Jennifer Sews her Future
“USAID helped me realize I can do so much more.”
Jennifer Medina grew up with fabric. Her parents had a small factory, which made quilts and sheets. She loved the feel of the cotton, the brightness of the colors and how these can be converted into items for the home. Fifteen years ago, she started her own company, Cintora Textiles, to put her extraordinary design skills to work on everyday items at affordable prices.
Medina found particular success making pillowcases for beds and sofas, which retail giant Walmart bought en masse, and tablecloths that she was able to sell to local restaurant chains. Still, she felt she could do more. In 2019, USAID invited her to join the Value-Chains program, designed to strengthen women-led businesses so they could grow sustainably.
"I had the knowledge, the equipment and the staff but I had no one to sell to, the clients I had were not enough to achieve the stability I was looking for,” Jennifer said. "Maintaining a company implies permanent production and sales, I needed more clients to guarantee not only the salaries of the employees in the factory, but also of the people I usually hired when I had large orders.”
The program, which now includes more than 100 women-led small and growing businesses (SGBs), offered more than 200 hours of hands-on training and instruction on 25 topics to improve operational and financial management and adapt branding and marketing to access new markets. Jennifer redefined her brand, developed more attractive labels, and better organized her inventory.
She had her first big success at Guatemala’s national furniture and household goods fair, ExpoMueble, in November 2019. She won contracts worth $15,000 per week from two national household goods chains with a line of curtains and kitchen aprons for women, and barbecue aprons for men. These orders generated part-time work for half a dozen women.
One big lesson in the program I remember was about the importance of being open to change, to innovate,” Medina recalled.
This was put into practice suddenly when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020. With stores closed and orders plummeting, Medina started making masks and biosafety suits for companies. This kept her staff employed and even led to new contracts with the national Dollar City chain.
In 2021, the program culminated in the National Showroom for Women-led and Retail Businesses, which offered a space for 44 small businesses like Cintora to negotiate one-on-one with large national supermarkets. Cintora already sold to Walmart, but this event opened the door to nine other chains.
Jennifer investigated how items like hers were displayed and at what prices they were sold in other stores. She already knew which items she could make with less expensive fabric for more economical chains. She knew which patterns would appeal to different kinds of buyers. "Introductions to national buyers is the greatest support that I had from USAID,” Medina said.
“I put into practice what I learned about good negotiations, about confidence in myself and my products.”
Due to these introductions, she secured formal business appointments with three major chains. By April, Cintora Textiles had won contracts with all three. For one company, Jennifer adapted designs for tablecloths and cloth tortilla warmers, which are used in rural areas to cover freshly made tortillas. For another, she created an exclusive line of goods for chefs, including aprons and chefs’ hats. For the third, she created a more economical version of her fast-selling line of kitchen aprons for 45 stores in the chain. The three contracts added up to more monthly orders bringing steady work for 15 full-time and 30 part-time workers.
"We had to buy an embroidery machine, change our distribution and production system to be more efficient. Our production grew by 150% and this means we generate work every month for these women who live in the community".
With everything I have learned and the opportunities I have had, I have realized that I can do much more, my goal is to achieve the internationalization of Cintora and that is what I am going to focus on."
About this Story
Written by: Graeme Thompson, Palladium
Editor: Zeina Dubray, Creative Director USAID/Guatemala
The Creating Economic Opportunities Project supports conditions for, and directly stimulates economic growth in Guatemala to create jobs and reduce the need for citizens to seek opportunity abroad.
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