If you have visited Puerto Rico, you know that Old San Juan is a “Must See” in the island scenery. This old historic district offers the best crafts of Puerto Rico combined with beautiful views, restaurants, art, museums, history, sculptures, music, dance, bars and nightclubs.
And if you haven’t, then prepare yourself for a treat. You will be walking around an old city in the tropics – it is very hot and usually humid. You must wear sun screen and a hat, and bring a bottle of cold water with you. You may even consider carrying a sombrilla for shade. And for all of it, just consider buying a Concalma tote bag right there, in the heart of Old San Juan.
For the last few years, news from Puerto Rico has been related to high unemployment, corruption and government mismanagement. However, in the midst of all the negativity coming from the news, the people of Puerto Rico continue to be its bright spot.
Case in point is Matilsha Marxuach, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, who has made a name for herself. With a background in Design and Fashion, Matilsha has been on a dual mission- promoting her creations while generating employment for others.
Matilsha knew the moment she finished her schooling that she would one day open her own business. She had become obsessed with the idea of recycling and eco-preservation, a new push in the Enchanted Island to preserve its scenic views and natural environmental beauty.
She became aware that women were spending more on quality and not quantity when choosing certain accessories or pieces of clothing. Her initial plans were to open up a boutique with second hand items but she also knew that the best crafts of Puerto Rico came from its rich source of labor and skilled artisans.
Blessed with a strong work ethics, she worked hard and opened her first store in Puerto Rico ten years ago but business was difficult in the first few years because the country was mired in a deep recession. Locals were only buying things they needed. Luxury was a forgotten item for many Puerto Ricans.
Matlisha’s initial venture into the world of business was a collaborative effort with a women’s co-op, which supplied labor for a third party to make hand-made designer bags, totes and clutches. When the third party textile business went bankrupt, the workers started to work for her.
She opened her store Concalma –with calm/at ease– in 2006 and has never looked back. Inspired by local culture and concepts of friendliness and functionality, she created a product that is relatively cheap, elegant and also helps build local communities.
With the use of social media and the quality of her products, her business began to pick up. Soon she saw tourists venture over to her shop instead of the ritzy malls. She could hardly keep up with production, and the rest is now history. She recently was one of eight finalists of the AccessLatina Business Accelerator program.
Concalma “with calm / at ease” brick and mortar store
Located away from the posh hotels selling purses and bags at exorbitant prices, Matilsha’s Concalma store has bags that can match any budget. Plus, her bags are environmentally friendly and look immaculate. The artistic bags are made of cotton with nylon liners and all the fabric is exclusively acquired from Puerto Rico suppliers.
The majority of her messenger bags are not only functional but elegant. They come with fine hand-made details and a mixture of fabrics. Prices vary from $35-$120.
In addition to offering their products, Concalma’s mission is to raise awareness about the importance of fair trading partnership with local producers and suppliers of the best crafts of Puerto Rico, based on transparency and respect that sustains equity in international trade.
While most Puerto Rican entrepreneurs have set up their businesses for the international markets, Matilsha is one of the few pioneers who believe in the term “going local.” The importance of local design and manufacturing as well as promoting sustainable practices makes Concalma a quality and creative design store with products that are the result of sustainable, social and responsible actions.
Doing business Concalma
Over the past few years, Matilsha has continued to produce a line of product that matches the store’s Spanish name “Concalma,” meaning to “approach everything with a sense of calm.”
Concalma serves as a marketplace for its own product line of designer tote bags and also distributes other best crafts of Puerto Rico from local designers or brands.
She fervently encourages local consumption and production, which has also created employment in this city with massive layoffs. While her major business is selling hand-made bags, you can also pick up some high quality exotic Puerto Rican coffee in her shop.
Matilsha still maintains her down to earth personality and her motto is to always please the client. She is well aware of her destiny and is embracing it with delight. Nothing makes her happier than to see people carrying her bags and to see her artisans well rewarded.
She has received recognition for her work and her creations as the 2014 winner of the “Microentrepreneur of the Year” by the Citi Foundation and the Puerto Rico Community Foundation; and the 2009 finalist of Guayacán, Inc.– EnterPRize Business Plan Competition.
Conscious buyer or conscious shopping
Concalma designs and sells its products with the life cycle of the product in mind. They have set up different ways to encourage conscious shopping at its brick and mortar shop in Viejo San Juan –it doesn’t matter where buyers had acquired their product.
If you have been using your Concalma bag for a while and you are ready to give it up, you can visit the store and trade it in for a new one with up to a 15 percent discount, or you can do a straight exchange for a used one available at the store. Finally, feel free to buy used bags in store at a discounted price.
“We are happy to share with our customers the culture of conscious shopping, fair trade and solidarity in the economy,” Matlisha said.