Since 2010 Greenpacha has been working with artisans of Ecuador and their beautiful tradition of hand-woven toquilla hats. Founded on values of sustainability, ethics and respect, authenticity and innovation remain at the core of the brand. We spoke to Florencia Gomez Gerbi, CEO and one half of the co-founding sister duo.
What do your first 30 minutes of the day look like, your morning routine?
I like to wake up early, around sunrise, most days. I do Bowspring, a physical practice that activates the fascia and leaves my body ready to start the day, either for surfing or working creatively.
How has your schedule changed during the pandemic and how has this altered your creativity?
To be honest, I have been positive about this pandemic, considering the challenges it has brought to my company and artisans. I try to flow with the circumstances that are beyond my control and get the most out of it. Being at home has allowed me to have more time with my family, without the usual travelling or excessive movement. This, in turn, has allowed me to be more creative and focus on the things I didn’t have time for before. I am aware of the difficulties this change has brought to many people, but I have disconnected with much of the main media as I find it draining and sometimes misinforming.
I feel these times are an opportunity to observe more and be reflective on the way I am within myself, my family and my community. I also became more flexible about my plans for the near future. I live day by day.
As founder, I was already conscious at the time to buy, and think that from now on, the world will change towards a more experience-oriented way of consuming, one that elevates the self; and also, people will be more open to create in collaborations, which will certainly bring like-minded people from all around the world to connect and generate more consciousness while creating.
How did you know it was the right time to launch Greenpacha and what were the stepping stones to that point?
Creating Greenpacha was a 100 per cent intuitive process. I wanted to be an entrepreneur in California with values that respect nature and inspire artists in the creative process. I love to surf and create art; my entire lifestyle is centred around these two expressions. I created Greenpacha living this lifestyle. At the beginning we designed balsa surfboards, I wanted to promote the “Green ride”, but in one trip to Ecuador with my sister, an Ecuadorian friend introduced us into the Panama hat path, which is actually in Ecuador. The fine toquilla straw weaving blew our minds. On this trip, I met doña Rosa Aurelia Salinas, the leader of a weaving community in the Ecuadorian hills. We instantly connected. She was starting a co-op of artisans back in 2010. So, we basically helped each other to build what we have now. We became friends and have remained so since then.
How did growing up in Argentina support your ability to launch Greenpacha?
I guess growing up in Argentina, the most European of the Latin American countries, gave me a sense of style that I was able to blend well when I moved to California. And it was also super easy for me to connect with the artisans in Ecuador because I can relate not only with the Spanish language, but also with some cultural Latin American ways we share, like humour, warmth, music and the ability to always find a good excuse to party.
You founded the brand with your sister Julieta – how is it working together?
We are still working together so I think it’s going well! Regardless of our differences I always tried to find common ground and prioritise our sisterhood. We are both artists so running a business wasn’t our strength. I always thought if I were to be a CEO, I would want to create an environment of enthusiasm within my team that inspires each member to work with passion independently and drive the best success for Greenpacha, not in an office but from wherever they are. Juli and I worked from the two different hemispheres for most of the 10 years and the distance sometimes was challenging, but we persevered so now it is our strength.
I am the creator and guardian of Greenpacha but I like to let the creativity of each member flow genuinely and supervise that gently. I like my team to be motivated by their own results and also allowing them to auto-redirect if something does not work out.
We love that you work with artisans and support this craft. How challenging was it to make that dream a reality?
Working with artisans is a journey. Each hat is different and unique because it is handmade and the emotions, activities, weather on the days the artisans weave all affect the product. So that’s why I like to say that our hats are alive, they have the energy of the mountains, the skill of the hands and the prayers these ladies do when they weave. All these, empowered by the force of a pre-Colombian tradition that it is alive now in 2020 thanks to the artisans.
We have had lots of challenges with our clients in regards to sizing, styles, colours, imperfections etc., because of the nature of them being handmade but this is also part of the beauty of our products.
Since 2010 we have visited Ecuador regularly, and each time we learn something new. We participated in most of their festivities and shared their culture. Each May we send two per cent of our sales to the co-op and over the years they build a workshop and they improved their technologies. We always bring a respectful approach, making sure they knew we wanted to honour their work and dignify the beauty of their legacy. It took us seven years to gain their trust and in 2017 they gave to us and Greenpacha their blessing.
Do you feel more drawn to the creative or the business side of the brand and how have you grown the team to support this?
As I mentioned earlier, I am more drawn to the creative side but I had no choice to learn to be a CEO and make friends with the numbers. My team has pushed me to do so and demanded me to take this role more actively, so I did, but in my own way. That is, finding the right people for each task. Perhaps it took me more time than any other business could survive, but as Greenpacha is a passionate and flexible business I was able to conquer this dream and I am happy to continue to grow like this, organically and with the right team members.
What has been the biggest hurdle since starting your own brand and how did you overcome it?
To switch industries. As a surfer, at the beginning I wanted Greenpacha to be in the surf boutiques, naturally. But it turned out to be a very expensive hat for this industry. So, I needed to move my brand and strategy to the green fashion world, which I really liked but I had no idea about. It took me some time, lots of investigation and patience to make this transition happen in a clever and genuine way. But I am really happy I did.
Do you have any mentors or guides and how does this help navigate the right path?
I do, and I did have, lots of them. I don’t think anyone can do anything successful alone. We learn when we relate, so I have learned from a lot of people. My husband Fernando has helped me in the business side; the artisans have helped me to understand and appreciate their work; Julie my sister has confronted me with reasons I didn’t see; Mario Gemin has helped me with the artistic direction of the brand; Julie Gilhart has been my mentor to prepare Greenpacha for the fashion world; a few milliner artists have taught me a lot about hats; my father has given me good pieces of advice; Valery Demure with whom I work now has been really helpful in reaching the audience suitable for Greenpacha; the girls from A’maree’s gave me beautiful advice. Some good friends and artists along the way too… I couldn’t make this happen without the help from all these precious people.
What is your approach to scaling the business and are there any markets you’d like to focus on?
At Greenpacha our mission is be the “go-to brand for Panama hats”. That is, you need a sun hat? Think Greenpacha. As we only focus on this Ecuadorian weave made with natural material, all our hats are free from plastics, we are green for real. Our hats smell like nature, like a plant, it is very pleasant. They are light and flexible. They are perfect to enjoy and be protected from the sun. Plus, we have the new paradigm values in our DNA of respecting nature and the artisans involved bringing design innovation to a tradition. I am confident with the direction and potential we have and we are ready to deliver. As we expand the line, we will only work with plant-based fabrics. Now we are about to launch a new line of fine artisanal linen to the collection, so we are very excited about that.
You have clients the globe over – do you see any buying patterns based on regions or countries?
The patterns I see are more related to the style of hats people buy. People are going back to middle to shorter brims as opposed to the last two years obsession with the oversized brims. Most of the time people choose natural colours, which totally makes sense when it comes to buying a straw hat. Nevertheless, we are trying new colours too. Japan and the have been our strongest regions in terms of sales to date, and we’re looking forward to exploring more corners of the globe. We only do spring-summer collections, so we also work in Argentina and Australia.
How have you stayed connected to the bu-yers you work alongside at e-commerce brands such as Browns, Matches Fashion and Net-A-Porter and what do you predict a buying season will look like in future?
I have no great expectations for Greenpacha sales in 2020, for obvious worldwide reasons, but I have a good feeling about 2021 and beyond. I feel the Greenpacha audience is more sensitive and drawn to appreciate a product like ours. We are working on a new collection that will make our clientele happy to be back outside and enjoy the simple pleasures in life with a Greenpacha hat on. As for our clients, I am always there to help them with anything, but the Valery Demure showroom is in charge of managing our accounts. Anyone interested in our brand will be redirected to the showroom. They work amazingly with us.
How has social media affected building Greenpacha and which platform has been most useful?
Social media is a great tool for building a business nowadays and gives us a global reach. We mainly focus on Instagram and Facebook. I have a passionate young team creating content and being active across these platforms which is where we see a large number of clients contacting us. Tiare manages our @greenpacha account and I have a personal one for any direct inquires @greenpachaflo.
Which Instagram accounts do you follow for inspiration?
I honestly mostly follow and engage with my friends and members of my close community I am living at the time. Sometimes, I follow randomly and temporarily, some creative accounts like @i_d or @dezeen or @nowness or @wolfcubwolfcub and some artists I admire, like @mirandajuly. When creating, I find my inspiration where I am offline. An artist I follow and I adore is
@ErykahBadu, I love her style.
We love all your styles; how do you perpetually innovate?
I love to be inspired and I seek for a definition of beauty; and in the process of redefining it, I found a pleasure for sophistication, more in the simplicity rather than in the complexity. I also find pleasure in meeting people and making new friends with mutual affinities. I am always following my curiosity to find inspiration. If I can’t travel, I find a way to take a journey inside.
Do you have any pre-bedtime rituals?
Be grateful for my day, shower or rose baths from my garden when I have the time, clean and nourish my skin and teeth, hug my loved ones and read a few lines of something that provokes me to have good dreams.
What do you carry with you always when travelling?
Hats of course. Quite a few of them! I’ve become an expert in travelling with hats so if you are unsure of how to pack a hat please don’t hesitate to contact me and I will be happy to help you.
What advice would you give to your younger self starting out?
Follow your intuition and enjoy the ride, be a good listener and an avid observer. Love what you do even though you don’t know what you are doing, one day you will realise. Don’t be afraid of speaking numbers and know that emotions don’t count in business.
If you had not launched Greenpacha, which other roles would you choose career-wise?
I am a dancer and I love to sing. Perhaps I would be singing jazz and Bossanova in cool small venues.
This issue is ‘The Summer Escape’ – where would you like to escape to?
I think for this summer which has been really exceptional I would like to go to Formentera and Ibiza, as a surfer I have never been there because there are no waves. Perhaps visit Greece too if I am in Europe. Or, if I take a surf trip, I would go to Baja California, Mexico with my friends and family. Tahiti is also pending on my list, or to my favourite place in the world, Bali. It’s hard to decide for a travel lover!
Pick up a copy of ‘The Summer Escape Issue’ or download it here.
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