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Meet Johanna Swanson of Mar Y Lana in Cardiff by the Sea

Today we’d like to introduce you to Johanna Swanson.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
It all started when my then 2-year-old was gifted an heirloom poncho that had been passed down through my family. My mother is Colombian and so “ruanas” are rooted in our family tradition. When my son began wearing his poncho around town, people smothered us with compliments. I didn’t think much of it, just took note.

Then about a week later I spoke to my mother who shared that my cousin in Colombia was looking to start some sort of import/export business and wondered if I had any ideas. I immediately saw an opportunity. After about three weeks of travel and research, my cousin Sergio found a beautiful village in the Ándes with artisans interested in working with us.

I created a bunch of different designs and styles while the artisans happily got to work.

They were thrilled to have a steady source of income as the village had suffered an incredible downfall in textile productivity since China entered the world market. Where there were once 60 men weaving textiles full time, now there are only three. Now I have an online shop, participate in several markets each year, and also have some fun stockists in the area.

Mar Y Lana started as a fun project but has grown to be so much more important than I could have ever imagined. Not only have we employed our three main weavers, during the holidays we have employed some seasonal workers to keep up with increasing demand.

We have also been able to help the community through the Pledge Our Profits Program where we give 5% back to the community school. Being able to help the weavers by pushing them to try new designs and work with new types of threads has also been an incredible experience.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest struggle for Mar Y Lana has been shipping. We make our products in very small batches, sometimes only 2 or 3 at a time. This makes for extremely expensive shipping costs because it’s not big freight that you can send over on a boat. We had a relationship with a third party shipping company that was able to get us a good rate but then there was a glitch in their system and the whole thing broke down. So we were back to square one.

This all happened right before our big holiday market, and it was going to cost twice as much as production just to get them shipped over. Instead, we ended up paying less by having my cousin fly over with suitcases full of ponchos. In the end, it was a blessing in disguise because he was able to participate in the market and see just how much everyone loves our product.

The next biggest struggle is carving out the time to dedicate to the business. I am a teacher and a mother of two young children, so the only time I really get is during nap or at night when all I want to do is check out! I am constantly daydreaming of how much more successful Mar Y Lana would be if I could dedicate even 20 uninterrupted hours a week. So, this is what I am currently manifesting. I will find a way!

Mar Y Lana – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Mar Y Lana works with traditional artisans of Colombia to design ponchos. We are dedicated to preserving the tradition of loom-woven textiles while having a positive impact on the community. Mar Y Lana is a great example of slow fashion; items that are well made by workers who are being paid a more than fair wage in a safe environment. Our products are made to last!

I am most proud that Mar Y Lana is keeping this beautiful tradition alive and directly helping families and the community.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Last holiday season we sold a lot of ponchos. The artisans gifted us a few items to thank us. They told us that we saved their Christmas for their family. It felt good to know we could bring them such joy.

Pricing:

  • Adult Poncho $145
  • Child Poncho $75
  • Baby Poncho $55

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
@camrynclairephoto @presidentpapi @loki_toki @whenlifegivesyoulittles

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