Trade Forum Features

From the Guate­malan high­lands to the world

10 December 2020
Evelyn Seltier, International Trade Centre

Ana Sophia Reyes connects traditional artisans in Guatemala with customers in Europe. For her, knowing your marketplace means women in minority communities can receive a fair salary.


It seems to have been fate…

…when back in 2014 Ana Sophia Reyes and her partner Juan Augusto visited the touristic area of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala’s south-western highlands. Local artisans swarmed across the area trying to sell their handmade goods of Mayan tradition. Nothing unusual.

After talking to the artisans about the time and money they invested in producing the rugs, and weighing up costs such as transport, the couple thought: $25 for a living room rug does not make any sense.

Minority communities of Mayan descent in the remote regions of Guatemala often are forced to choose between preserving their traditions and making a decent living. Their work and talent are not valued enough in the local market.

"What was shocking to us was they kept reducing the price for their high-quality rugs. This was about pure survival."

So many are born into a poor economic situation. How do you create jobs that pay?
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16 March 2022

Transform, sell, and live well…

Ana Sophia has always had an entrepreneurial spirit – and with Juan Augusto working in the business of high-quality rugs, it was only a matter of time before they founded Achiote.

Achiote Guatemalan Goods promotes the rich Mayan talent and tradition of hand weaving – and at the same time improves the living conditions of weavers from indigenous communities, especially women.

In traditional weaving at Momostenango, women are in charge of spinning the yarn and dyeing. As this is part of their household duties, they are not paid.


Ana Sophia recognizes and remunerates the value that each person adds to the production. Achiote does not only pay the women in the community, it alsos give them the skills to become successful in business.

So far, Achiote has connected over 50 artisans, including 35 women, from seven communities in rural areas. These communities all have different skills that Achiote integrates into its process of transforming natural goods into commercially viable products.

We are convinced women are the agents of change in our society.
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Achiote adds value to the products, so they become durable, for example transforming the wool so that it never loses its shape. Then the company tries to find wholesale markets that pay an adequate price for such quality products.

But finding the right market is not an easy task.

"When the International Trade Centre launched a project for women doing e-commerce in Central America, I was happy to improve our trading techniques."

Certificates of origin: A great marketing tool

To sell successfully overseas Achiote made use of commercial agreements. The company was able to obtain a certificate of origin to benefit from the European Union-Central America Association Agreement to sell to European customers at a 0% tariff rate. Especially for business-to-business transactions, the certificate of origin is a key requirement for placing orders.

"For an importer it makes such a difference to not pay tariffs – not only that: you can also avoid tedious customs processes. And If you want to reach as many clients as possible, e-commerce partnership agreements are a life saver."


Mastering e-commerce

Through the e-commerce project funded by the European Union, Ana Sophia learned how to stay true to Achiote’s brand voice and make the most of e-commerce tools – from search engine optimization, communicating an inspiring, human story, to improving picture quality and seizing the power of social media.

The project has helped Achiote develop an international e-commerce presence with a transactional website, an eBay store, an Etsy store, and being now one of the best international sellers at Faire, an online wholesale marketplace.

The project has helped Achiote develop an international e-commerce presence with a transactional website, an eBay store, an Etsy store, and being now one of the best international sellers at Faire, an online wholesale marketplace.

In February 2020, just before the lockdown, Achiote participated in the AMBIENTE fair in Frankfurt. But the last six months have been tough for the company as many of Achiote's potential clients in Europe backed off.

How do you move past a crushed market?

After AMBIENTE, customers cancelled many of the orders promised during the fair.

Ana Sophia and Juan Augusto put on their innovative hats and started diversifying: from producing safe cloth facemasks to blankets, scented candles and organizational pieces – to create a sense of order in a life of chaos.

Within three months, Achiote launched five new product lines to expand their presence on e-commerce platforms across as many categories as possible. 

Just as for other small businesses around the world, the economic consequences of the pandemic were not easy on Achiote’s producers. Connecting the artisans to governmental aid programmes was not enough. 

The company stocked raw materials to keep paying the artisans. Achiote’s core existence derives from being socially responsible – which, as Ana Sophia believes, should be the guiding principle for all businesses around the world.
"In the end, we are all in this together, no matter what we do. We understand that wherever we move and whatever we do, we make an impact. And we strongly believe in this."


16 March 2022