This Stellar has a very special life mission, and we are honored to share this beautiful story.
Daniela founded Armadillo Stores with the mission of preserving an ancient tradition and craft in danger of disappearing, as well as the people behind it. Her work directly contributes to providing a better life to the Kichwas, an indigenous community living in the Ecuadorian Andes mountains, whom are the artisans behind this ancient tradition.
At Armadillo Stores we unveil the magical tribal colours and patterns, crafted with a weaving technique that is only known by the Kichwas, through traditional hand-knitted ponchos, Shigra bags, and blankets made from naturally sourced materials.
Our curiosity for culture, led us to the history of Shigra. Shigras are made of a natural fiber called Cabuya obtained from a plant that grows only in the Ecuadorian Andes. This plant takes about 5 years to reach maturity. The fibers are talently processed by the women weavers and dyed into a range of stunning colors, resulting in a piece of art that one carries around with their hustle and bustle. Each inimitable piece reflects an incredible talent and creativity that combines colors and design reflecting a piece of their heritage and is passed on by these very artisans, generation by generation. Captivated by her vocation, a nomad spirit like Daniela followed a passion that has brought her back to her origins in Ecuador to be close to the families and artisan hands that touched her soul.
Tell us a bit about Armadillo Stores, what is your mission and where are you based?
Armadillo is a fair trade organization with the mission of bringing positive change to both the Kichwa artisans who handcraft clothing and accessories in remote regions of Ecuador, as well as to clients around the world interested in connecting with and creating social progress for the Kichwa people. Through this connection, Armadillo Stores aims to preserve a culture and crafting technique in danger of disappearing.
I was born in Quito, Ecuador where I lived until I went to college. Later on, I studied and worked in the Corporate World on 3 continents for 12 years. My soul has always been nomad, entrepreneurial, and philanthropic. It was when I started Armadillo when I decided to establish myself in Ecuador to be close to the people of the tribes who handcraft my products. Regardless of where I live, I am a nomad traveling around the world, sharing the story of our indigenous tribes and selling the amazing products we create together.
I’ve always wanted to start a company of my own so I quit the corporate world and tried many different business ideas that didn’t go through. In 2016, Ecuador suffered one of the most devastating earthquakes in history, and this project was initiated to rebuild the economy of the communities affected. The original idea started as a program to improve artisan products promoting traditional products like Panamá hats, tagua accessories, etc, accompanied by tourism activities on the Coast of Ecuador. This is how I discovered the many amazing artisan treasures from my country, such as the unique Shigra bags and textiles. I wanted to help preserve these ancestral techniques and saw the opportunity to show them to the world by establishing fair trade programs and work on product improvement. Armadillo Stores was then born and it continues to grow with a very clear mission of social responsibility and sustainability.
Tell us about the unique sourcing and production process behind Armadillo. Who are the Kichwa artisans and how is their ancestral crafting technique?
The Kichwa communities are tribes that live in the Ecuadorian Andes mountains at 4.000 meters from sea level. Their roots come from the Inca Empire. Shigra bags have existed for centuries in the Andean culture, originally used to carry seeds into the agriculture fields. Each Shigra is made with a thorough weaving technique that has passed along through generations and is now at risk of extinction.
The production process, from sourcing the raw material to weaving the finest natural handbags, is 100% local and sustainable. The material comes from the cabuya plant, also known as fique, penco, or agave but the specific variety of this plant is only found in Ecuador. The crafting is long and tedious, as the material must be hit to the ground, rotted for days in water, washed, shredded, boiled and colored, dried, and finally woven.
The weaving is the longest part of the process and can take up to 16 weeks. With a small needle, each bag starts in the base with a round shape and continues upwards switching to a different technique that separates from color to color. Different symbolic Inca figures are woven and after days the bag is finished.
How is Armadillo committed to preserve the weaving tradition in danger of disappearing and support the social progress of the Kichwa community?
For years, the indigenous communities in Ecuador have dedicated their lives to agriculture and craftsmanship. With globalization and fast consumerism, their work has been impacted, forcing them to migrate from their towns to find a job, leaving families behind and living under poor conditions.
My mission with Armadillo is to help the families from the indigenous communities to preserve their ancient tradition by generating more labour.
By promoting these products I would like to cultivate social awareness, letting the world know about the existence of this ancestral tradition, it’s unique process, and the talented dedicated hands behind each piece. At the same time, ensure a fair price that motivates the weavers since many of them are willing to return to weaving and contribute to the household economy.
Looking back at the journey so far, is there anything you would like to tell your past self that you wish you knew back then? A tip for the entrepreneur that is still thinking if they can do this!
One of the things I would have liked to know is where to get advice on the fair trade fashion industry. I have previously worked in business consultancy so it was difficult to know all the details on how to operate a retail business. So I started looking in specialized books and online sources specialized but I never got accurate information on how to operate a retail business. It took me some time to learn and I wish I could have gotten accurate and useful guidance in for example; wholesale and retail pricing, but also how to do it to maintain a fair trade company, how does discounts in volume works, the appropriate margins for each channel, etc.
Finally, what part of being in the Myth community would you look forward most to?
Being part of an international community of entrepreneurs or business that have the same values and missions. Locally in each country, we have a cluster of companies however there is always close competition and it becomes difficult to work as a team.
Being part of an international community as Myth gives us an opportunity to become a group of entrepreneurs who support each other and getting that advice and motivation is very important for us as entrepreneurs.