We arrived in Mexico in October 2017 and have since been living, working, and travelling across North and Central Mexico (plus a pitstop in the USA). We’ve travelled round about 16,000 kilometres, which is roughly the (linear) distance from Portugal to Mongolia, AND BACK! We’ve slept in probably 15 different beds, in four Mexican and one US-American state. And our dog Pablo has been travelling with us all this time – except for the States, just was too risky. It’s been one massive adventure!
We got here with far too much luggage and the ambition to start a business that would allow us to spend time in both our home countries (Mexico and Germany), and that would have a positive social impact in some kind of way. We wanted to join the growing number of enterprises that are demonstrating a different way of doing business: business as UNusual. We had decided on selling products that would be designed by us and manufactured in Mexico, and somehow combine traditional artisanal manufacturing techniques with cutting edge computer-aided technologies.
In terms of the product, we were thinking lamps and glass. Hand-blown glass. So, once we had made our way from Mexico City, to Torreon (Juan’s hometown), to Guadalajara, we started running through the streets of Tonalá (a city within the wider area of Guadalajara) looking for glassblowers. Google and Facebook, and the www in general, were totally useless, by the way. Everything is word of mouth here. Seriously. We would talk to some guy who would say we should just walk on straight two blocks, then turn left, and then turn right, and then ask for ‘Alberto’, their cousin, the sister of their cousin, or something like that. To no avail. Turns out that, although Tonalá was once famous for its glass-blowing artisans, the technique is practiced by very few artisans nowadays. Mainly because of the costs of running the ovens, which have to run 24/7! A few larger companies have now taken over most of the glass-blowing work across Guadalajara. As we wanted to work with artisans or small-scale businesses, this meant back to the drawing board for us, to re-think our product.
We hadn’t really stopped travelling for two months, so we thought we might as well go and take some time off from the city, from distractions, and just think. Off we headed to the coast, to a sleepy beach town called Melaque. Paradise, seriously. What we did there can be best described as a mini-incubator – with the benefit of morning walks along the beach and spectacular sunsets. We sat ourselves down and forced ourselves to define what we want Many Makers to be, what we want to achieve, and how we want to achieve it. All the text-book stuff that you kind of don’t want to do, but know 100% (thank you dear Hunter CentreFamily!) that it’s absolutely critical. We worked on our mission, our vision, and defined a 3-month project plan, along with a wider project strategy. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. One moment we felt exhausted, the next exhilarated; we laughed about the stupid, ridiculous, and cheesy things we had come up with for our mission, and then felt really proud about what we were achieving. One of the results of this mini-incubator was the first version of our website, which we couldn’t have done without Mirjami Qin– you extremely talented legend! Turns out a website is a great tool to focus your thoughts, because you’re forced to think about what it is that you want to communicate to others.
We spent about a month incubating and sipping freshly cut coconuts. Then came Christmas and so we headed back towards Guadalajara and family. This is when we documented the first artisanal pottery Technique in Tonalá, an artisan-rich town on the outskirts of Guadalajara. We had no script, but great gear from DJiand Moment, and so we just chapped on the Ortega family’s door and went for it. It was a lot of fun. Colours and chickens everywhere! You can watch the video here. We ended up leaving not just with tons of film material, but also a blue and yellow rooster made by the Ortega family.
We had been thinking about how to make some money while our project was developing, and spontaneously decided to take some more roosters back to Melaque with us; to see if we could sell them at local tourist markets and to get talking with people about our project. Over the next few weeks, we sold all roosters and received brilliant feedback from customers. We were excited and felt like we were on the ‘right’ track. We got carried away, really. So much so, that we put in another order with the Ortega family. It went well for another week or so, until we realised that we had strayed from our original plan: designing our own products! Suddenly we couldn’t see the ‘red thread’ anymore: why were we here, and what were we doing? What were we doing at these markets? Had we really quit our jobs in Glasgow to start ‘this’, whatever that meant? Aaaaaah!!!
A couple of intense brainstorming sessions later, we felt more focussed and motivated again. And publishing our first video gave us a much-needed confidence-boost: apart from raking-up more than 6000 views on Facebook, another well-known artisan from Tonalá who had seen the video, got in touch with us, asking if we could make a video with him, too. It was the nudge we needed, and so we decided to continue documenting artisanal techniques until we were ready to develop our first product. That happened a couple of months down the line, in Guadalajara. But we’ll tell you all about that in our next blog post!
¡Hasta la próxima!