How one entrepreneur in Peru is keeping her Amazonian heritage alive: Mery’s story

Through her family's artisan business in Peru, Mery Neli Salazar Pedro is celebrating her Amazonian identity.

Mery Neli Salazar Pedro has been running her family’s artisan business, Arte Yanesha Amazónica, from her home in Peru for ten years, producing clothing, accessories, and homewares, all with Amazonian designs.

Mery, originally from the Loma Linda la Laguna community in the Amazon, moved to the Peruvian capital Lima for high school. It was here that she later met her husband, also from the same community. They decided to start a business together that would celebrate their heritage.

“We produce ethnic, ancestral products,” explains Mery. “We use iconographic designs that our grandparents dreamed of through their knowledge of nature, the river, the sky, the forest, the plants, and of the animals. This is the culture that has been transmitted from generation to generation and we do not want it to be lost. Everything we make carries a meaning and we want the whole world to know us, our culture, and our identity.”

The lengthy production process for each item involves crushing and boiling husks and seeds from the Amazon, adding them to the fabrics, soaking, re-boiling, constant stirring and then fixing colors with natural products like vinegar and salt. A true labor of love.

Business beginnings and barriers

When they started out, Mery and her husband were invited to sell their products at a fair, but they quickly realized they did not have enough products to sell, nor the money to build up their stock.

“That was a problem,” says Mery. “We went with just a few bags, a crown, and some medicinal plants.”

Despite relatives sending them natural supplies, they needed a bigger investment for the business to grow and thrive.

 “We faced many challenges. To get a loan is a bit complicated for a woman because they ask us to meet many requirements. For example, a business operating license or to put your house as collateral, even your own business.”

Mery explains other challenges that women have faced.

“Sometimes our husbands do not want us to work. They want us to stay at home looking after the children and they won’t let women excel or earn an independent living. Women should also have the opportunity to work, and get ahead with our businesses. Perhaps sometimes we feel frustrated, but despite it all, we have overcome all obstacles. As women we can do great things.”

COVID-19 has also presented a major problem for Mery’s business due to lengthy lockdowns. Still Mery was determined that the business would survive and diversified into selling face masks.

“The pandemic has hurt us a lot, especially those in the handicraft business. We had to reinvent ourselves, stay home, sell our goods through social media or make home deliveries and make money to support our families.”

Mery puts their business survival down to "team and family work.”

Mery Neli Salazar Pedro shows off the handmade products she produces through her family artisan business ‘Arte Yanesha Amazónica’ from her home for ten years. They produce clothing, accessories and homewares, all with Amazonian designs.
Mery Neli Salazar Pedro. Photo: CARE Peru

Learning and growing digital skills

In 2021 Mery became involved in CARE’s Ignite program—which unleashes the power of growth-oriented entrepreneurs to contribute to resilient, inclusive economies—where she participated in training sessions, including learning how to optimize sales through social media.

“We want more Peruvians to know our business and place orders through social media. [This project] has shown us how to promote our products and negotiate through social media, how to retain our customers, and how to use web payments. It has helped us a lot.”

Mery has also been trained on using the LISTA app, from social enterprise Fundacion Capital. The app offers financial education, marketing and enterprise development modules for entrepreneurs. Mery laughs when she recounts the early challenges she had with learning through the app. She happily explains how help was on hand through her Ignite WhatsApp group and mentor.

Learning to save through the app has had a huge impact on the business.

“The savings issue was very complicated because we are not used to saving. It was great for our family to learn how to save. We need to know which expenses are necessary and which aren’t. Often, we spend above our income, so we have learned a lot with LISTA.”

Through the app, Mery has also learned how to promote her products, how to make digital payments and how to serve customers.

Looking ahead

Mery’s vision is to share her cultural heritage as far and wide as she can. The pleasure she gets from sharing her culture with others is profound.

“I feel very happy and proud when our customers bring our Yanesha culture into their homes. I would like to expand our business across our country and abroad and so take our art, identity and culture to everybody.”

 Ultimately, she would like to take out a business loan with the support from the Ignite program, so that she can own her own retail shop in Lima.

Mery is participating in CARE’s Ignite program, which unleashes the power of growth-oriented entrepreneurs to contribute to resilient, inclusive economies. The program runs in Pakistan, Peru, and Vietnam where there are large segments of unserved and underserved micro and small enterprises ready for investment. Ignite takes a market-based approach to service delivery that is sustainable and scalable, by working closely with local service providers.  Ignite offers access to finance, such as loans with more flexible terms; access to critical support, such as mentors and digital skills; and outreach campaigns, focused on financial education and harmful gender norms.

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