I found the Mercado Global website while browsing handbags for myself online.  While reading about the organization, I came across a posting for design ambassadors.  Since I've been a technical designer in the retail industry for 12 years and also have a passion for social justice, I was intrigued.  I connected with Courtney, the Creative Director at MG, and was soon on my way down to Guatemala to learn about the mission and volunteer my professional skills.   

While working with Courtney, in addition to helping develop new styles, I endeavored to create technical sketches, specifications, and a quality evaluation process for products currently in the works.  I wanted to empower the artisans to create products with the same quality evaluation tools that I had been a part of creating for larger brands.  While we never sought to take away the handmade element of the product, I wanted to contribute to growth and create accurate documentation that could be referenced for future consistency and ease of production.

On subsequent trips, I continued to dust off my rusty college Spanish, worked with the sample sewers to collaborate on construction methods most feasible for their equipment and materials, traveled to a community where cloth was woven on a traditional floor loom, and worked with Courtney on translating inspiration into unique designs true to the Mercado Global aesthetic. 

Guatemala is so beautiful in spite of its poverty and it was a strange experience to see rampant rural litter amidst natural splendor and low-cost low-nutrient commercial foods in agricultural settings.  The people, and especially the women, are so triumphant in carrying on their Mayan culture in vibrant dress and are some of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.  Witnessing all of this made me more committed to Mercado and their initiatives to educate artisans in areas as business skills, nutrition, and health.    

I was touched personally and grew professionally because of what I learned at the Mercado Global office and the people I met there. I think it is a unique challenge to bring the tools of product development used by mass retailers to a social business like Mercado that seeks to capture the handmade individual element in its products and also sell them in the same marketplace with more commercially produced goods. 

I enjoyed my work with Mercado Global immensely and can only hope that everyone could be as lucky as I was to have had such an incredible experience. 


Emily has worked in the retail industry for 13 years for companies such as Target, Kenneth Cole, Kmart, Abercrombie & Fitch and oversaw development of a collection for Kanye West.  She is currently a Technical Design Manager for a NYC based childrenswear manufacturer.