Jacqui Stephen of Siemba Heritage: “Learn from those mistakes”

Learn from those mistakes, it’s a part of growing. While building this business, there were a lot of unknowns, but I was passionate about giving these artisans a platform and sharing to my community the beauty of original, hand-made items. From being a stay at home mom, to a business owner, it was scary, and […]

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Learn from those mistakes, it’s a part of growing. While building this business, there were a lot of unknowns, but I was passionate about giving these artisans a platform and sharing to my community the beauty of original, hand-made items. From being a stay at home mom, to a business owner, it was scary, and mistakes were made but I would not change a thing because I am where I am at today because of those hiccups.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacqui Stephen.

Jacqui Stephen is a Southern California native and the Founder of Siembra Heritage, a socially conscious fashion brand that supports the Argentinian Artisans One-of-a-kind, handmade goods. Jacqui’s parents and extended family were born in Argentina, where she has been immersed in their culture since she was a child. From speaking Spanish in the home, to traveling to and from Argentina on family excursions, Stephen’s upbringing represented a celebration of life that connected her to her ancestral traditions. Today, Stephen divides her time between Southern California working with her marketing team and in Argentina where she works directly with her sourcing team to buy goods from native villages.

With each Siembra Heritage product, Stephen hopes to continue supporting small businesses, selling small-batch goods and encouraging customers to learn more about the production behind their purchases. Siembra Heritage weaves a history of Argentine craftsmanship with Southern California trends to tell a story behind each good sold.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My family is from Argentina and many of my close relatives live in Argentina currently, so I’ve traveled to the country a few times. During one of my trips a few years back I popped into a store that sold beautiful artisanal items that were hand made by the indigenous communities of Argentina. I learned more about these indigenous communities through the owner who purchased these handmade items firsthand from these local artisan communities. Not only was I awe-struck by the beautiful craftsmanship of the hand-made items, but I also learned how by doing this he was supporting the artisan’s quests to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining, and that was something I wanted to get involved in to. So, I started Siembra Heritage to further the mission of celebrating and supporting goods created by ancestral techniques handed down from generation to generation.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I met a gentleman and his family from the Qom community that create beautiful baskets, totes, purses, and other interior décor items out of palms using an ancestral weaving technique. My very first order of bags I ordered from this gentleman who introduced me to the bags and shared about the communities. I still remember the shock and excitement from this man and his community: They could not believe that someone from the United States was buying their products and selling them. He was so humbled and honored for the opportunity. I was so moved and humbled by his message, I saved the message and still have it saved. When the pandemic hit, I continued to purchase from him just to help them survive. They depend on open markets to sell their products and with the pandemic all those markets were shut down. I wasn’t selling anything at that time, but I couldn’t abandon the families and communities who were so excited just a year earlier.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

Shipping product from Argentina to the United States has always been a challenge, when I first started my goods were always held up in customs. There were always questions about what type of leather was being used, where did the antlers come from, etc. These experiences weren’t necessarily funny, but they were learning lessons that I can laugh about now. I do have a funny story that I remember; When my cousin, who sources and handles all negotiations, picked up some product to be shipped. She was in such a rush that she packed things up quickly and dropped it off at my shipper. When I was reviewing the inventory list with the shipping department, we noticed some items were missing. We searched everywhere to no avail. I chalked it up to a loss and moved on. When the box arrived, I opened the box up and began unpacking. While unpacking, my youngest son grabbed one of the bags and realized it was really heavy so he looked inside and found the missing items. My cousin was trying to consolidate and accidently had packed the items inside one another. Mystery solved!

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It is very important to do always check inventory: once the product is picked up from a vendor, before being shipped out, and upon arrival. As well as always checking inside the bags for any surprises thrown our way.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Siembra Heritage is continuously empowering and supporting those indigenous communities through purchasing their hand-woven products. By purchasing these items, it provides a stable income for them as well as supporting a self-sufficient lifestyle for the artisans.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I became very interested in the women of the Wichi Community. One of Siembra Heritage’s sustainable lines comes from this community of women who create these amazing, unique pieces. They not only produce these pieces, but they also are learning how to be entrepreneurs themselves. These women are driven with amazing talent and Siembra Heritage is all about empowering them and giving back with each item sold.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The root of the problem I am constantly trying to solve is the fast fashion industry buying mass produced items. Siembra Heritage’s goal is to encourage those to buy and support the artisans who make original, one-of-a-kind items. Buying from a business like this is knowing your purchase has power and real hands created these works of art.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is about influence not authority or power. A good leader is able to map out a road to success using communication, empathy, accountability, and GRATITUDE. We learn by making mistakes. I like to give opportunities to the people I work with to make their own mistakes and learn from them.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Stay true to yourself — don’t deviate from your passion just to appease others.

Mistakes will be made, just keep going.

Have patience.

Things are not always what they seem, building a brand takes a long time and effort.

Learn from those mistakes, it’s a part of growing. While building this business, there were a lot of unknowns, but I was passionate about giving these artisans a platform and sharing to my community the beauty of original, hand-made items. From being a stay at home mom, to a business owner, it was scary, and mistakes were made but I would not change a thing because I am where I am at today because of those hiccups.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to inspire more smiles. Smile, it doesn’t cost you anything and it’s contagious- if your smile it inspires someone else to smile back! We live in a country where we are always going, going and going. During my travels throughout the remote areas in Argentina and Peru, I experienced such peace, and everyone smiled! I remember thinking the indigenous people don’t have anywhere near the large number of amenities we have in the States, and yet there is such happiness in the simplicity of their lives and pride in what they do. I would love to inspire more smiles.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a few, but my favorite two quotes would be:

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of another people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” Steve Jobs

I found my voice with this career and with that voice I gained strength. For too long I let other people’s opinions and ideas guide me and shape me growing up. I had a voice, but I wasn’t strong enough to make it heard. I finally decided it was time to be heard. It doesn’t matter at what age you find it, just make the world hear it!

The other quote is: “Put a dent in the universe” by Steve Jobs.

I went through a very tough period early on in my marriage and it taught me humility. From that, I learned that it was very important to give back to the world that had given me a newfound life. For me, making a difference in some way, somehow is of extreme importance to me. Giving monetary donations to make a difference is nice, but there are many ways to give including giving your time, energy, and love.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are a few people, but I would love to have a private lunch with Colombian-American fashion journalist, Ninotchka “Nina” García. As a fellow Latina, I am intrigued with her story of how she came to be such an important figure in the fashion world. I would love to know how she started and have her walk me through her journey, starting from the very beginning.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on Facebook and Instagram @siembraheritage

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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