Editor’s note: The following story — a spotlight on a member of the Plexpod community — is sponsored by Plexpod, a progressive coworking platform offering next generation workspace for entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-stage companies of all sizes.
A Kansas City company’s mission to connect U.S. consumers to native blankets ethically produced by artisans in Ecuador is about empowerment — but not charity, emphasized Raul and Kirsten Reyes.
“We work hand-in-hand with these talented people to create an amazing product — [while] adapting to the requirements of the culture so that it actually becomes more appealing to the people there,” said Raul Reyes, himself an immigrant from Ecuador, who with his wife co-founded Beyond Borders Collective.
Poor choice of words
“It’s our duty to actually do our part and say, ‘I think these people deserve dignity. I think these people don’t deserve to be called poor.’ Because when it comes to [being] ‘poor’ as in having a lack of money … then that’s called ‘lack of money,’” Raul Reyes said, laughing.
“You don’t call it poor because poor is a mindset. I just grew up with a different approach to those things and that’s why we run the business the way we do and that’s why we have the relationships with the people [working with us.]”
The duo’s commitment to breaking stereotypes surrounding the world of indigenous artisans and allowing them to play an active role in building the business is just one piece of the company’s ethos. Such empowerment includes fair employment practices, pay, and creative control for the artisans working to make Beyond Borders Collective’s signature blankets, Raul explained.
“A lot of people think that the artisans we work with are in poverty — and that’s not true. You see products [from other countries] and [sales campaigns that say,] ‘You’re giving education to a kid.’ There’s nothing wrong with that … we don’t treat [our business or team] like some sort of charity. We love to support charities as people and as a business, but we are not one.”
“[For us it’s about,] how you actually do good from the private side of the company. How do you actually dignify the people that you work with [in a way] where you’re not helping them to do anything, but you’re actually partnering with them to accomplish something better?
“[With this model] they put their heart and put their culture into the product. It’s a win-win relationship.”
Click here to follow Beyond Borders Collective on Instagram.
Weaving a life, business together in KC
Hustle and heart know no bounds, said Kirsten and Raul, a couple eagerly working to weave themselves and their passion for culture-rich creations into Kansas City’s entrepreneurial fabric.
“We knew it would bring greater opportunities for us,” said Kirsten, detailing why the couple relocated from her hometown in Nebraska amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My mom actually grew up here in Kansas City and we got married here and it was always the place that we just loved and enjoyed.”
The city’s startup and small business culture, business building assets that include locally grown Plexpod co-working spaces — where the couple offices and lives, thanks to its partnership with Flaschube apartments — and its geographic makeup made it prime real estate for Beyond Borders Collective to plant long-term roots, Raul Reyes added, noting the pair nearly headed west as the pandemic surged.
“We were first initially planning to move to California, but that didn’t work because of COVID … and business-wise, it was not going to be a good move. Establishing ourselves in Kansas City was actually the best thing we could have done.”
While the co-founding couple resides stateside, their mission (and that of their business) reaches much further, he added.
“The main thing for us is showing the culture of the Ecuadorian people through a product,” Raul said, explaining the overall mission behind Beyond Borders Collective, a blanket and homegoods company that elevates and celebrates the handcrafted work of the indigenous people of the Ecuadorian highlands — where Raul was raised and the place Kirsten met him during a mission trip.
“We went together on a trip with a group of friends to a marketplace and Otavalo, Ecuador, and that’s when I first was introduced to indigenous artisans,” she recalled.
“Months later, after we had been dating and got engaged and [I moved] back to the United States, we really wanted to do something [to partner with the] artisans; and we love the blankets,” she continued, noting just how important the handcrafted blankets have been in the couple’s story.
Click here to learn more about Beyond Borders Collective or to shop.
“We’ve used them on picnics and our engagement as well. We brought a few blankets with us [to the states] to share with friends and family and we realized people loved them as much as we did, and that we weren’t biased,” Kirsten laughed.
“Sharing them with friends and family, [we realized] this could be something that’s really great. My husband has always had a heart for small businesses and to build something of his own.”
Already in Raul’s second nature, early exposure to entrepreneurship and an equally strong heart for the creatives of Ecuador drives the business forward nearly four years later, the couple explained.
“Our goal is for everyone to enjoy being wrapped with the idiosyncrasy and richness of the culture, warmth, and soft goodness,” the pair tells customers on its website. “Together, we are bringing a touch of indigenous culture, a feeling of home wherever we are, and the experience of empowering others.”
An exchange beyond transactions
The couple’s approach to business has helped them realize business doesn’t have to be (and in many cases shouldn’t be) transactional.
“I received a phone call [from an artisan] during COVID and I was in quarantine, just to make sure I was safe. I was thinking, ‘He probably wants to know what’s going to happen with the business,’ and the thing I heard was, ‘How are you doing?’’’ Raul recalled.
“Knowing that he took that approach instead of actually talking business made me realize that there was something way deeper than just the transaction that we always have. The relationship transitions into something even better and bigger where we’re able to actually co-create things together and they have more trust to show me how their businesses is run and how we do business on our end.”
Allowing customers to touch, feel, and experience such realizations for themselves is something the couple hopes the business can stand for well into the future, Kirsten added.
“A touch of culture, the experience of empowering others, and the feeling of home wherever you are … that’s one of the things that really sums up who we are as a brand,” she said, referencing the company’s tagline and driving home how critical it is to thoughtfully expose the people of Kansas City — and the world at large — to cultures that thrive beyond its borders.
“We try to make every effort to bring a special touch of culture to every area of our company,” she continued, noting the company’s blankets are named for various Ecuadorian tribes.
“We understand that once we learn from other cultures, we expand ourselves and we learn and we grow and that’s why it’s so important for us to be able to share more of a culture, as much as we can.”