Running an Import-Export Business Part-Time

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.

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