By Regina Connell.
There are some people out there who just can’t help themselves.
And thank goodness. Because if it weren’t for them, the world would be a far sorrier place. And less beautiful, too.
Marcella Echvarria is one of those people. She’s a NY-based connector, writer, photographer and social/cultural entrepreneur who’s a tireless champion of creating social change by bringing the work of global artisans into fashion and accessories and by telling the stories of the people behind the work.
She’s as savvy about the business world as she is about the skill and social and cultural context behind the craft, qualities that make her one of the few able to bridge this gap in a way that’s both authentic and smart.
The roots of her life’s work go back to her youth.“My mother is an artist so this kind of thing was always part of my life. I always had to make Christmas gifts, and things like that. My grandfather also valued handmade and believed in the importance of making. I came to see that the art is in the making, as is a great deal of healing. There are so many layers of meaning in making.”
She grew up in Colombia, then studied history and literature at Brown University (where many of my favorite creative mavericks come from). After returning to Colombia, she got a job at a publishing house but then, “realized that books took too long” and went into magazines. She eventually became an editor, and also founded a magazine with a group of people in Colombia.
Along the way, she learned of the work of artisans striving to keep heritage skills alive. Writing about them turned into working with them to create a line of jewelry.
There was only one problem. After all this great work got made, where to sell it? Marcella did what any self-respecting social activist entrepreneur would do: she created a market.
“So, I just started calling people about this, and someone at Donna Karan answered the phone. She of course said that Donna wasn’t available, but I just persisted until I finally met Donna. And she was really enthusiastic and agreed to buy the line.”
Marcella sold the company on creating a collection that joined the work of the North and the South. “The collection was really successful. We took this on the road. And this became a company called SURevolution.”
Since then, she’s been on a roll, working with companies and activist groups to create markets for the worlds’ artisans. This means lots of projects, teaching, and writing. She teaches sustainability and entrepreneurship at Parsons, and also has a consulting practice that merges branding and development by giving small brands and enterprises access to the currency and the unwritten codes of developed markets. As she says, “We focus on creating winning brands with meaning and depth.” In doing that, she “helps artisans and designers alike embrace the globalized world and discover each other. We work hands-on with artisanal groups all over the world to create great things for the global marketplace.”
When we spoke in late summer, she was consulting for Norlha, a company that sells the most delectable scarves and textiles made by Tibetan nomads. She’d also just landed a project in the Sacred Valley in Peru to make a traveling loom.
Marcella does a fair amount of branding and product development from developing craft networks in Cambodia and South Africa, too. And her project of the moment? It involves merchandising and design in New Delhi. Exhausting. Exciting. Important.
Storytelling to create awareness and deepen understanding and connection is a huge part of what Marcella does. Her articles and photos are also published regularly in Indagare, Daily Candy, Hand Eye, Summus, Travel and Leisure, Semana, Avianca, the Ethical Fashion Forum, ED from Chile, and many other publications and blogs focused on design, fashion, sustainability, good food, and new ways of defining luxury.
We love her big thinking. We love her commitment to bridging the considerable gap between the worlds’ artisans and designers and consumers. And we love the way the woman tells a story both in words and images. The world needs more mavericks like Marcella.
All images by Marcella Echavarria