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Global Gifts: Artisan stories from Peru 

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click to enlarge Vilcapoma with son Franco
  • Vilcapoma with son Franco

Fermín Vilcapoma

Labán Inversiones

Fermín produces beautiful jewelry: earrings, pendants, brooches, rings. He is a native of Canta, a province three hours from Lima. Fermín moved to Lima with his mother when was in 1st grade. His wife, Magdalena, is from Lima. They have two sons, Franco (14 years old) and Aaron (11 years old).

He learned jewelry making from his father. Fermín wanted to study systems engineering but was not able to go to university, so he started making a living based on his training. He was the oldest brother and therefore felt somewhat obligated to be an example and join the family business. He has 3 siblings, two brothers and a sister. While his sister is an English teacher, the brothers are also jewelry makers. Although he was not able to attend university, he's been able to study administration and accounting to benefit his business.

The number of people he employs in his workshop has fluctuated over time. For example, in 1995 he had 5 employees. In 2000, he employed 15. In 2012, he has 5 (in addition to himself and his wife, Magdalena). Of the current seven employees, 2 are women.

He's been in his current workshop since 2000. Prior to moving here, he has worked in workshops first in his mother's home and later in his father-in-law's house. His living and working conditions have improved considerably from when he started: he was living and working in a tin shack. Now Fermín has a four-story cement building that continues to serve as both his home and workshop, although the spaces are well-divided.

His dream for the futursa e is to move his living space out of his workshop building and use that space as a jewelry school. He and his wife would like to be able to teach poor people the craft of jewelry making so they can improve their living situations and lives.

Fermín hopes his sons will be involved in the family business as adults but strongly believes they need to discover what makes them happy and do it.

Fermín is the secretary of a fair trade organization called APTEC (http://www.aptecperu.com/), the only one in Peru that is formed exclusively of producers. Different product lines are represented, like weavers, clothing, potters, and jewelry. He's been part of this group for 3 years and while he is proud of them, he feels like there has been a lot of work without much success so far. Still, he has hope that investing time and resources into this group will help each of the producers be more successful in the coming years.

His business has been hit hard by the recession. In the last 2 years, he has had to lay off 8 workers. He is hopeful that business will rebound as the worldwide economy improves.

When Fermín was asked what he likes most about his work, he offered several examples: how his business has grown in the last 25 years. How he and his employees have been able to support themselves and be successful through fair trade. Seeing his products in stores. A funny aside is that Fermín asked us where we were from. After hearing that we lived in Indianapolis, he told us he'd visited Indiana University in Bloomington last January at the invitation of a college group. Sam told Fermín that he runs a fair trade store in Bloomington. "I went into a fair trade shop there and saw some of my products!" Fermín said. After several more questions, we were able to verify that Fermín had indeed visited Global Gifts. How amazing that Fermín was in Indiana and saw his products displayed and sold at Sam´s store, and a year later Sam is at his workshop, seeing where the products he sells originate and how they are created!

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