Archives for December 2015

Day 3: Holiday – end of semester congestion

Day 3: Holiday – end of semester congestion

The startup has come to a screeching halt as I scramble to write a quick proposal for a college text on Social Entrepreneurism as a key to sustainability, pause for some holiday debauchery (kidding!), and finish grading my students for the semester.  However, it continues on in my head (alongside the visions of sugar-plums) and will soon have it’s chance to roll out a bit more next week (after a white paper my students co-authored on quinoa gets submitted for peer review with the HDCA Journal first).

This photo is from last week when I was with KUSIKUY at the Prudential Center in Boston selling excess inventory to fund raise for the start-up and to also help support indigenous rights NGO, Cultural Survival.  Had a nice stay at an Airbnb right around the corner.  Sold $2,135 of inventory in 2 days…

Day 2: A note to my mentors: More, bigger, faster is not always better…

Day 2: A note to my mentors: More, bigger, faster is not always better…

As part of our KUSIKUY re-launch I am working with volunteer mentors from Valley Venture Mentors – a venture capitalist founded NGO that supports entrepreneurship development in the pioneer valley and beyond.  Here’s a note I sent to my mentors a month ago when I was first strategizing this re-launch  It was largely authored by NYC eco-fashion designer, Caroline Priebe, a long time client of ours (KUSIKUY) for production, and the Head Designer selected for this re-launch.  It brought up interesting ways in which to envision a re-launch, goals, and measurements of success.  We will be working together, meeting monthly for 4 months…

To give a clear understanding what KUSIKUY does and stands for, my designer and long term production client, Caroline Priebe, put it very well.  We are also in need of funding and are thinking of ways to reach out to folks for investment.  Let me know what you think…

“The value of my resources are my time, energy, money, the knitters, the yarn and access to designers that work in the market I would like to get in to. Just to clarify, there is no eco-market, there is market where good design in produced in different ways. Good design is the key.

I need a mentor/investor who gets that. More, bigger, faster is not always better. The investor must understand that mass and larger is not the trend or ultimately a sustainable business model. Companies like Gap, J Crew and Barneys (due to the new owners’ Wall Street model) are hurting and not the future.  This does not mean that KUSKUY will not grow and be profitable, it will.  It means that growth is part of the model and needs to be balanced with thoughtful development.  This KUSIKUY does well.

Niche design companies like Rachel Comey, Mara Hoffman, Ulla Johnson, Lauren Manoogian have been around, sustained recessions and are on the rise. 

Companies like Alabama Chanin,, Kaufmann Mercantile, Not Just a Label and Hackwith Design are the business model pioneers to name a few.

My designer’s friend Emma who owns Fait La force out of Haiti, has an investor who said, “I like what you are doing in Haiti, you are teaching people skills and providing jobs, you have good taste, you are professional, how can I help you?” 

For investors, this is not charity, it’s using money to support a business whose work they believe in without traditional growth expectations and demands. Traditional capitalism (with quarterly growth demands) discriminates against the artisan/craftsperson and rewards mediocrity.  

KUSIKUY is not mediocre.  We provide the best fashion, highest quality functional design, and create sustainable, meaningful change for hundreds of Andean artisans and herders.

The image above are the concept boards for our new re-launch.  Please respect the (c) on our ideas.  

Day 1: Conception – THE CHALLENGE!

Day 1: Conception – THE CHALLENGE!

Since 1996, I have operated KUSIKUY Clothing Co., a Fair trade, eco-ethical, hand knit alpaca clothing company with sales worldwide, hime base in the US (Vermont), and production in Bolivia (and sometimes Peru).  In our “heyday”of 2006, sales reaches beyond $100,000 and clients included Timberland (accessories), Whole Foods (children’s line in CA), and Giam (glittens).  We sold 60% of our product online, 30% wholesale and 10% retail at pop up holiday events.  Every year we had a new product line and designs.

However, as a single mom, I found the business was taking me further and further away form my children.  I decided to move into academia to have a more home-based employment that matched their schedules.  KUSIKUY was left to fend for itself – no marketing, product lines or sales calls… slowly it powered down, losing $20,000 of sales a year.  In 2010, a group of NYC fashion designers contacted me for custom production.  This soon grew into a stable niche for us and the knitters learned much more sophisticated knitting and design techniques from the experience.

Now my children are older (middle school and high school) and I have 9 months (6 months part time and a free summer) to see what I can do with the business.  We are currently at net $0 in annual income, no debt, with about $8,000 of unsold inventory (samples, overknits, etc.),  and $1,500 in the bank.

This blog will follow Tamara’s journey over the next 9 months as she sees what KUSIKUY can and will become – as it is brushed off and reconfigured to become an income generating, sustainable, social enterprise and well known, sought-out, eco-brand.

Photo: Tamara Stenn, single mom, with toddler in arms, directing a 2005 KUSIKUY photo shoot.