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Someone Somewhere backpack

Five women stepped forward from among the dozens of seamstresses and artisans from the village of Naupan, tucked away among the mountains of the Mexican state of Puebla. The rest chose to wait.

Fashion startup Someone, Somewhere was visiting Naupan from Mexico City to strike up partnerships with the local seamstresses and artisans, providing jobs and creating contemporary fashion that embraced traditional Mexican textiles.

Petra Secundino, 37, was one of the first to sign on. “It was totally unexpected for me to find something like this that allows me to work from home,” she says. In many Mexican rural communities, women can struggle to find employment, either because of limited access to jobs or because of social pressure to remain at home.

Secundino remembers the division of the community when the “group of youngsters”—Someone, Somewhere’s three 20-something co-founders—came to the village to pitch the idea and how the balance began to shift.

“We started with one order, then two, then three, then four,” she says. “As we began ramping up with more designs, the friends, the cousins started being interested and asking to get involved.”

The traditional textiles find new life on modern products. (Photo by Ana Georgina Ampudia)
The company increases artisans' incomes by three times or more. (Photo by Ana Georgina Ampudia)

Since starting out with those first five artisans, Someone, Somewhere has grown to employ 162 people across Mexico, providing much-needed income for its predominantly female workforce. Three thousand more have contacted the company asking to join.

Someone, Somewhere employs 162 people across Mexico, providing much-needed income for its predominantly female workforce.

Mexico’s National Fund for the Development of Arts and Crafts estimates that 8 million artisans live in Mexico, a majority of them below the poverty line. Co-founder and CEO of Someone, Somewhere José Antonio Nuño, 26, first come to the village from Mexico City as a teenager to volunteer with his friends.

“After several years of volunteering, my partners and I decided to do something more sustainable for the community [after we graduated college,]” Nuño says. “We realized the levels of poverty and marginalization, but [also] the beauty of the crafts produced there.”

Each label names the artisan who made it. (Photo by Ana Georgina Ampudia)
Rosa is one of Mexico’s 8 million artisans. (Photo courtesy of Someone, Somewhere)

Nuño saw one potential reason for why so many artisans lived in poverty: They were producing decorative souvenirs that had been popular 30 years ago—like sombreros and skull ornaments—instead of products that resonated with today’s market, such as T-shirts, sweaters, backpacks, and hats. Pieces in the Someone, Somewhere line incorporate traditional textiles, like a woven patch on a T-shirt, a bold pattern on a pair of swim trunks, or a geometric shape stitched onto a denim shirt. Each item comes with a label naming the artisan and her community, creating a thread between creator and consumer.

Fresh off a win at the Mexico City Creator Awards, a WeWork-sponsored competition funding ideas with impact, Nuño says he’s now ready expand, starting with Mexico’s neighbor to the north, the US.

Empowering with income

Naupan is one of hundreds of rural villages in Mexico that lives off the textile industry because it’s one of the only options besides agriculture. When Nuño and his co-founders struggled at first to get a single artisan to join their vision in Naupan, they learned of the village’s troubled history with outside partners.

“Other designers had come to promise they would change the world for these women, even release their collections in New York,” he says. “Some women bought new looms and other equipment, but the people never came back.”

Someone, Somewhere built up trust, artisan by artisan, who started to see income from the partnership right away. “Once people saw we returned regularly, interest grew,” he says.

Since production got underway in 2016, the company has sold between 5,000 to 8,000 T-shirts a year, along with around 3,000 sweaters, 2,000 hats, 2,000 backpacks, and 1,000 swimsuits. The company distributes the line via e-commerce and pop-up stores in Mexico City.

Creator Awards winner Someone, Somewhere employs Mexican artisans to create authentic textiles
Someone, Somewhere runs pop-up shops around Mexico City. (Photo by Ana Georgina Ampudia)

Nuño estimates that the company has at least tripled the income of the women they work with. One seamstress, Silvina Alvarez Flores, is paralyzed except for movement in her hands. Previously, Flores depended on her aging grandmother to take care of her. Now she brings in her own income, sewing from her bedroom.

“We always seek to integrate those with the greatest need, such as single mothers or those from the poorest families,” Nuño says, adding that Flores has become the biggest earner in her family and is able to send her nieces and nephews to school.

Someone, Somewhere’s staff of 15 creates new hats and T-shirts based on current trends. (Photo by Ana Georgina Ampudia)
Every design is a collaboration between the villagers and the design team. (Photo by Ana Georgina Ampudia)

Secundino echoes this, saying that she has also become the breadwinner in her household. She recalls some initial pushback from males in the community when the women started to earn their own incomes.

“Sexism reared its ugly head,” she says. “But the advantages of working from home, allowing women to still do what they need to do there, and of bringing in more money has convinced those who were opposed.”

Refining their style

“When we started, we were only engineering students,” Nuño admits. “We had no idea about design.”

He describes the company’s first “ugly” designs—patches ironed onto pre-existing clothing. The team now includes 15 fashion, textile, and industrial designers who follow current trends and coordinate with the artisans.

A startup vibe permeates the company offices. Located in a converted residential bloc in Mexico City’s hip neighborhood of Roma, the headquarters is half occupied by long tables covered in swatches of material. The glass walls of the meeting room are covered in marker scribbles, names of communities melding with items and deadlines. At the back, the trends laboratory is filled with racks of clothing and a gigantic sewing machine, which Nuño says can crank out any new idea as quickly as possible.

“We always release products in small quantities to test them out,” Nuño says. “If they work, we do more.”

A lesson in localization

As Someone, Somewhere has developed as a business, one of the biggest missteps came when they built a central workshop in Naupan with the idea of serving as a base for the artisans to learn how to make products.

“It was a total failure,” Nuño says. “The women wanted to work from home and maintain their activities, such as cooking or childcare.”

Now when Someone, Somewhere works with communities across central and southern Mexico, the company strives to preserve the lives of the artisans. Local coordinators in each community, including Secundino, are in constant touch with Nuño and ensure his team understands any local issues.

“I still sew, but less and less, as my time is taken up by the coordination,” Secundino says. Her duties regularly include accounting, distributing the workloads, ensuring quality control, and sending the goods to Mexico City.

One million artisans

Someone, Somewhere will open a pop-up shop in Venice Beach, California, in 2018. (Photo by Ana Georgina Ampudia)

So what’s next for Someone Somewhere? Nuño says he’ll capitalize on interest from the US, the source of 10 percent of the company’s online traffic. This summer, the company will open a pop-up store in Venice Beach, California. Over time, the store will test new concepts such as wallets, passport holders, and even surfboards designed with Ceviche Surf Co., fellow winners at the Mexico City Creator Awards.

Nuño believes that if demand explodes in the US, the number of women employed will skyrocket.

“Our intention is to reach 1,000 artisans in the next year,” he says. “We want to continue expanding dramatically. In the best scenario, we would eventually reach 500,000 to 1 million artisans.”

One million, following in the footsteps of just five.

Photo of José Antonio Nuño by Ana Georgina Ampudia

Nashville has always thought big. People have moved here with dreams of conquering the city, or even the world. Adam Neumann, cofounder and CEO of WeWork — which has two locations in Music City — has described the company as a place that fosters that kind of growth.

So it makes sense that the two meshed so well at WeWork’s Nashville Creator Awards, held on September 13. Host Ashton Kutcher ticked off the long list of larger cities where the Creator Awards, a global competition that rewards entrepreneurs, have already taken place. “London! São Paulo! Nashville, you are on that list!”

Adam Neumann and Ashton Kutcher at WeWork’s Nashville Creator Awards.

Neumann twice interrupted the event to increase the amounts of the prizes, underscoring that “think big” theme for the night. He boosted dollar amounts for runners-up in the nonprofit category and gave performance arts winner Melanie Faye a recording studio, in addition to her $18,000 cash prize. All told, WeWork awarded $888,000 in prize money in Music City.

If you were expecting a prim-and-proper pitch competition, well, this wasn’t your father’s shark tank. The crowd of more than 2,500 people at Marathon Music Works was standing room only, and there were lines outside of more folks who wanted to get in. (Food trucks kept serving outside all night.) Faye rocked out on her signature blue Fender guitar as attendees made their way to their seats. “A lot of times on stage I am inhibited, but the audience was giving me a lot of energy that I could feed off,” she said. “So it made me play at my potential. It made me a lot more confident.”

Sarah Martin McConnell wowed the judges — and the crowd — with her elevator pitch for Music for Seniors, a nonprofit that takes live music to the elderly.

Kutcher described Nashville has having seemingly contradictory, yet laudatory, qualities: humility and confidence. Also one of the judges, Kutcher said the one quality he looked for most in a creator is “grit.”

Music City’s quirkiness came through loud and clear in all the best moments of the evening:

Best way to fight the stereotype: Nashville likes to emphasize that it’s not just about country music. Sure, the mega duo of Florida Georgia Line were celebrity judges, but what better way to show Music City’s range than to have G-Eazy (wearing a “Cashville” T-shirt) in the house? The rapper played to a happy after-party crowd that danced through beer and confetti.

Janett Liriano of Loomia pitches her company to the judges.

Best eats: Food trucks lined up outside —  including That Awesome Taco Truck, King Tut’s, and Bradley’s Creamery — fed attendees in a makeshift park with picnic tables and a view of the city skyline in the distance.

Best thirst quencher: On a day that topped 92 degrees and humidity levels as noticeable in the air as the confetti streamers that later rained down, “refreshing” was the beverage watchword of the night. Palomas, served both as limed-accented drinks from the open bars in the vendor market and job fair and as shots once the winners were announced, helped the parched and got folks in a party mood, while keeping it light. For non-drinkers, WithCo’s drink call the Jackass, made with fresh lime and ginger, was a particularly popular pre-show energy kick.

Melanie Faye rocked out on her signature blue Fender guitar at the Nashville Creator Awards.

Easiest way to influence your future: Inside, Neumann, Kutcher, and the finalists demonstrated what happens when one has ambition and curiosity. Business card-maker Moo helped people put that initiative in their own hands –– literally. Market-goers wrote a postcard to their future selves that Moo will mail 12 months from now.

Best wearable art: WeWorker and East Nashville florist FLWR Shop used liquid latex to paint fresh-flower corsages on the wrists of willing attendees.

Local vendors showed off their wares at the Nashville Creator Awards.

Best salute to veterans: The world-changing went on not just on the stage but in the pop-up market and job fair, which hosted many businesses and nonprofits specifically focused on helping refugees and veterans, including Bunker Labs, a national nonprofit for veteran entrepreneurs.

Most quintessential Nashville item for sale: Music City’s Original Fuzz was selling its line of guitar straps made from vintage and one-of-a-kind fabrics. Camera and bags straps were available for those who can’t pick a note.

Dozens of jobs were on offer at the Nashville Creator Awards job fair.

Biggest scene-stealer: Before the pitches began Kutcher and Neumann asked for two volunteers from the packed audience to pitch their idea. Sarah Martin McConnell’s hand shot up, and in 30 seconds she wowed the duo — and the crowd — with her elevator pitch for Music for Seniors, a nonprofit that takes live music to the elderly. She was awarded $50,000 to triple the organization’s size by the end of next year. “This is a turning place for us,” she said.

Product that best knows its niche audience: Nashville is home to the largest Kurdish population in the U.S. The majority of Kurds are Muslim, and Muslim women who participate in wudu, a washing ritual where water must reach every part of the body, cannot wear waterproof makeup or nail polish. Enter Júwon Enamel, a vegan nail polish with a water-permeable polish, to solve that problem. (Júwon means “beautiful” in Kurdish.)

Biggest winner: Stephanie Benedetto, founder and CEO of Queen of Raw, the night’s biggest winner with a $360,000 prize for her online marketplace for excess raw textiles, demonstrated a lot of grit. “The kinds of questions they asked were so valuable, informative, and supportive,” she said, but they also forced her to think about the direction she’ll take the company going forward.

Best sign you were on the right track: Anthony Brahimsha, who walked away with a second-place $180,000 prize for Prommus, his high-protein, clean-label hummus, says that “as soon as you win this award, all the blood, sweat and tears that you put into the company comes together. I’m talking, literally, blood, sweat, and tears… Finally, it feels like an affirmation that you were doing the right thing.”

When luxury clothing retailer Burberry burned millions of dollars worth of items that it couldn’t sell, it caused an uproar. Destroying excess fabric is rampant in the industry, but Stephanie Benedetto may have come up with a solution.

Her business, Queen of Raw, offers an online marketplace for buying and selling fabrics that might otherwise go to waste.

Queen of Raw cofounder Stephanie Benedetto wants to use the prize money from the Nashville Creator Awards to take her company international.

The New Yorker says there’s $120 billion worth of excess fabric sitting in warehouses around the world. That costs the factories that made it, the companies that ordered it, and the warehouses that store it. And Benedetto says it also costs the planet.

The textile industry is the second-biggest polluter of clean water in the world, right after oil. That cotton T-shirt you’re wearing as you read this? Benedetto says it took a mind-boggling 700 gallons of water to produce (unless you happen to be wearing an organic shirt, in which case it’s more like 10 gallons). Multiply that by the 2 billion shirts sold annually across the globe, and you can see the impact this has on the environment.

With Queen of Raw, Bennedetto says that businesses can sell their excess raw fabric (hence the name) instead of destroying it. And if the company that buys it ends up not needing it? Well, it can sell it to another firm.

Buyers become sellers and sellers become buyers,” she says.

Bennedetto says she’s continuing a family tradition. A century ago, her immigrant grandfather worked in the garment industry on New York’s Lower East Side. Today, she runs her technology-driven company from New York’s WeWork Empire State.

A former lawyer who specialized in fashion, technology, and other fields, Benedetto started mapping out Queen of Raw on a napkin four years ago. She officially launched this year with cofounder Phil Derasmo, whose Wall Street and startup contacts were a good balance for her fashion industry chops.

Benedetto estimates that by 2025 Queen of Raw could help save more than 4 billion gallons of water and prevent 2 million tons of textiles from going to the landfill. While Queen of Raw strives to have serious social impact, it was important to Benedetto for it to be a for-profit business to show the industry that preventing waste will help their bottom line.

Benedetto knows how hard it is to run a successful startup. But things suddenly got a lot easier on Sept. 13 when she took home the top prize — $360,000 — at the Nashville Creator Awards.

“We were a bootstrapped company and it took us all the way to launch,” says Benedetto. “We want to be able to grow and scale beyond the U.S. and around the world.”

Her ultimate goal is to get people — business owners and consumers alike — to stop and think.

“Wherever you are, whatever you are going, the materials in the space you are in —the office, a car, a plane — did not come from nowhere,” says Benedetto. “If everyone thought a little differently about one T-shirt, about sourcing sustainably one thing, that would have a massive impact.”

Architect Luiz Alberto Altmann Fazio was volunteering with a well-known nonprofit when he visited a favela in Rio de Janeiro. There he saw for the first time the problems with sewage encountered by many poor communities in Brazil.

“Companies won’t build sewage networks in poor communities because they don’t see it as economically viable,” he says.

About 50 percent of Brazilian households are not connected to a sewage network, a statistic that disproportionally affects the poor. So Fazio created Biosaneamento, a project to build low-cost biogas toilets in communities that lack basic sanitation.

A biogas toilet is similar to an eco-friendly composting toilet in that it converts waste to fertilizer. But a biogas system takes things a step farther by also collecting methane gas that can be used by the local community. This gas can be a lifeline for poor families, who have seen the price of canisters of gas rise in recent months in Brazil.

Despite Brazil passing a law guaranteeing all citizens access to a sewage system 10 years ago, Fazio says that in a best-case scenario, the country is still at least 25 years away from fulfilling its promise. The total cost would be more than $100 billion.

But Biosaneamento offers a cheap and quicker solution to the problem. The construction of bio-toilets uses readily available materials and can create jobs in the community.

Biosaneamento, with offices at Rio de Janeiro’s WeWork Carica, is a winner in the nonprofit category at the WeWork Creator Awards. With the $18,000 prize the company will be able to build up to 50 systems — enough to serve 150 homes and 600 people.

Fazio says that says that their system would cost around a tenth of a sewer traditional system. One of the big benefits would be improving the health of local communities.

“In poor communities with open sewer networks you have high rates of diarrhea and other diseases,” says Fazio. “For young children this can be deadly.”

When São Paulo business leader Alcione Albanesi decided to start a nonprofit organization back in 1993, little did she know that 25 years later it would be one of the best-known programs in Brazil.

“At the time, we couldn’t have imagined where it would take us,” says Albanesi, who started off her career as head of a successful lamp company.

Today, Amigos do Bem — which translates as “Good Friends” — has 8,600 volunteers working to help 60,000 Brazilians in Sertão, one of the country’s poorest areas. The semi-arid region sits in the northeastern part of the country.

Through volunteering, fundraising, and other efforts, Amigos de Bem serves 118 villages in the remote parts of the states of Alagoas, Pernambuco, and Ceará. Last year, Amigos do Bem received an award from Brazil’s Epoca magazine, which honours the 100 best non-governmental organizations in the country.

Sertão is a visually beautiful and enchanting place that has inspired some of Brazil’s best literature and cinema, but it’s also a region that throughout Brazil’s history has suffered from natural disasters, poverty, and neglect.

While there have been some serious improvements in recent years, including much-needed grants provided by the government, problems remain. Jobs are hard to come by, and many residents rely to varying degrees on subsistence agriculture to help them get by.

To make matters worse, two years ago the area suffered its worst drought in history. In 2014, Brazil was removed from the United Nations World Hunger map, but in Sertão, there are many areas where hunger persists.  

“It’s a difficult fight,” says Albanesi, a resident of São Paulo. “It’s really complex. Without a humane intervention, it’s a pattern that repeats itself.”

In partnership with leading supermarket chains in Brazil, Amigos do Bem donates 11,000 food baskets each month to poor families in the Sertão region. But while the nonprofit started off with donations of food and clothing, it has expanded to offer housing and medical and dental care.

Today, the organization is focused on self-sustaining projects such as university scholarships that will benefit nearly 200 students. Most of them will be the first in their families to go on to higher education.

“Today, kids and teenagers in the region can dream,” says Albanesi.