In Her Words / A Message from our Artisan Partners in El Salvador

Lula Mena letter to Ibu Allies

Dear Ibu Allies,

We all have people who positively touch our lives. In my case, it was my grandmother, Abuelita Noy—I learned the joy of giving from her. I still remember her advice: do the best with what you have, where you are. She passed away a long time ago but the lessons I learned from her are still some of the values I live by today.

When I attended university, I was intrigued by artisanal design. I loved learning about the techniques, Salvadoran history, and art history. I was unsure how to turn it into a career until I started to meet the artisans themselves. I saw how the traditional techniques were transferred from generation to generation and realized there could be a beautiful symbiosis between a designer and artisans. The artisan, possessing unique skills that add value to the product, and the designer, with a fresh vision of trends and knowledge of market demands—together create goods that entice the consumer. Through this work, I saw a chance to help preserve the artisanal techniques that are part of El Salvador’s cultural identity.

Lula Mena Artisans

After an early career working on a national project to reactivate the practices of Salvadoran indigo harvesting and dyeing, I became a mother. During this time, I worked as a design consultant and felt blessed to have a job with flexible hours, allowing me to spend time with my kids without sacrificing my financial independence. Based on my own experience, I decided to work with women in rural areas to bring them the same opportunity.

Work opportunities for women who live in rural El Salvador are almost non-existent, often forcing them to migrate to the nearest city to find a decent job. With this burden, they only see their children every 15 days, leaving them in the care of other family members. I wasn’t sure how I could impact the situation, but I heard my grandmother’s advice to do the best with what you have and knew I could help make incremental changes over time. That is when I founded Lula Mena, which for more than ten years has generated hope and transformed lives by connecting art, design, and culture with the skills of vulnerable women in high-risk areas.

Lula Mena products

Lula Mena began with six women, and has grown to more than 100. One of our most significant challenges has been to provide steady and constant work for the communities, and is the reason we turned to international markets to sell our products. The Ibu Movement is one of our partners and an essential part of this value chain helping provide consistent work to our artisans, and enabling them to improve their quality of life.

In addition to support via the Ibu Marketplace, the Ibu Foundation has provided a grant to develop a new Lula Mena line of clay ceramics. This allows us to be more competitive by offering complementary products, and also provides job opportunities by training a new community of Salvadoran women. I am confident we will bring community development and hope to the women with this amazing support.

Women of Lula Mena

Today the women who work at Lula Mena earn up to four times more than their husbands, making them the main provider in their homes, which they often own. They make important decisions, such as providing health care and education for their children. Instead of sending their children to work in the fields at age 10 to 12, the women of Lula Mena see their offspring pursuing higher education. The machismo culture so common in rural areas is changing as husbands support their wives’ careers. I watch the women’s dreams shift from wanting to immigrate to the United States to envisioning a better life for themselves and their families through their work in their home country.

My dream is to continue impacting the lives of more women in El Salvador who live in vulnerable areas—bringing job opportunities to not just 100 women, but 500 or more—so they can change their reality and that of their children. I believe in horizontal projects, not hierarchical ones, where every role is important and offers a high degree of humanity and respect. By consciously doing small daily acts with great love and awareness, we can all change the world.

Today, I invite you to be a part of this social change, one design at a time.

All my best,
Founder, Lula Mena