Ali Hynek is the CEO and founder of Nena & Co. It started with an appreciation for her Guatemalan culture, and exploring the country with her mother, learning about the beautiful handwoven textiles and the people who create them. These fabrics, the weavers, and the culture are the foundation of her business, and she’s created a line of limited edition handbags and accessories that her fans can’t wait to purchase, and that serve an even greater purpose in the country that inspired the business to begin with.
I want to ask Ali about the start of her business, how it evolved, how she stays true to her “why” and the mission to provide reliable and sustainable income opportunities for artisans who help create her products. But I also want to dive into the limited edition product space, because it’s something Ali and Nena and Co do so well.
This episode will be rich with clear, actionable advice for purpose-driven product-based businesses, and the ins and out of growing a company with a limited edition product model.
Where It All Began
Ali got married at 31 after years in Corporate America. She and her husband knew they wanted kids, but they didn’t know they’d face infertility issues. Their journey to having children took about three years before they got pregnant… And it was with triplets!
As anyone who struggles with infertility knows, it can be so hard on you in so many ways. She needed something of meaning to take her mind off the challenges she faced trying to start her family with her husband. So she started traveling, and she made trips to Guatemala, which is where her mother is from.
She was always taken with the beautiful culture of Guatemala and the textiles created by the artisans there. Ali would take these stunning handwoven textiles home and then not really know what to do with them. And then she had a moment… Ali wanted to create something new out of the textiles that would be used and appreciated by others, beyond their original form.
Nena and Co. started as a way to pay homage to indiginous artisans and give them an opportunity to showcase their culture, art, and beauty of handmade work, framed with a high-quality product. The textiles are turned into bags and other accessories in a “slow fashion” model.
Connecting Consumers to the Story
The mission of Nena and Co. is at the forefront of her thought process — So much so that their website is getting redesigned because Ali wants the consumer to learn so much information about where the textiles and products come from before getting to the point of scrolling handbags. “The goal is to connect the consumer to the artisan of the product,” she explained.
The handbags are at a higher price point, $300 to $500, but when the consumer learns the story behind each product, the handcrafted nature of the textiles, and what their money is supporting, the purchase price feels better on their wallet.
“There’s so much heritage and story to be told,” from the thread that’s dyed and given to the weaver, who weaves with the technique she learned from her mother, and her mother before her. And that’s only the beginning of the creation of the bags. Sharing that story is so important to Ali, and she wants her customers to feel connected to the brand and the people behind it so deeply.
How to Connect Your Business to a Cause
“Being a socially conscious brand has become a trendy thing, and I’m okay with that!” Ali said. More companies are popping up with philanthropic or socially aware efforts tied to their business, wanting to be the changemakers in the world. Nena and Co. is still a for-profit company, but there were a few things that were important to Ali that allowed her to organically connect the business to a cause.
Ask yourself: What are you okay with in your business? What’s your threshold when you’re faced with a decision that impacts the core values of your business? For Ali, she wanted to make sure everyone in the creation process was treated fairly. As the business grew, she weighed her decisions against that core value — to treat all artisans and makers fairly from start to finish.
If you want to connect your business to a cause, finish your projects and be consistent with your efforts. And don’t be afraid to showcase the work that you are doing to support the cause. Ali helps the artisans she works with on a freelance basis access materials and knowledge to grow their own business, and she communicates that work to customers so they know the cause that their dollar goes to support.
Limited Edition Products
Limited edition products are a lot of work because they each have their own story that needs to be communicated to the consumer, but that story can also be the benefit of a limited edition product.
Someone scrolling bags on any other site might make their selection based on size, color, what they need to put inside the bag, overall visual appeal, and price. A limited edition bad from Nena and Co. brings in a story about the woman who made it, what the symbols in the fabric mean, and ultimate connect the buyer to the product beyond the basic decision factors when shopping for a handbag.
Limited edition products also encourage consumers to make a decision, and make it faster. Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and so demand grows. “It almost creates some FOMO,” Ali laughed. Nena and Co. started only releasing new bags on Friday mornings, and this system creates even bigger demand.
The Big Picture
Ali has had the opportunity to see firsthand what her company is creating for the indiginous people in the countries where she sources materials. She has learned their culture and met their families, and has collected stories that represent her “why”. When your “why” is so clear, aligning your company with a cause like Ali has done is clear in every aspect of her business.
For more from my conversation with Ali Hynek of Nena and Co., press play on the episode above.