Where: Brooklyn, New York
Tucked away to the north of Brooklyn lies Huitzilli, a boutique which specializes in guayabera shirts, in addition to beautiful Mexican handcrafts.. The name Huitzilli means hummingbird in the native Mexican language Nahuatl. Emily Cantrell, the owner, chose it as her totem after she became enamored with the hummingbirds that visited her house when she lived in México. Aside from their beauty, she found it fitting that these fierce fighters are capable of migrating great distances: much like Emily, some go from México to the US and back year after year. We spoke to Emily about her retail journey so far, and what she’s learnt along the way.
Where does your love for México come from?
I was always particularly fascinated by México from my childhood. We went on a trip there when I was little and I feel like that really captured my imagination. A number of years later, I met someone from México, we fell in love and ended up living there, and it’s also my son was born. When it came time to move back here (United States), I really wanted to find a way of keeping connected because I love México and the people I became close to there.
What made you choose to open a store?
I’m actually an artist by background, and had been living in New York. So during the time I was living in México I travelled a little bit back and forth. I would find some amazing handcrafts and bring pieces back to show my friends, to gauge their interest and see if it would be an option to become an importer. I jumped off the deep end and decided to go for it, and I’ve been doing it for the last eight years now. It’s been a really amazing time for me – it’s been challenging but also extremely rewarding.
What are some issues you’ve run into with having an international business?
It’s interesting how the technological advancements in the last five years really have made a difference in my business. When I first started, a lot of people didn’t have internet – they’d have to go to internet cafes. It made it really difficult, I was generally dealing with a lot of people of an older generation who were actually making the handcrafts.
Also, sometimes I’ll find a garment and the quality of it is stunning – in the sense that it might be a hand woven cotton, it’s pedal-loomed, it’s something that anyone one here would be fascinated by its beauty. But the cut of it might be not quite right. I try to work with the artisans to a point where I think it’s still retaining the flavour of what it is, but try to make it so that it’s more consumable by our clientele. Believe me it’s very tricky, and I had no idea how difficult that is to do until I started trying to do it, because it really gets into the realm of fashion production.
It’s a process that’s very interesting and it makes you appreciate what goes into the making of garments, and how complicated it is. We don’t really think about that as consumers, we walk into a store, pull something off the rack, we like it, we don’t like it, end of story. But there’s so much that goes into it, and that’s why I feel that our stuff is really different: it’s not being made in a factory, it’s not being made for mass production, it’s being made in someone’s home, or in a small workshop. So it has a whole other set of challenges and qualities, it has this incredible potential and uniqueness, and that’s what sets us apart.
How do the artisans feel about their products being sold overseas?
I think most of them feel very proud about it, I think they feel like it’s validation in a way. I don’t feel like it should be like that, they should be getting more recognition for what they do in their own country. But sometimes, you know how it is, the things that are closest to you, you don’t really value. I feel like a lot of times Méxicans may have their own connotations and associations with those things, so they don’t necessarily always appreciate them. I’m not saying everyone, but in general I feel that artisans are somewhat underappreciated. So when someone from outside comes in and gets excited about what they do, it’s really validating for them and I think they like that. From an economic perspective, any time they can broaden their horizons as far as having a bigger market and increasing sales, then that’s a good thing too, especially when it’s done fairly.
What brought you and Vend together?
I was doing my business in a very rudimental way. Seriously, old school! Pen and paper, hand written receipts, and my bookkeeping – it was a nightmare. I was like, this has really got to change, I really need to get with the program. And so I put out a request for help from an intern who knew about business, and I got a wonderful student from New York University who responded right away.
She started doing research and she came back to me with a few options. To be honest, I don’t even remember what the other options were, I just realised that the price was great with Vend, and it seemed like an up and coming company. And of course we were able to do some trials with it, which made it easy to put everything in place and see how it’d work.
It really covered a lot of bases. It was great for the hassle and headache of not even having a proper inventory or bookkeeping solution for the store, as well as integrating with my website and being cloud based, so allowing me to manage my store from away.
I’m still, little by little, learning more of what it has to offer because I probably haven’t taken advantage of all the things it can do. So now I’m really just trying to get in and use more of the functions!
– Emily Cantrell, Owner, Huitzilli
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About Grace O'Hara
Grace is a Marketing Assistant at Vend and helps make cool things happen behind the scenes. She enjoys talking to incredible Vend retailers from around the world and making the world a better place with her side projects. You can get in touch with Grace by email or connect with her on Google+.