For Frangipani’s second blog feature on Colombian designers, I spoke to Tita Navia, founder and president of Mishky, a line of beautiful beaded jewelry made by artisans in Colombia. 

Navia has always believed in the uniqueness of Colombian artisanship, and from the beginning she knew she wanted to export Mishky’s products on a global scale. “We didn’t start our Colombian branch just for the people, we started [it] for the world,” Navia explained. “In the beginning we wanted to export… and to expand to the markets in the US and Europe. So we started participating in trade shows in New York, and in our third year, we went to Paris.” Their first trade shows in Paris weren’t immediately a hit, but in a short amount of time, Mishky was able to refine the brand and their marketing strategy, and they became quite successful. “The first couple years were finding ourselves... but then when we figured that out and we consolidated the designs, it was great, the reception was very good.”

It was the discovery of Mishky’s true design core that ultimately led to their success as a business (that and their dedication to fair labor - but we’ll get to that later). “Happy, friendly and colorful” are the three words in which Mishky finds inspiration. Navia explained that they “play with those variables all the time. Everything here is so full of life and energetic, so we try to reflect all that in our collections.” The greatest thing about Colombia is that there is a constant source of great inspiration everywhere you turn. “There’s always nature, and there’s alway color. Because we have the Pacific Ocean, we have the Atlantic Ocean, we live surrounded by nature all the time, and these people live in different places and develop their own things that come from nature, so nature is a part of our DNA.” That, coupled with Colombia’s artisanal heritage, helps ensure that Mishky always has new and creative designs. Navia explained how necessary it is to really look around and observe the other artisans in Colombia, even just in town or on the streets. “In Colombia, you see amazing things, so we look at that all the time.”

And Mishky is a brand like any other; they have collections for every season, including Spring/Summer, Fall/Winter and Holiday. But with a strong base in colorful designs, Navia joked that it can be a bit frustrating when Fall/Winter collections come around. “We’re more of a summer line, so we always complain about Fall/Winter like ‘Ugh, now we have to make our colors a bit darker.’” Although the jewelry on Mishky’s website still exhibits beautiful colors for Fall/Winter, they may be a bit subdued. But there is one saving grace… “there are always resorts!”

One of the greatest things about Mishky, besides their beautiful and colorful jewelry, is their dedication to fair compensation and constant support for their workers. Mishky has developed a program called “My Mom for Me,” and it is another reason Frangipani loves the brand so much - there is so much detailed work going into each piece of merchandise, but there is also so much good coming back to the artisans from each purchase. 

When Mishky was initially looking for workers in Colombia, Navia tried to provide work “in areas where the opportunities for work are not that great.” Shortly thereafter, the My Mom for Me program was created.  It has been a great way to uplift women in Colombian communities and provide jobs which real mothers can complete in their own homes. “What [this program] means is that the mother has the opportunity– we usually work with mothers, often single mothers– and with us they have the opportunity to be able to work from home.” And not only do these mothers work from home, they are also given flexible working hours to schedule themselves when it best suits them: “the rules we have are very simple, they have to work at least four hours a day, which is half-time, and then from four hours, they can decide if they want to work five, six or up to eight…. They can work whenever it fits them better– they can take their children to school, they can make lunch, they can work at night a little bit.” The most important thing is that these women are able to be mothers and artisans without too challenging an overlap of the two; it’s a sustainable career for young mothers, a rare find in our current working world.

Now of course, with such a unique program allowing artisans to work out of the comfort of their own homes, some additional due diligence is necessary to ensure that the workers have safe and comfortable working environments. Navia has been adamant that this could not be overlooked, in order to sustain Mishky’s commitment to their employees and fair labor. This due diligence means having the artisans’ eyes checked and paying for glasses if needed, sending appropriate tools to help the workers be more efficient and just checking in with them on a regular basis in a casual way. “We say like ‘Hey, how are you working? Where are you working?’... and we try to also learn with them what is more comfortable, so that they have good conditions working at home.” Mishky also helps them adjust things as subtle as lighting or seat position, just another way to ensure their workers are comfortable and content.

And what makes Mishky even more unique and meaningful? Their extensive training program which is dedicated to helping women who may never have beaded before, but are eager to try. “With us they become artisans; they learn something new.” And although some of the women who Mishky trains go off and start their own small businesses, or copy some of Mishky’s designs, Navia says it doesn’t bother her and that it’s okay. Because at the end of the day, some of the women stay with Mishky and move up the ladder themselves, which is as meaningful as anything. “We have three cases of those mothers that were able to be with their kids and work from home when they were growing up, and now that the kids are going to college and they’re grown up taking care of themselves, these women have been able to grow within the company… Those ladies are amazing, and I’m proud of these people who now have managerial skills, and they have been able to be successful with us.”

It’s a mark of true success in my mind when a company offers their workers the ability to learn and move up in positions. As Navia put it, “that has been one of the things that has given me the most satisfaction, being able to find these women and give them the opportunity to fly higher.” Mishky proves itself to be yet another purchase you can feel good about, and Frangipani is proud to sell their products.

On a different note, when the Covid-19 pandemic came up in conversation, I was surprised to hear that Mishky had fared quite well, one might say they did even more than just ‘survive’ during the pandemic, because with new creative collections and many of their workers already working from home, Mishky was able to find ways to keep their workers working, and sales from their online store didn’t dwindle. During the quarantine, the brand released a ‘Solidarity’ bracelet collection in which they took words and phrases such as ‘courage,’ ‘hope’ and  ‘resilience’ and had their artisans bead those words into the bracelets to spread good vibes in Mishky’s community. And then, when they began to reopen again, Mishky came out with their Rainbow collection which “was like the light after the storm.” Just in time for pride month, these colorful pieces are fun, whimsical and beautiful - a fantastic way to show your pride.

On these new designs, Navia explained that “The effort that we did to keep relevant to our customers and our designs, was really special,” and it made them feel good not only to be able to pay their workers in a time of need, but also to contribute hopefully to the overall emotional wellbeing of the community. 

So, what’s next for the brand? Navia says, “I just hope now that when I retire, I will have somebody to continue the company and take it to the next level - that’s my hope now. That’s what I’m looking for - someone to continue with Mishky.” I think it’s safe to say the past of Mishky has been laid out well enough to prepare it for a bright future. 

August 24, 2020 — Elizabeth Sander

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