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Weaving Sustainable Impact: MZ Made’s Journey in Fair Trade

Most businesses often prioritize profit above all else, leading to practices that overlook people’s needs and can harm both individuals and the planet. Liz Rojic recognized this issue in the fashion industry and took a bold step to create positive change.

Through MZ Made, Liz fosters a business model built on mutually beneficial relationships between the business and the artisans crafting its products. As business owners, it’s essential to shift focus from sheer profit margins to creating a better world.

Liz Rojic’s CEO Journey

Liz began her business life doing logistics for an e-commerce fast fashion brand — but her work didn’t align to her values. She later learned that one of her friends, Shelley Tennyson, was working in Oaxaca, Mexico to teach business classes to women artisans. Tourism had dried up in the area, and it was hurting economically from the crash of 2008. As someone with the soul of a crafter, Liz found her calling.

In 2011, Liz joined Shelley in Oaxaca, collaborating with a group of women to sell handmade bags and home decor to the wholesale market. This marked the inception of MZ Made, a company driven by intention and meaningful relationships with artisans.

For Liz, MZ Made is more than a business; it’s a commitment to a mission and intention embedded in each product. The core strength lies in the profound relationships with artisans, ensuring a deep connection with every handcrafted item. As Liz puts it, “There’s a mission and principles and ethos and intention that goes along with this amazing bag that you get to carry for years.”

Bringing Oaxaca’s artistry to the U.S. wasn’t merely a business transaction—it was a heartfelt endeavor. Thanks to Shelley’s profound connections with artisans, MZ Made flourished, staying steadfast to its core values. This strong relationship became the driving force behind the growth of both artisans and MZ Made, working hand in hand to elevate their business.

A Question of Practicality

Building MZ Made wasn’t without challenges — most of them practical difficulties. The Oaxaca artisans saw weaving as something they did as part of their day, woven in between the acts of daily living. The designs also required a lot of review, because although the designs were innately traditional, with a strong cultural background, the market they sold to was Western. One way or another, something had to change to accommodate the business.

A Clash of Cultures

There was also the practical question of how people live their lives. Liz is North American, raised in North America, with a work ethic ingrained from that society. But how people in North America work isn’t the same as how the Oaxacas work. 

Their lives are different—they have different celebrations, holidays, and priorities. A deadline that would be feasible for a factory in North America might be impossible in Oaxaca, or it might be completed far ahead of schedule.

People aren’t machines. People have lives to live and things that they love. 

Although the artisans of Oaxaca create unique, beautiful designs unseen anywhere else, they don’t work the same way a factory machine does. 

But that’s the power of relationships. Working closely with the artisans meant that MZ Made could pay respects to the rich cultural background of their designs while still creating something that would appeal to their market. 

Production was built around the artisans, not the other way around. It was a business for the people.

Putting Profit Last In a Labour of Love

One of the goals of any B Corp is to balance people, planet, and profit. That’s precisely how MZ Made does its balancing: people come first, planet second, and profit last. As long as they continue operating, they can continue to provide for their people.

Liz acknowledges that not putting profits first is a struggle, but it’s one she’s proud to bear. It’s simply a matter of goals: “I help the livelihoods of people that I consider dear friends, people I have a relationship with. And that really makes the struggle a little easier to bear.”

Furthermore, the simple act of ensuring that all their products are handwoven ensures sustainability. All their products are made in traditional ways on treadle looms, keeping them close to carbon neutral.

They take extra steps to care for the planet too. On top of their carbon-neutral production, they avoid using airplanes—which have a colossal carbon footprint—when it comes to shipping. MZ Made also uses all sustainable materials.

Keeping Principles First

MZ Made’s success is rooted in its commitment to principles over aggressive growth. Opting to remain a small business, Liz ensures that their values take precedence over profit margins. Unlike companies pressured by investors, MZ Made prioritizes enduring relationships and humane practices.

Their core principles emphasize building lasting connections, mirroring the longevity of their artisan relationships. Liz expresses, “We’re trying to form relationships that are mutually beneficial to all of us for over a decade,” highlighting the genuine care embedded in their actions.

Funding That Fits With Your Values

Liz also admits that their P&L doesn’t look as fantastic as that of a company that puts its profit ahead of everything else. But that’s part and parcel of working under the privileged constraints of being a fair trade, B Corp certified, humanistic enterprise.

“It’s made more sense to stay small with our funding…we’ve used lines of credit from other financial institutions that have known us for years,” according to Liz. The strength of their relationships with financial institutions helps them push through their challenges. Keeping their finances small works to their advantage. It lets Liz run MZ Made exactly as it was intended: with its principles first.

As a small business, it’s critical to be careful about your funding. Some forms of financing, like revenue financing, tend to be very extractive for small businesses. Platforms like PayPal or Stripe offer various cash advances but have huge interest rates that can severely damage a business — especially a business that aims to create good in the world.

Rooted In Justice and Fair Trade

While MZ Made is not yet Fair Trade certified, the principles of fair trade have been integral to its foundation. Joining the Fair Trade Federation, under the World Fair Trade Federation umbrella, aligns MZ Made with a community of like-minded businesses. From the start, Liz envisioned MZ Made to be part of a community of like-minded businesses.

This desire came from the injustice she saw happening in Oaxaca: “The artisans of Oaxaca had been taken advantage of so much over the years. Boutiques and people that sell things would travel to Oaxaca, and pay absolutely nothing for the products and then just take them home and sell them.”

Liz’s vision is centered on creating a partnership that goes beyond profit, respecting the lives, history, and culture of the artisans they serve. 

The Living Wage As A Human Right

According to Liz, “We really believe that living wage is a human right, and a thriving wage should be.”

One of the difficulties many people in Mexico face is inflation. The wages people receive isn’t enough to cover their cost of living and still allow them to lead fulfilling lives. MZ Made lives out its principles; at a minimum, they provide at least triple the Mexican minimum wage. 

Liz actively engages in ongoing discussions with the artisans about their finances, aiming to provide wages that not only cover their labor but also support a fulfilling life, including expenses like rent and school tuition.

How to Price For the People

MZ Made offers artisanal products priced in alignment with their value. These items are not meant to be inexpensive: “These are handmade items. Think of when your grandmother made you a quilt when you were a child. That item was priceless to you, because she made it with her own two hands.”

Liz acknowledges the prevailing expectation for products to be as low-cost as possible but emphasizes that cultural traditions are invaluable. The designs crafted by the artisans represent love and a heritage stretching across generations—a symbol of community, care, and culture.

Distinct from fast fashion, these products endure. Centuries-old textiles, displayed in museums, attest to their longevity. The artisans of Oaxaca employ traditional techniques to create items of similar quality. Purchasing one becomes an investment in both the creators and your wardrobe.

Learn More About Liz and MZ Made

Liz Rojic is the CEO of MZ Made, a company that celebrates the culture of Oaxaca weavers. She’s seen both sides of fashion: the fast, wasteful, unsustainable designs that fall apart in a few weeks versus the rich heritage of slow fashion, where she puts people and quality ahead of a quick profit. 

Liz worked with her friend, Shelley Tennyson, to found MZ Made and bring slow fashion to North America while forging a powerful relationship with Oaxaca artisans. Their products approach carbon neutral while using sustainable materials and supporting the people behind the work.

Learn more about Liz as she continues her drive for business that puts people first through MZ Made.

Use the discount code HERJOURNEY in the MZ Made shop to get 10% off through the holidays, on top of the already existing holiday discount!

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