By Geno Veva
My name is Geno. Six years ago, I left my corporate life in Guatemala City and moved to a small village on the shores of Lake Atitlan. I fell in love and now have my amazing four-year-old daughter named Love.
After Love was born, I wanted to treat her only with natural products made from plants. I had always been interested in the natural medicines that have been used by the Mayan community around our lake for centuries. This is where the development of my line of beauty products began—I started making natural products for Love.
Diaper rash was my first challenge (that should be obvious!). Then came soaps, lotions, sunscreen, shampoo, oils, and creams, which more or less turned our home into a lab, with hundreds of containers of the extracts I made from the plants I collected from the land around Lake Atitlan.
Over the next four years, people around the lake began to ask for my products more and more. I built up a business and started offering workshops. Then in 2018, I met James Dillon from Ethical Fashion Guatemala. James was excited to learn about my all-natural, Guatemalan-sourced body care products, and together we began to work on a plan to bring my specially crafted body care formulas to a larger clientele.
In sourcing ingredients for my beauty products, I wanted to know where the plants were grown and to make sure that the farmers did not use any chemicals in the growing or harvesting processes. I use only natural oils from the coconut, macadamia, coffee, and cacao plants. I know the farmers with whom I do business and have the oils processed without additives.
James and I wanted not only the contents but also the containers to be 100% Guatemalan. When it came time to discuss packaging, James pointed out that most containers used for natural beauty care products are made of plastic. Lake Atitlan is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Unfortunately, plastic has become one of the killers of our lake’s natural health, in particular. However, its negative impact is certainly not restricted to our lake. All of the world’s oceans, lakes, and shores are littered with tons and tons of plastic bottles and bags. Neither James nor I wanted to contribute more to that problem. We also realized that using plastic to contain my natural creams and lotions would be a contradiction in terms.
Before I continue with my product-line story, I want to share another aspect of plastic and its relation to our lives. Plastics are not only the container material of the products that we use on our bodies every day—they are actually ingredients in those products as well. Plastic appears in many lines of beauty care products in the form of “microbeads.” Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic found in many very well-known conventional beauty and skin care products—many are household brand names. They are rife on supermarket shelves and mainly found in exfoliating face and body scrubs, glittery make-up, toothpaste, and shower gel.
More than 64,000 kids younger than 5 years of age in the United States alone had a cosmetic-related injury between 2002 and 2016, according to estimates in a study published as recently as June 17, 2019 in the journal Clinical Pediatrics.
Rest assured that you will not find microbeads or plastic in ANY form in or around my products. So, plastic was out. We began to think about a substitute.
In the village of San Antonio Palapo on Lake Atitlan is a small, artisan ceramics factory. The workers at this factory produce beautiful, lead-free ceramics. Each piece is hand-painted and signed. We had found our Guatemalan-made container source! I worked with the artisans to design truly beautiful containers. The end result is that all of our products are sold in environmentally safe ceramic containers made in Guatemala that no one would ever dream of throwing away—a positive move for the environment and for the artisans of Guatemala.
Next came the wax. I use wax to seal my products and as an ingredient in the lip balms and in some of the creams. The wax I use comes from a small group of artisan beekeepers who live in the hills above the Guatemalan Village of San Juan La Laguna. They care for the bees and protect them from pesticides. Since I use wax in many products, I wanted to see where the bees fly, how they are cared for, and especially to meet the people who tend to them. I know that like the plants I source, the wax I use is a safe ingredient and product protector.
An added gift of using the wax as the containers’ sealers is that after you remove the wax top, the pleasant smell of fresh honey remains.
As I mentioned above, I was ready to develop a clientele outside of Guatemala in addition to my neighbors and customers all around my country. I needed to determine how to market and ship my products. Once again, James and I spoke about how to ethically and practically do this. I am not a supporter of Fair Trade. Sadly, Guatemalan production and marketing is replete with “Fair Trade” groups who pay artisans Q89 a day (US $11.00 a day) to produce products they then sell for $300 to unsuspecting customers. I did not want to be part of something that in so many cases did not compensate my country’s artisans fairly.
Instead, I chose to work with Ethical Fashion Guatemala, which ensures that its member artisans receive truly “fair” compensation for their artistry. As a result, my line of natural beauty care products is having a positive economic impact on my community around Lake Atitlan. In addition, Ethical Fashion Guatemala helps me source supplies, conduct tours, and offer workshops. And when I speak about sourcing supplies, it is important for readers to know that since 2016, Guatemala has had no postal service within the country itself or between Guatemala and other countries!
Because of this very disastrous situation, anyone needing to earn a living from selling goods other than to neighbors has had to rely only on the tourist trade and those Fair Trade groups that I described above. That was until Ethical Fashion Guatemala came to the rescue. They have partnered with a world-wide delivery service that will work with Guatemalan companies to deliver supplies and products into and out of the country from and to all parts of the world. For the Lake Atitlan group of artisans (and there are many), this source of shipping and general support has allowed them to grow economically and artistically and has provided people around the world with an opportunity to have products that are carefully and beautifully crafted and also safe to use.
In the beginning, my development of natural body care products came about for the benefit of my precious daughter. I now want to share those benefits with women around the world who are interested in using the products for themselves and their loved ones and perhaps also want to develop their own line of beauty products that are pure and good for our world. I hope that those of you reading this story of my business and avocation will feel inspired to get in touch.
You can learn more about Geno Veva by going to her Facebook Page.