Stories on Peru: Peru Paper, measuring success by empowering women
I Love Peru chats with Grace Bateman Greene, founder and owner of Peru Paper, a successful stationery company producing beautiful greeting cards and paper products designed and handcrafted by Peruvian women.
Grace came to Peru in 2005, teaching English in Trujillo with a missions organization. She says she loved Peru from her first visit to Cajamarca in 1999, but was heartbroken by the poverty which plagues the country. It was during her stay in Trujillo that the seed of Peru Paper was planted.
“I became friends with a number of women at a local church I volunteered with and we started making paper and cards as a craft project. We were able to sell the first batch we made to a visiting group from the [US], and the women made more money in that than many of them could make in months of their work. I saw a way to help address their poverty and was able to provide them employment so they could provide for their families.” She’s inspired to work with Peruvians because she finds them to be hardworking, creative, and industrious.
Grace took some of the cards with her to the US and the response was astounding. She proceeded to form Peru Paper, a company which has soared to selling to over 50 retailers in the US, Canada and Australia and to many more through their website.
Even through the past economically tumultuous years, Grace has kept her company’s head well above water, “the last few years were hard for nearly all businesses, and it was not the ideal time to start a business, especially as people have less disposable income to buy on gifts. However, it’s been a
blessing in disguise as you have to learn quickly to be business savvy and you have to refine your business in ways that you normally wouldn’t in a booming economy. Hopefully, this will help our company succeed even more as the economy turns around.”
She recalls that it was a rocky road to the top, but with her unyielding will power she has taken the company in a few short years to employ a team of 16 women and one Peruvian-based manager.
Running the company from the US has its challenges, but Grace says technology has helped them to manage the company.
“My manager does a good job keeping in touch via Skype and e-mail, but there are always miscommunications because we don’t see each other or even talk on a daily basis. Technology makes our job much easier, but getting colors, products, and orders in place over Skype is much more difficult than
doing it in person. Also, I can’t always know exactly what is going on with the women we employ, as they work from their homes and most of them do not have internet access.“
The company produces cards and other stationery from recycled paper, something Grace is very proud of, “the paper we use to make the designs in our products is handmade by the women and uses 100% post-consumer materials. It is all made from old paper that was going to be thrown away, mostly from offices and schools. Not only is this environmentally friendly, it is also very cost effective for the company as our cost of materials is very low.”
The company has enjoyed great success, but Grace says she is most rewarded by the fact that she has helped Peruvian women out of poverty. “The most obvious benefit is the fact that they can provide for their families from their own work. From that stems the dignity that comes with being able to take care of your own home and family where there was once shame, hope for a better future for your children and community where there was hopelessness, and confidence from being able to produce a beautiful product and be a part of a business where there was doubt and fear.”
Many of the women employed in the company were struggling to make ends meet by selling products such as candy on the side of the road in impoverished neighbourhoods.
When asked what the best part of her job was, Grace had a simple and elegant answer, “the joy from knowing that our business is making a difference in the lives and communities where we work in Peru. There are many days when I am discouraged or work is hard, but thinking about the women we employ and their work ethic, joy, and encouragement to me keeps me going to grow the business.”
Her final thought on the success of her company is that people can make a difference by selecting their purchases with care, and she encourages everyone to select gifts and products that “give back”. “We don’t do this just because fair trade is popular right now, but because we believe it makes a difference in the lives of those we employ.”
Check out the Peru Paper website for more information.