Angela Sanchez MBA’11: Female Founder Stories (Part 6)
Angela Sanchez MBA’11 is the Founder and CEO of Artyfactos, a jewelry company that sells statement pieces handcrafted by Latin American women using natural materials including seeds, orange peels, and coffee beans. I originally interviewed Angela for an “Entrepreneurship in Fashion” course project, led by Dr. Caroline Daniels. When we spoke on the phone, Angela mentioned that she had just quit her job as the Manager of CVS Health’s Construction Solutions team in order to focus on Artyfactos full-time, and was calling me from the drive home! It was great to learn more about what inspired Angela to create Artyfactos and how her personal goals align with her business.
What inspired you to begin your brand?
My background is in civil engineering and I had worked in construction my whole life. I moved to the U.S. 18 years ago but my parents still live in Colombia. When I would travel to Colombia to visit my family, I would buy jewelry for myself to wear when I got back. I was always asked by friends and strangers where I got my colorful jewelry. I would tell them that I bought it in Colombia but didn’t necessarily think about turning this into a business because construction is so different from fashion, and jewelry is already a crowded industry.
When I studied at Babson, I learned that I didn’t have to shy away from crowded industries if I could differentiate my business. I reached out to Colombian artisan women, learned their stories, and realized I could help them by selling their handmade jewelry pieces in the U.S. The materials they use are all organic and natural, such as recycled orange peel and seeds, and I noticed that not many businesses in the U.S. sell jewelry made with these materials. I did more research and found that gold is very damaging to the environment- it takes 18 tons of soil to create one wedding ring. I learned that 15 million tons of orange peels enter landfills each year. This was my inspiration: I wanted to help the artisans and the planet. I started by bringing a few pieces to the U.S. and showing them to friends to see if they would like the colors. It turns out that people love them!
How did you form your team? What is the culture like?
I have two partners working with me. One is in charge of I.T. and the other is in charge of U.S. operations and contracts. On top of that, I consider our seven Colombian artisan women part of the team, although they are not technically employees. Artyfactos empowers the women who previously only sold jewelry atop blankets on the street to continue developing their craft and earn money for their families. I also have one person managing operations in Colombia. She keeps in contact with the artisans and is in charge of quality control. We also work with five sales representatives who find wholesale accounts for us.
Communication is key for our team. We have avoided issues so far because we’re very transparent with each other. Everyone collaborates and helps one another.
What is the best part of working in fashion? What is the hardest part?
I find it fun. I am an engineer, which can get tedious, and fashion is so fun and open. Fashion gives you opportunities to have more personal interactions with others.
I just left my job at CVS Health because Artyfactos is growing and I want to take it to the next level. Last year when I was part of the WIN Lab, my mentor would ask me when I would work on Artyfactos full-time. I decided that the time is now. I have twin daughters who just started kindergarten, so I don’t have to pay for daycare anymore. The economy is also good right now, and at the end of the day, the jewelry industry depends on customers having disposable income. This is a great time to focus on growing Artyfactos.
What motivates you?
The artisans motivate me. What we do for them is changing their lives. Artyfactos creates direct impact. Recently, one of the artisans shared with me that she was able to buy her first home because of her work with us. These kinds of stories motivate me.
How do your personal goals align with your business?
Although I have been living in the U.S. for 18 years, I still feel very attached to my country. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to start a career, have an MBA from a great school, and own a home. Most Colombian people don’t have these same privileges, so I feel the need to give back. From a personal perspective, I lived in Colombia during its more violent times and I have seen firsthand the displacement that the violence has caused. Colombia has the highest displacement rate in the world, and the majority of the victims are women. They come to cities to survive, and they make a living by learning how to make jewelry. Some of the artisans we work with are displaced women. This is how I can help my country in a small way: Providing jobs for women who have not received the same opportunities as me.
How has Artyfactos changed over time?
Both the products and the brand have changed. When I first started bringing jewelry back to the U.S. for Artyfactos, I collected feedback and improved the product. The Colombian artisans don’t have access to the latest trends, so the team in the U.S. has to pay close attention to what women wear here. When we see a new jewelry design, we consider how we could remake it using açaí berries and orange peels. I send pictures of the jewelry to artisans and work with them to create Artyfactos designs. We also improved our clasps by moving away from using nickel. We now work with a woman entrepreneur who makes silver clasps.
Our branding has also improved. We first started with a logo that we simply made one day, but received feedback that the logo didn’t convey how artistic the brand is. We evolved the logo to have a new font and an “o” that looks like an orange peel. The color of the new logo is warmer to represent how we work with people. In November, Artyfactos launched a luxury line of bronze jewelry called AFX. The colors black and gold convey high-end, so I initially designed this line’s logo using these colors. One of my friends who works in branding recommended changing the colors to purple and black. We continuously improve and evolve as a brand.
What advice would you give to someone starting a fashion company?
When starting a company in any industry, it’s important to talk to your customers. Let them tell you what they want. Adjust your prototype based on customer needs and wants. In fashion, learn how your product makes the customer feel. Fashion is all about how you make people feel. You should always feel great about what you’re wearing. At the end of the day, sell an experience rather than just a product.