While attending university, Hannah King was taught a crucial business principle that would impact her life: rather than creating a product or business and then looking for customers, you need to identify a problem or need first, and design your product or business to solve it.
Being Guatemalan-American and visiting the small villages of Guatemala during her school breaks opened her eyes to an issue that the indigenous people faced. Their traditional artwork and handmade products were beautiful and unique, but when tourism slowed, they struggled to make sales.
Hannah recognized the need for a platform for these artists, similar to what U.S. artisans have to promote their products online. Thus, after winning a business competition from her school which gave her start-up funds, her business Woven Futures was born.
In this episode, Hannah shares the background of her incredible entrepreneurial journey and gives insight to other young entrepreneurs looking to get their start.
How can you meet a need or fill a gap in your community through your business?
(01:39) Personal experience and identifying a need started Hannah on her entrepreneurial journey
(04:00) How Hannah’s business was born
(06:22) The surprising benefit to naivete!
(07:01) Availability of resources and mentors in university
(08:29) Winning start-up funding through a university business competition
(09:32) Next steps in launching Woven Futures
(10:13) Taking time to connect with artisans and suppliers and gain trust
(13:29) Where Hanna’s business is today
(14:17) Differences in working with large factories vs. local artisans
Hannah King is the founder of Woven Futures, an ethical fashion company with a mission of preserving Latin American Textiles and Indigenous artisan techniques through modern and sustainable fashion.
She began Woven while in college, after she spent the summer in her home country of Guatemala. There she met several indigenous artisans that made incredible textile pieces, but struggled to sell them.
As a Guatemalan-American, Hannah knew that she had the unique ability to unite both cultures through something as universal as fashion.
Woven Futures now employs over 60 artisans in Guatemala and make 100% organic, plant-based, and up-cycled women’s fashion & accessories that not only help preserve cultures but also empower the people who make them. Hannah has since quit her full-time job to go full time on her business and continue to expand Woven Future’s mission.
About Your Host:
Jacinta Gandy is passionate about small business and a champion of women’s entrepreneurship. She’s the founder of Social Circle, a branding and marketing agency that helps service based solopreneurs turn their passions into profitable businesses.
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Jacinta Gandy 00:02
Welcome to Hustle with Purpose, the show that encourages us to leave the busy life behind and focus our time and energy on the things that fuel our passion and align with our purpose. I’m your host Jacinta Gandy, let’s get to it. Today I am joined by Hannah King. She is the founder of Woven Futures, an ethical fashion company with a mission of preserving Latin American textiles and indigenous artists and techniques through modern and sustainable fashion. Welcome to the show, Hannah.
Hannah King 00:36
Thank you for having me.
Jacinta Gandy 00:38
Yes, I am so excited to have you here. I believe we met on Instagram, like a couple months ago, but I love it when that happens. Um, and you know, I was just immediately like, drawn in by like your beautiful, beautiful products and the imagery on your Instagram and everything. And I’m super, super excited today to talk to you more about how you started woven futures. And then I think more importantly, our listeners are going to be really excited to hear like how you are able to get funding and scan woven futures to what it is today.
Hannah King 01:15
Yes, definitely. I’m looking forward to Instagram is great. Honestly, I have so many Instagram friends now that I don’t think I would have ever met if it weren’t for the platform. So there’s it’s a pro of social media.
Jacinta Gandy 01:28
Yeah, I completely agree. Yeah. So do you want to just kick it off by telling everyone sort of what your journey was? And how Woven Futures was born?
Hannah King 01:39
Yeah, I’m happy to so well, when futures began about three years ago, I was actually in college when I started. And it’s funny because I know some people that start businesses, they say that they you know, they always had a dream of doing something, you know, entrepreneurial. When I was growing up, I never thought of myself running a business much less fashion.
My sister was actually the like diva of the family. And so I thought I wanted to teach and I was doing an internship in Guatemala, which is my home country. And so I was in Guatemala doing that internship. But on the weekends, I would go to all the markets. And growing up in Guatemala, that was probably one of my favorite things to do is to go it’s almost like a kid in a candy shop.
You know, there’s so many colors, so many different textiles and products. And I would buy these bags, you know, coin purses, little knickknacks to bring back to the US to my friend’s family, my dad’s American, and my mom’s Guatemalan. So I kind of went back and forth.
And so I always grew up around the culture. But it wasn’t until that summer, when you know, I was a little older, I was studying international fairs. So I started realizing that even the artisans made these incredibly detailed and beautiful products, they really struggled to sell them, you know, for a variety of different reasons.
But when tourism was low, they didn’t have any other outlets to sell. So they were dependent on tourism. And then indigenous population in Guatemala, which are the artisans of the country. They also face a lot of discrimination throughout the years. And so they didn’t have the resources that you know, we do in America to build your online business and get the word out and market it.
And, you know, seeing these beautiful dogs, I knew, I knew that this bohemian style did so well in the US. And so I remember I only had like maybe $70 left, because it was the end of summer. And I bought a few bags, my cousin, she told me, she said, Hannah, I can help you on the ground.
And you know, it was just an idea on how to help these artisans. It wasn’t, you know, this big vision that I had, it was really trying to solve that problem that I saw. And so that’s how we really began. But, you know, long story short, I came back, I didn’t know what to do with this little box of textiles that I had under my bed.
And I found out about a startup competition at my university. And that’s when I really thought you know, maybe I can do something with this. And so I began that competition. And I actually really learned a lot about like a business model and, you know, needing to validate my product and needing to do customer research.
I started selling at farmer’s markets and really talking to a lot of people to see what they thought about the product, what they wanted to know more of, and that’s when I learned that people really wanted to know the story behind it. And so, you know, in our early days, there was these cloth textile bags, and we sold them at the farmers market.
And you know, I once I made my money back on that I was able to reinvest, and it wasn’t until a year later that we started designing our own products with artisans and really taking designs up a notch. So, you know, for the past year and a half, we’ve been doing all our own designs, we’ve been able to grow our team a little bit.
And what began as wanting to help artists and sell their product has really turned into more of a movement towards eco fashion and fair trade. I learned a lot about the fashion industry, and really just how, you know, environmentally unfriendly and harmful it is. And so, with artisans, they’ve always incorporated natural dyes and natural techniques that are inherently sustainable, without really hopping on that trend, you know, to them part of their culture.
So we’ve really been focusing a lot more on preserving those techniques, and then building the capacity of artisans to produce larger quantities, better qualities, so that we can really scale our business. So that’s the gist of the story, but there’s so much more that I can get into.
Jacinta Gandy 05:57
Yeah, I’m 100% sure, there’s a lot lot more that happened behind the scenes and everything. But, um, you know, the fact that you know, you had $70 left, and you’re like, let me go ahead and take this risk. And at that point, right, you’re not even thinking like, this is a business decision, this is just something I want to do to help people in a community that I’m from.
Hannah King 06:22
And I think, you know, if I would have known everything in that moment of, you know, like, the stress and the struggles financially, once you really have to up your manufacturing, I probably would have been more hesitant, but sometimes being naive is good, because you just go ahead and make that jump and figure it out.
So I definitely, you know, it was just it was my instinctual response to try to help, but I didn’t really know what I was getting into yet. Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s like you were just led by, you know, your desire to help and your intuition, and then things just started to kind of fall in place from there. Mm hmm. Definitely. And, you know, being in college, too, I think that was a blessing. At the same time, it was difficult to manage everything.
But there was so many resources that I had in my university where I found mentors who were willing to help, I found, I was able to apply to a lot of competitions that provided funding and mentorship, I think that being in school during that period gave me the support system that I needed. Whereas if I didn’t have that, it probably would have been, you know, a little bit more difficult to get to where I am now.
Jacinta Gandy 07:36
Yeah, I completely agree with that. And so many of us go into college with just the objective of getting a degree and getting a job, but I love the fact that you were actually able to use your resources in college to actually do something tangible and launch your business. That’s such a great resource.
Hannah King 07:59
Yeah, it was amazing. And, you know, I didn’t realize how much was out there until I started looking into it. And now every time that I meet any other student that’s thinking of starting something, I tell them, like, the best time to do it, is while you’re in school, because when you’re in school, everyone is willing to help.
You know, once you get out, there’s less resources out there, there’s still resources, but there’s not as much of this entire community willing to help. So it was it was really good. I worked. So that first competition that I mentioned, that was a six month long competition where they had workshops on different parts of the business model. So validating your customers, validating your value proposition, you know, figuring out your costs and kind of your supply chain.
So they did workshops on that. And then every month, you had to submit a different part of your business model, and show your traction. And that’s why I was at the farmers markets, trying to really validate the product and get customer feedback. And through that competition. Ultimately, I was able to win initial funding from my company. And that’s what kind of really helped me take off and start investing in more product.
Jacinta Gandy 09:15
Yeah, I mean, that is terrific that you were able to leverage that. And so once you were able to get the initial funding for your business, what did the next phase look like? What was the iteration and lauch phase like?
Hannah King 09:29
So after I won, I received some startup funding, I think it was actually a good amount for college. It was $11,000. So that was, you know, enough for me to go back to Guatemala. So as soon as summer came, I flew over to Guatemala and I spent three months in the same villages where the artisans work. So there’s this beautiful lake called Lake Anticline.
And there’s 18 to like 20 something villages And each one kind of has a different specialty. So whether it be coffee, chocolate sourcing, ceramics, weaving natural dyes, they all focus on some type of craft. And that’s where, you know, before trying to get into something that I didn’t know about, I really took time to meet artisans to learn about each technique each craft, learn about the products, that they’re making the process and really find their their pain points.
One thing when I was studying in school, I took some classes for social entrepreneurship is, you know, they really emphasize finding a problem. And then, you know, like trying to find a solution for that not having an idea. And then seeing, like, who actually needs that, that help. And so, you know, I talked to artisans, I spent a good amount of money, just buying products to gain their trust.
One thing that I learned when I was there is that a lot of, you know, bigger companies, or foreigners come and they tell artisans that they’re going to buy a product, and they want to get designs, and sometimes they end up paying them less than they told them, there’s been cases where artists don’t get paid after they’ve shipped product. And so a lot of artisans are weary of getting into business with someone just because of these experiences.
And again, it’s all to due to the fact of fact of the lack of access that they have to resources and, you know, education. And so, you know, I spent a lot of money, just buying products, earning their trust, really building relationships with these artisans. And then slowly, little by little, we took a product that they had, and started seeing how we could improve it.
One thing that I noticed is that if you walk down the street and find a highchair, which is like the mainland of the lake, there’s a bunch of markets, but if you look at all the markets, they all sell the same product, they all have, you know, they have different textiles, but they sell the same style bag, it’s like they see one artist and make it and they think itself, so they’ll make it.
And I noticed that there was a little innovation. But it was also because they didn’t have access to an international like design realm to understand different designs that they could do. And so we started working just iterating different designs, we took a makeup bag that they had, and you know, try different dimensions, try different ways to sew on the zippers so that it would fit better.
So we really spent honestly, probably about a year working with artisans just experimenting with products, learning how they work. And also realizing that there’s not a big infrastructure for artisans. And because of the handmade process, it takes them a lot longer. And if they haven’t learned how to sew, let’s say a zipper on properly, the bag can kind of pull so it looks distorted. So it’s very, very detailed things that we had to work on. Before we were able to really launch our own collection.
Jacinta Gandy 09:40
Wow it’s incredible to hear the process you went through to get to your own collection. And you know that collection has grown. Now it’s more than bags, right? You guys have hats and other goods.
Hannah King 13:23
Now there’s so many options. Now I have to control myself. But yeah, so now, you know, again, every summer until I graduated, I would go down every break, every school break, I would go down. I love WhatsApp, this international texting app, because we send photos back and forth with artisans when we’re not there. But currently we sell straw hats.
So we partnered with some artists that actually take palm fronds and dry them and sew them together to create these beautiful straw hats. We do mostly accessories, headbands, scrunchies and then we do some some totes, some cloth totes, still, but we do recycled plastic totes as well, which are more like you know, for for the park, they’re a little bit bigger for the beach.
So we’ve been able to expand to a lot of different products. But what’s been interesting is that when you’re working with a factory, you know, like, let’s say a larger fashion company, it’s so easy to just send your design and get it like produced quickly and you know, cheaply.
Whereas when you’re working with, you know, things that are handmade, there’s so much that could go wrong and so much that you so many more details that you have to pay attention to. So it really did take us a lot longer than then if you were doing it, you know, through traditional manufacturing, but we’ve been able to get a much more unique product because of that.
Jacinta Gandy 14:54
Yeah, and I definitely think that that consumers are willing to pay for that because right now everything just seems so commoditized. Right? We’re living in the Amazon Prime days. And don’t get me wrong, I’m here for it.
Hannah King 15:07
No. But yes.
Jacinta Gandy 15:09
Sometimes you want something that is unique, you want something that’s handcrafted, you want something that has a story. And again, you want to know that you’re buying something, right, that was made in an ethical fashion.
Hannah King 15:22
Yes. And, you know it really wasn’t until I started working on Woven that I really started uncovering all the truths to the fashion industry. I didn’t know that we’re the second most polluting industry next to oil. And fast fashion has propelled mass consumerism forward where people are expecting things quickly, and they want the lowest price possible.
And that often, not often, always leads to compromising on the garment workers, or what’s being put in the product. And after learning more about just all the toxic chemicals that go into our waterways and our skin, I really wanted to make sure that we were able to preserve these natural dye traditions from artisans. And something that was interesting is that most of the artisans I met, were still using plants to dye their threads.
But there were some artists that were buying pre dyed threads that were artificially dyed. And when we asked them why, they told us that tourists weren’t paying higher prices anymore, they wanted cheaper prices, and they wanted to barter.
And so in order to make money they had to buy the cheaper materials. And so, you know, I really wanted to create a platform that valued their work and what went into it, so that they didn’t have to compromise their traditions and their techniques, and you know, ultimately the planet just for to get the profit that they need to survive.
Jacinta Gandy 17:02
Yeah, that’s great. I love your story. I love that your business is committed to helping people and all about ethical fashion. And like I said, your journey of how you got there is just so inspirational. So thank you so much for being on the show today. And before we part ways, can you tell our listeners where they can find out more about you?
Hannah King 17:29
Yes, so you can find us on WovenFutures.com. We’ll be doing a brand relaunch in next month in November. So it’s really exciting. Despite COVID we’ve been able to work with artisans to make some new products and really hone in on our brand. And we’re really excited. We’re bringing on some new artists and partners as well. So all good things, and we’re excited to be able to release that. So it’s @wovenfutures on Instagram and then wovenfutures.com.
Jacinta Gandy 18:10
Yay. Thank you so much for being here, Hannah.
Hannah King 18:13
Thank you for having thanks me!
Jacinta Gandy 18:15
Thank for listening to Hustle with Purpose. For more information on today’s show, check out the show notes. And don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Spotify or Stitcher Radio.