A fun way to fund your Mexico vacations is by having an import-export business: buying local products in Mexico like handicrafts and selling them back home when you return. Mexico makes so many handicrafts that you have plenty of options, from Mexican rugs to silver to pottery and more.
Several regions of Mexico are particularly known for their handicrafts. The state of Oaxaca is one. Many villages within an hour’s drive of the capital, Oaxaca, specialize in handicrafts. Here you’ll find hand-loomed rugs; the famous black-glazed pottery; fantastical wooden animals called alebrijes; beaten-tin mirrors, boxes, Christmas-tree ornaments and wall decorations; and pottery figures for tables and gardens.
The Colonial Highlands is another handicraft-rich area. Taxco specializes in silver, including jewelry, crucifixes and other items. San Miguel de Allende has striking tin stars studded with glass that are used as lamps. Pátzcuaro is known for articles made of copper, while other towns specialize in pottery wall decorations, blown glass and leather goods.
And San Cristóbal de las Casas, in the southern state of Chiapas, is known for weaving, pottery, furniture and amber jewelry, among other things.
For the best prices, go directly to the craftsmen themselves. Locating their workshops and meeting the best craftsmen can be an adventure (or a vacation) in itself.
Of course, you need to do your homework beforehand, too. Study your home market to see what kinds of handicrafts may sell—and where you can sell them. And in Mexico, especially at first, buy a good sampling of styles and colors to see what sells best back home.
And try to avoid the biggest pitfall of the import-export business—liking your merchandise so well that you don’t want to part with it!
Running an Import-Export Business Part-Time
– Judy Miranda
Shortly after arriving in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I stepped into the home of a family of weavers. The room was swept and straw mats were spread over the meticulous dirt floor ready for the day’s work to get underway.
I wasn’t just here to watch how these craft workers produced their renowned cloth…I was here to give it a try. So, a back-strap loom was produced and fastened around me. Next, weaver Maria sat me down on a mat and guided my hand in weaving several rows of her design. When I laughed and asked her if she was going to replace my rather clumsy work, she shyly grinned and nodded “yes.”
Trying out the different looms was a fantastic experience, and I even got the chance to pose for a photo while weaving (see photo above).
After giving weaving a try, the family presented their specialty products before serving us up a delicious traditional lunch. Tourists rarely get this deep into the culture of the countries they travel to…but this wasn’t a typical tourist visit.
These artisans were happy to open their studios, techniques and their homes to me because I was there as an importer…which made me their business partner.
I became an importer of fine folk art as a result of years of travel and collecting handcrafted treasures. Visitors to my home would look at the weird and wonderful items I’d gathered on trips overseas and say things like, “I wish I could have…”
Finally, on a trip to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico in 2005, what had been a long held dream became a decision. I was going to try my hand at importation.
I started by shipping crafts home-purchased from mercados (markets) and stores, to see if they would sell. They did…and that was the simple beginning to what is now a part-time business with fulfilling relationships with artisans in numerous countries.
Helping someone select a intricate weaving from Oaxaca…a finely-beaded bracelet or Milagro necklace from Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala or a museum-quality tapestry from Ayacucho, Peru keeps me connected to these places and extends my travel experience to long after I’ve come home.
Learning about the cultures and techniques, sharing stories of the artisans and their families, being warmly welcomed back on return visits, knowing that your purchases are helping to feed families and send children to school all deepens travel beyond just visiting stores and sites.
Buying imports is one thing, but where to sell them? Well, I exhibit at festivals…holiday bazaars…conferences…and home shows. I keep my business part-time so the money isn’t huge…but this is a scalable business—the more time you put in, the more money you get in return.