystal clarity. As I began to sketch it on a napkin in full detail, my fingers seemed to move of their own accord. In spite of my lack of artistic training and skill, I created on that napkin the exact unedited graphic that my logo uses today. Only when finished did I realize that the logo design incorporated the sea and the sun, which captured the two parts of my name.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
My parents, who are immigrants from Guatemala, raised me in the language and culture of the country but I never visited Guatemala myself until October 2016 when I went there on a family vacation with my husband Shawn and our two children. Three life-transforming things happened during the ten days we were there. One of them occurred at Tikal, which is an ancient Mayan citadel located in a Guatemala rainforest. I am a devout practitioner of yoga and meditation. While standing before Tikal’s majestic 230-foot high Mundo Perdido pyramid, I had a moment of intense inspiration; something lit in my heart and I felt I was on some mission.
A second important part of those days in Guatemala included a number of interactions I had with mothers and children. Because I spoke their language, I was able to talk with them about their lives and was moved by their struggles and by the depths of poverty they and their children were enduring.
The third important part of that trip was my continual attraction to gorgeous handcrafted bags that seemed to be for sale everywhere. The bags had a distinct quality because each of them included a tapestry that was woven into the fabric of the bag. I felt a spiritual-like connection to the tapestry and ended up purchasing five bags.
Back in the States, my Guatemala handbags became the focus of attention by women everywhere I went. They wanted to know where I got them and how they could get one for themselves. Something clicked in my mind and I suddenly recognized an important marketing niche. During one meditation it came to me that I could start a business by importing these unique handcrafted Guatemala handbags, selling them in the States, and then donating the proceeds to enrich the lives of those desperate Guatemala children.
Meditation had provided the “what” but not the “how.” So I went to work and within a week following my return I had sold those five bags. By the end of the month I had registered my Sol Textiles business and was on a plane back to Guatemala. It was during the Thanksgiving break. I left on a red-eye flight Friday night after class, returned on Sunday night, and was back in the classroom Monday morning.
My purpose in Guatemala was to discover an artist with whom I could work, not exploiting him, but honoring trade business practices with the purpose of being fair to all concerned. On my first day, I discovered Sergio Cun Yax who made handcrafted leather handbags in a half-dozen styles using tapestry purchased from indigenous women in the open markets.
I was drawn to Sergio’s work. I loved the quality of the leather he used and the positive energies that his handbags gave off. I purchased one of his bags and took it apart that night to inspect the craftsmanship. I was delighted by what I saw, so took the pieces back to Sergio the next day. His shock at what I had done to his beautiful bag was erased when I placed an order for two dozen more at a price that was very favorable to him as the seller. Sergio turned out to be a single dad with a three-year-old son, but was the sole support of his extended family. Sergio was actually delighted and said, “Now I can send my kids to school, buy some meat for dinner tonight, and pay for groceries for a month.”
Sergio is the sole artist in his business and can make two bags a day. So now I’m purchasing two-dozen bags a month from him, which I market through home Meditation had provided the “what” but not the “how.” So I went to work and within a week following my return I had sold those five bags. parties, Facebook, Instagram, the Press, and obviously 110°Magazine. Word of mouth is also becoming an increasingly strong marketing resource.
My profit on each bag goes to sponsoring 80 children, some of whom are residents at local dumps. They also provide support for two schools in Guatemala where the funds are divided between purchasing supplies and providing the hot lunches or breakfasts that are the only real meals some of the children get. Accountability for the funds is no problem, because on each trip I pop into the schools with the donation, spend some time with the teachers and the students, and am able to see exactly how the money is being spent.
I have been teaching kindergarten in the Brentwood Union School District for thepast 15 years. I started at Garin and have spent the last 12 years at Marsh Creek Elementary.
My parents both emigrated from Guatemala in the 50s and I was born and raised in San Francisco, which was a celebration of diversity. My young life was enveloped in the culture of Guatemala. Through language, decorations, cuisine, customs, and cultural idioms my parents preserved a segment of authentic Guatemala culture. As a result, during my early years I was more at ease with attitudes, beliefs, and social nuances native to Guatemala than I was to the patterns of life taking place in the streets in front of my house.
My parents never learned to speak English fluently and never spoke it at home. As a result, Spanish was my mother tongue and I only picked up English from the local neighborhood kids. I assimilated the language and behaviors of my Richmond District neighborhood, but my heart felt drawn to the society in which I had been raised and to the country that seemed my rightful homeland, even though I had never visited it. A growing disconnect began to take place between my inner life and the social environment I was moving in. When I entered college my passion for objects, people, and stories of Guatemala only increased. As I entered adulthood, a
part of me seemed culturally and personally rooted in the land where my forebears were born, lived, and died.
Even as a young person, I felt that I should find a career that would enable me to do something to make the world a better place. I developed a growing conviction that my genuine calling in life was to be a bilingual teacher where I could channel the confusions and negative energies from my mixed-ethnic background into a positive spiritual force one that could help children understand and overcome the cultural differences that had given me so many problems when I was their age.
My ambition to motivate children to excellence in a loving and patient learning environment didn’t come from the example of the nuns at my Saint Thomas Apostle School. They were mean and none of them looked like me. The sense of being an outsider might have brought me down and made me feel powerless, but as I began thinking about what I wanted to do, I realized I hoped to break the patterns that were creating these dark energies and to make a difference in the world. I wanted to be for other kids what nobody had ever been for me. I would provide the mentoring example of how a classroom could become the resource that I now strive to create —motivating kids from underserved backgrounds to follow their passions and become, for example, an astronaut working out the trajectories to a space station rendezvous rather than spending their lives pushing a lawnmower as an employee of a landscaping company.
I eventually concluded that I would be that kind of change-agent for kids while they are in kindergarten because that’s where seeds are planted and where dreams and self-images began to develop in my own life.
Following graduation from Washington High, I enrolled in San Francisco State and earned a degree in Liberal Studies. I was an excellent student; graduated with honors. The Latina Foundation grants only three scholarships a year, but they awarded me one in recognition of my ambition to make a difference. While working as a substitute teacher and caring for my two children, I secured my teaching credentials from Chapman University.
Shawn Fuson and I met as freshmen in high school. We were in homeroom together. Since my maiden name was Guadagno and we were seated alphabetically the two of us were together from the beginning. We also had a lot of classes together so he became a familiar and comforting presence during those difficult years. We began hanging out together during the summer, enjoying easy conversations, and sharing a love for the City and in particular for the ocean and Golden Gate Park.
For the next three years we continued to see each other at football games, school functions, and parties. I was too goal oriented to consider romance, and Shawn was encouraging and respectful of my boundaries.
During our senior year our relationship began to transition into something deeper. I was becoming apprehensive about my approaching adulthood and began looking for someone who would have my back as I would try to accommodate to the changes that were coming. It seemed only natural to choose Shawn as a life partner. He obviously liked the idea and we began dating seriously. One night we drove up to Twin Peaks to watch the sunset. As we sat there in the car, I was shocked and pleased when Shawn spontaneously pulled an engagement ring out of his jacket pocket. We were engaged for a year or so and were married August 1996.
We have two beautiful children. Michael is 21 studying Criminal Justice at Cal State East Bay; Katie is 18 and a freshman at San Francisco State University. They are doing great! The children and I have an amazing relationship that amounts to a bond. We can talk about anything. They are big fans —helping me with media for my business and connecting me in appropriate ways with the modern generation of shoppers.
SOL Textiles has been doing business for less than two years and from the beginning I’ve been taking this one step at a time. At every point, I begin without knowing what I’m actually doing. However,I’m a quick learner, so I figure things out as I go along. The main thing is that SOL Textiles isn’t a job or a business. It is my passion! It is my life!
Someone recently asked me about my five-year business plan. Five months would be too long for me. I’m simply following a dream and looking forward to where the dream might take me next.
Photos By Ron Essex