Meet Mar y Lana

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I am absolutely obsessed with this line of traditionally made ruanas (basically, giant cape blankets). Mar y Lana started out as a line of ruanas for children, and grew into providing them for adults as well. I was so happy when they did - they are so soft and warm which makes perfect for our weird Calgary weather. I'm pretty sure I've worn mine everyday, both around the house and outside running errands or going on a coffee date. It has replaced my jackets since it keeps my warm when I am cold, but is airy enough that I am cool when it gets warmer. You can be sure you'll be seeing lots of it on our instagram. I wanted to know more about this awesome company so reached out for an interview. I love learning about new small businesses, and am excited to share this one with you. Read on below for some of Johanna's thoughts. For all of you amazing readers, Mar y Lana is offering you 20% off your next purchase! Just use code Flopsy20 at checkout!

Mar Y Lana, Lines & Current, Yor Leather | Isaac Peters Photography
Mar Y Lana, Lines & Current, Yor Leather | Isaac Peters Photography

What inspired you to start Mar y Lana?

My mother is from Bogota, Colombia. I grew up visiting Colombia nearly every summer, and wearing ruanas (ponchos). When I had my son Anderson he was given a hand-me down from his cousins. I was so excited this winter when he was big enough to wear it. He started wearing it around town here in Cardiff by the Sea and was showered with compliments everywhere we went. Shortly after, I was visiting with my mom and she mentioned that my cousin, Sergio, who still lives in Colombia, wanted to start some sort of an import/export business and immediately I knew what had to happen! My friend Bethany of Little Lu had recently started selling organic cotton headbands for babies and made starting a small business look really easy. So seeing her success was definitely inspiring to me and helped me take the leap!

How did you make the leap from idea to starting the business? What is your story?

I am pretty impulsive so after getting so many compliments and questions about where I got Anderson’s poncho, and do they make them for adults, I contacted my cousin. He began doing research and was able to go straight to the source. These garments come from a town about three hours outside of Bogota called Cucunuba.

Cucunuba has a long history of weaving ruanas. Their garments are sent all over the country. While he was sourcing the garments and finding an artisan I created the website, instagram, and Facebook. My sister is a graphic designer so she helped me with the logo. He sent me some samples that I then photographed on my children and husband. Within a week we were up and running.

Describe the tradition that goes into making your ruanas.

There is so much time and intention that goes in to each and every piece. These ponchos are handmade from start to finish. It starts with the sheep where the wool is cut using scissors, and then the women take the felt and stretch it into thread. The thread is washed and stretched. Then they brush it to soften it, spool it and it is ready for the loom. When the fabric comes off the loom they cut it and hand stitch the garment together. The last step is to brush the ruana with what is called a card. This is made from a type of thistle that is spikey. They put the dried thistles together in a sort of fan and then brush the wool to make the garment extra soft.

How do you select which artisans you work with?

When Sergio went to Cucunuba it took some probing, but he was finally able to find William who is considered the best artisans in town. William learned to weave from his grandfather. What percentage goes back to the artisans? What impact does this have on their lives? 

We are giving 5% of our profits to a school that we have selected in Cucunuba. This is a one-room school with about 17 students. The school is in shambles. Windows are broken, walls are cracking, and the playground is falling apart and jerry rigged. Worst of all the ground around the school is sinking because it is build near one of the coalmines. The school only gets what would be equivalent to about 70$ for the whole school year. Our business is still very young so we have not been able to make much of an impact as of yet.

How do you define success?

For me balance=success. There is a sweet spot to be found between getting out of your comfort zone and then digging deep into yourself to overcome the fear that accompanies the discomfort. As far as this business goes I would love to see Mar Y Lana find a balance between providing a great product for the consumer and a great source of support for the people of Cucunuba and this beautiful tradition.

What has been the hardest part of running a small family business, especially with small children?

I also work as a second grade teacher so time is hands down the hardest thing to balance. It feels impossible to accomplish anything at home with two littles and their endless needs and when I am teaching I do not have a second to spare. But thankfully we have a great nap schedule and an amazing husband. 

 What is the most rewarding part? 

The most rewarding part of this all is reconnecting to my heritage and supporting the dying tradition and the community.

What is your ultimate dream?

William tells a story of what Cucunumba was like when he was a small child. He speaks of there being so many looms working in town that you could dance through the streets to the songs of the looms. My ultimate dream would be to create enough demand for ruanas that some of the men and women who have had to leave this tradition behind to go pull potatoes in the fields or work in the dangerous coal mines could go back to their tradition of working the loom. There are many looms in Cucunuba just collecting dust. My dream is to awaken those dusty looms.

What advice do you have for others looking to take the leap into starting their own business?

Another friend, Amanda Curry of The Good Food Factory, whom I admire keeps a journal with her daily log of tasks and ideas. So I started one as well. This had helped me prioritize and organize! It is also nice to look back at my notebook at all that I have accomplished; all the little details that have come together to make some big ideas come to life.

Decide ahead of time how much time and money you can invest. Be prepared to let go of that money and not expect anything back. If you end up making some of your money back then put it right back into the business. Be patient with the business and be ready for the emotional ups and down. Some days you feel like things are going great and you feel this kind of high. Other times it has been a week since you have made a sale and you feel pretty low. But I think that is normal.

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