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Starting a sewing business in Bogota, ColombiaMaria Useche

When Maria looks around her neighborhood, she sees immeasurable challenges. Set high atop a mountain in the south of Bogota, Verbenal Sur is windy and cold, difficult to get to and difficult to get around. The unpaved roads wind indiscriminately in and out until they abruptly stop, and the homes built of corrugated tin, wood and cinderblock stand scattered, doing their best to protect their inhabitants from the elements. Drug abuse is common, particularly among young people, and teenage pregnancy is a regular occurrence. In Maria’s words, “Everything here is hard.”

So when a local businessman offered Maria a job cutting and sewing towels, she jumped at the chance to work and began to hustle. She admittedly knew nothing about how to do the work or use the cutting and sewing machines, but she was a quick study and soon was doing well making colorful bath towels and washcloths. She proudly said, “I taught myself how to do everything I needed to do.”

With an income, a bit of money stored away from the towel business and a lot of creativity, Maria decided to launch a second business. She purchased cardboard tubes and colorful paper and used them to make piggy banks for kids – selling them to small shops in and around the neighborhood. With two businesses running concurrently, Maria and her husband knew that the key to their success was getting their products into the hands of their customers. Each morning, Maria was up at 5 to catch the bus down from their isolated mountain community and into town, where she carried a bag of towels and piggy banks on her back. She walked door to door, offering their products to shops, and she often didn’t return home until late in the evening. Selling was exhausting and unsustainable, and Maria knew that in order to continue to grow, she and her husband would need another form of transportation.

Two years ago, Maria and her husband purchased a car, and all of a sudden they faced a future full of new possibilities. Instead of spending a full day of back-breaking work lugging around bags of products, Maria was able to save half the time by driving her products to their various customers. With more time on her hands and the ability to deliver more products, she began producing gift bags in addition to towels and piggy banks. And before long, she also began to purchase bleach in bulk and package it in small bottles to sell as well.

Maria is a born entrepreneur. So eight months ago when she joined an Opportunity International Trust Group in her neighborhood, she was ready to invest and grow her company. She used her loan to purchase piggy bank supplies in bulk, and now she is producing more than ever before. She loads bags with 150 banks each to deliver to stores and other customers. While she and her husband are business partners, she loved that she could work with Opportunity herself- without needing her husband to cosign or supervise. In her words, “I like everything about Opportunity.”

Today, her home looks like a thriving, busy company. Two rooms are full of piggy bank supplies and sewing machines and products ready for delivery. Her nephew and sister-in-law both work for her already, and she dreams of having an even bigger business with many more employees in the future. She is saving to improve her home and to give her two children their own bedrooms, and she is always thinking of new ways to grow and improve the business. For Maria, her business has empowered her to dream bigger than ever before. And she says, “Thanks to God, I have my own business here in my house with my family. And now I don’t need to be up at 5 to catch a bus!”

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