Making Masks to Fill Multiple Needs

Mercado Global works with Indigenous female artisans in rural Guatemala and is committed to providing income and support to women in these communities.

Mercado Global typically designs for Levi Strauss, Stitch Fix, Free People, and other big name fashion brands, but during this moment in time, the non-profit social enterprise has pivoted to making masks – with an important twist. The company, with offices in New York City and Guatemala, and works directly with Indigenous female artisans in rural Guatemala, is providing masks free of charge to organizations and communities impacted by Covid-19 in the U.S. as well as Latin America. Masks have been donated to front line workers in New York City, to migrant farm workers in California as well as at-risk communities throughout Mexico — and the Indigenous communities in Guatemala as well. More than 70,000 masks have been made; Of that amount, 60,000 have been donated, with masks also being sold via Mercado Global’s “buy one, give one” program on its e-commerce site.

In business for 15 years, Mercado Global specializes in producing fashion accessories hand made in Guatemala by women, who work from home.

“As the pandemic hit New York City in mid-March we did a quick shift to making masks,” explained Mercado Global executive director Ruth DeGolia. The team took advantage of fabric in stock, but also fabric that Levi’s had ordered but could no longer use; Levi’s offered that the denim be used for masks. “We had the logistics structure, and a supply chain at the ready,” said DeGolia.

The organization’s e-commerce business usually accounts for only 10 percent of Mercado Global revenue, but sales have tripled. In addition to masks, the Guatemala women’s co-ops are making mask pouches and other items. “Masks are the new must-have fashion accessory,” DeGolia said.

The real reason we are succeeding, DeGolia added, “is because there is a need for masks, and a need for work in Guatemala, and people want to help.”