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Young Latina Entrepreneur Builds Bridges, Boosts Latin American Artisans

Austin-born and raised millennial Sophie Eckrich co-founded Teysha, which specializes in handcrafted products made by artisans in Guatemala, Mexico and Panama.

Despite the politics around border and trade issues, Mexican-American business woman and millennial Sophie Eckrich is busy building bridges between the U.S and Latin America. Socially conscious and naturally equipped to get in the global game, her goal is to strengthen ties by creating solid partnerships that benefit communities on both sides of our borders.

Partnering with fellow millennial Travis Breihan, Eckrich founded Teysha, an artisanal shoe and accessory company that fosters fair trade and collaborates with master artisans throughout Latin America. The company seeks to bridge the two halves of our continent through a well designed celebration of multiple cultures, and they do it sustainably and with a socially conscious mission.

A custom made artisan boot. Pearson Ripley

"Custom and one-of-a-kind creations" is their tag line. Taking the work of global exchange one customer at a time, Teysha provides a design specialist to help create the perfect pair of individual boots, sandals or smoking slippers, or a unique tote or throw pillow. It's a daily reminder that our world is as interwoven as we want it to be.

We spoke to Eckrich about her journey and her company philosophy.

How did your Latino upbringing influence your global view?

Growing up bilingual in Texas in a Latino household, I was raised in two different but complimentary worlds and cultures. My mother was born and raised in Mexico City before meeting my American father and moving to Austin, Texas.

Our house was always filled with the colors, music, flavors of Mexico. My mother is a poet, anthropologist and social activist and from a young age she helped me cultivate a passion for the cultures, histories, and current events of Latin America.

Founder of Teysha Sophie Eckrich with artisans in Guatemala. Pearson Ripley

How did you know you wanted to make a business out of those influences?

Travis Breihan and I had both spent our four years of university study intensely focused on questions of International Development with a focus on Latin America, coupled with many experiences traveling and living in different communities and countries in the region.

When we graduated, we knew we wanted to create a sustainable business that was focused on opening opportunities for people to share their talents and heritage, while sharing all of the things we loved and learned about Latin America with our communities at home.

We didn't know exactly what that would look like, but we knew first and foremost that so many communities in Latin America have an extraordinarily rich heritage of creating things with what they have around them, be that an incredibly woven tapestry, a fine coffee, or any number of things.

But that market access and thus the ability to make a living from their craft is often a barrier. We knew if we could create something with those crafts or talents that was functional and fashionable, we could open doors to many people while sharing the cultures and vibrancy of Latin America.

Making of boots for Teysha collection. Pearson Ripley

We founded Teysha to create a platform and bridge for artisans, artists, and people around the world to share, preserve and celebrate art. The idea for wearable art came about as a way to open more doors for communities to create their art forms, and for people around the world to wear and share that art.

Was there any instance in which these communities surprised you?

We are constantly blown away by the ingenuity of the communities we work with. There is a village on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala called Santiago, where much of the community specializes in incredibly detailed and intricate embroideries, traditionally focusing on birds. We have always been a fan of the bird embroideries, and my partner Travis, along with one of our design interns, Grace, started spending a lot more time in the village this past year.

Travis came up with the idea for a bit of a design competition/ challenge, so we printed out flyers that had the outline of the shape of one of our boot and shoe panels, and a request that the women and men show us their wildest creations, be it flora, fauna, the cosmos, symbols, whatever they could dream up, and that we would return in a week and buy whatever they had created.

One of Teysha's artisan artists displays a Lonel and Siempre sandal. Pearson Ripley

Travis handed out many flyers, and by 7 am the next morning he was receiving tons and tons of calls and Whatsapp messages from women seeking more information and asking if they could join. He returned to Santiago a week later, and received 20+ of the most intricate, creative, wild, amazing embroideries we had ever seen, ranging from plants, flowers, animals, and beyond. Whereas previously we had only really seen the theme of birds, when challenged and encouraged to show us their creativity, the women and men went absolutely above and beyond what we could have dreamed.

This initial experience and the months of design collaborations that have followed, showed us that really the potential for creativity is unlimited when people have a place and a support system to express that creativity.

What is the biggest challenges you have faced with this company?

Helping people understand the deep value, work, skill and artistry that goes into each and every textile and good we produce.

In the U.S., we tend to be surrounded by things that are made as fast and as cheaply as possible, so looking at the other end of the spectrum where each and every thread, stitch, cut, is made by hand and with intention, can be a bit hard to grasp.

An artisan puts the final touches on a shoe. Pearson Ripley

We love showing people the behind the scenes view of the weaving, shoe making, and other crafts, and then when they see the product in their hands and can truly envision the many hands behind the good.