The COVID-19 pandemic ended Etico’s short run. The boutique, which sold fair-trade, women-owned companies’ products and created a space for them to gain exposure and connect with customers, closed its doors less than two years after opening in 2019.
But the store’s former owner, Marissa Heyl, said the shop’s legacy lives on in the Fort Worth business owners it supported, including two that continue to sell their products online and in markets.
“Etico was a fair-trade retail storefront that allowed 16 local and global fair-trade brands to sell their products in a physical storefront,” Heyl said. “It was the physical manifestation of my passion to support fair-trade, women-owned businesses.”
What is fair-trade?
Fair-trade products are based on dialogue, transparency and respect and seek greater equity in international trade, according to the Fair Trade Advocacy Office, a joint initiative of Fairtrade International, the World Fair Trade Organization and the World Fair Trade Organization-Europe. The approach contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.
Rocio Aguliar and Kenyé Pierce arrived at Etico in 2020 to drop off their inventory to sell on the store’s shelves. As newly minted small business owners, they were excited to sell their products in a physical storefront.
Aguilar, the owner of Art by the Andes, brought delicate, hand-embroidered products, including purses, belts and table runners made by women artisans from the Andes Mountains in Peru.
Pierce, the owner of Skin Flo, showcased a selection of her luxury, ethically sourced handmade skin products: lotions, body scrubs, oils and more that were crafted by Pierce in her home.
The pair immediately connected with Heyl’s passion. Both women applied to become brand members at Etico after Marissa shared information about her storefront.
“Marissa and I met at the Boho Market in Fort Worth. She told me about Etico, and we started working together,” Aguilar said. “Marissa became a model for me – I identify with her and what she does.”
However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and personal life, Heyl closed Etico’s doors shortly after. But, as the saying goes, “when one door closes, another one opens,” and Heyl, Aguilar and Pierce are looking to the future of each of their businesses and continue to work together.
“I gained a lot of exposure to the local community when my products were in Etico,” Pierce said. “I am grateful for that experience and meeting Marissa.”
Rocio Aguilar: ‘I am proud to represent my country’
The glass armoire in Rocio Aguilar’s home brims with vibrant statues and intricate dioramas. A glass vase with yellow roses sits on the coffee table near a thick book about Peruvian history.
Three hand-embroidered purses: one white purse with symmetrical black designs, and two multicolored purses that represented every color of the rainbow are delicately placed on stands. Detailed patterns dance around the rim of her silk skirt and she describes its cultural significance and modern design. Aguilar’s strong connection to her home country is clear to everyone who meets her.
Aguilar and her husband moved to the U.S. from Peru in 2000 to start over and have better opportunities for their children, she said.
“The transition was difficult. My husband started a small roofing company, and I had the kids. To help out, I had to start cleaning houses when the kids were at school – it was very difficult because I never had to do that at home,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar had the opportunity to return to her home country of Peru after moving to Burleson, Texas. Upon returning, she looked at her home with a different perspective.
“I fell back in love with my country with different eyes,” she said.“I had a new love for the arts that I had never seen before. I brought pieces of home back with me to the U.S.”
The Peruvian art intrigued Aguilar’s American friends. Aguilar wanted to buy pieces in the U.S., but the markets were mostly resale items. She wanted to buy straight from the source because fair-trade is very important in her culture.
Aguilar began her research and found a group of women in Peru’s Andes Mountains that creates hand-embroidered patterns using looms and hand stitching. She began thinking of possibilities to help the women generate more income.
With Aguilar’s help, their patterns transformed into table runners, purses, belts, hats, jackets and even stuffed llamas. Each product is unique and one-of-a-kind.
The revenue from Aguilar’s business goes directly back to artisans or is circulated back to business operations. When Art by the Andes works with artisans, Aguilar doesn’t try to negotiate the price down, she said.
Each product takes days to finish since they are woven by hand. A table runner, one of Aguilar’s popular products, takes around 12 to 14 days of hard work to finish. Buyers are paying for their hard work and sustaining their livelihoods, she said.
Since starting her business, Aguilar travels back to Peru to visit the artisans.
“I bring the finished products, because they only get to see the patterns but never what they become,” Aguilar said.
The money Art by the Andes generates for the artisans goes back to the community and the individuals. A portion of the proceeds goes to community projects that benefit everyone. Recently, the community was able to fund construction of a community kitchen, she said.
Art by the Andes has become Aguilar’s full-time job. In the hot summer months, Aguilar has been able to sit back and spend time with her family before selling at markets in the fall.
“I am proud to represent my country and keep their traditions alive,” Aguilar said. “I love knowing I can generate continuous income for the artisans I work with, and I love sharing the handmade items with my customers.”
Kenyé Pierce: ‘I help woman plan self-care moments’
Kenyé Pierce is a proud mother of two and a lover of skincare products. But after her second child, she noticed her favorite beauty products started to irritate her skin.
Confused if pregnancy was the reason she started breaking out, she decided to research new products.
“There wasn’t a lot of natural skincare to pick from, none that I wanted to use anyway,” Pierce said. “So, I started researching how to make my own skincare.”
She wanted to make skincare products that helped with skin irritation but also addressed the stress and anxiety of being a new mom. Most of all, she wanted the products to help her “feel like the person I was before I had kids,” Pierce added.
Pierce spent two years researching different products and testing out the best combinations. In 2020, she launched Skin Flo.
“Right now I am a one-woman show,” Pierce said. “I design, make and package the products – it takes me about two to three hours to make a batch.”
During the day, she works at her full-time job at a graphic design firm in Fort Worth. By night, she comes home to take care of her kids and work on Skin Flo.
The raw materials, such as shea and cocoa butter, are sourced directly from local and U.S. vendors, specifically small businesses. All of the skincare products are made with plant-based materials and essential oils and nontoxic chemicals, Pierce said.
Pierce sells on her website, in small subscription boxes and in boutiques locally and along the east coast. At this point, sales revenue goes directly back into the business to purchase more materials, she said.
After seeing her products in Etico, Pierce hopes to sell her products in more local markets.
“I definitely want to bring another person in to help with marketing and branding – someone that can help get my name out there to more stores,” Pierce said.
Pierce is passionate about her business, but running it isn’t always easy.
“I handle the kids, work full time and run a business. It’s a challenge, as a woman, to handle everything outside of Skin Flo,” she said. “But I have to make everything come together if I want this business.”
Marissa Heyl: ‘I do this to empower women’
As Marissa Heyl wandered through the crowded and colorful streets of Jaipur, the capital of India’s Rajasthan state, she was exposed to the impressive craftsmanship of women artisans. Some created block prints on beautiful fabrics, others twisted copper into jewelry and some embroidered designs.
Heyl learned these practices were passed down from mother to daughter over generations. But she was shocked that these women could not monetize their talents or gain financial independence, especially in the villages outside of the city.
“During undergrad, I learned about the human side to the supply chains such as modern day slavery and the poor treatment of workers,” Heyl said. “I want to work to change those systems and inspire social change.”
During her time in India, Heyl worked with fair trade groups that paid women artisans for their work, some for the first time in their lives.
“It was amazing to see that these women were able to work and have a sense of agency – especially in the villages – the women were able to connect with others outside of their own family and have support,” she said.
Heyl always had an interest in the fashion industry, but she never liked how “exploitative, catty and superficial” the industry was. Fair-trade fashion intrigued her the most.
“My ‘aha’ moment came when I watched this woman block print a table cloth but I envisioned it as a fabric for a really cool dress,” she said.
Heyl’s eureka moment manifested into Symbology, a sustainable online fashion brand that transforms the fabrics and patterns created by women artisans in India into trendy clothes. The online website launched in 2012 and celebrates its 10-year anniversary this month.
“Our dresses range from $150 to 200. They are not cheap, but they are affordable to some extent. You are paying for the quality of handmade natural materials that goes back to support someone’s life – that’s the most important part,” Heyl said.
Heyl has consistently employed about 20 artisans, but has increased numbers to about 50 for larger orders. She enlisted help from Rabia, a woman in Rajasthan, who runs her own operation to employ artisans to create fabrics. Heyl travels to India once a year to visit the artisans, look at fabrics and check in with Rabia.
“Rabia’s mission is aligned with my mission, which I had not found in another partner before her,” Heyl said. “She provides scholarships for her artisans and I know her heart is in the right place.”
In 2019, Heyl wanted to take her mission to the next level when she founded Etico, which she calls the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex’s area’s first women-owned sustainable collective.
In 2021, Heyl asked Aguilar and Pierce to join her at The REV Show, RevTech Venture’s late night talk show featuring companies they invest in. Heyl and Rocio presented in-person and Pierce presented via Zoom during the episode featuring fair-trade companies.
While Etico is closed, Symbology continues to sell products online. Heyl is venturing into new industries and experimenting with new career paths and has relocated closer to the Dallas area.
She is currently exploring the sustainable interior design industry. With the country emerging from the pandemic, companies are trying to bring people back into the workplace, and Heyl would like to construct spaces that aid in “mental, physical and spiritual health” so that employees will want to return.
Heyl said she has not ruled out the possibility of one day opening another storefront, and supporting other women artisans that made Etico a special place. Her ideal store would likely focus on space and furniture design rather than fashion, she said.
“I loved meeting the customers, sharing the brand’s stories and helping women feel beautiful,” Heyl said.
Izzy Acheson is a reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com.