Bolivia Emprendedora

Chocolates Para Ti: Smells Like Chocolate!

chocolates para ti

When we walked into Chocolates Para Ti (Chocolates For You in english)- a coffee and chocolate franchise in La Paz, Bolivia, we were greeted by the smell of chocolate. We sat down at one of the coffee tables, and drooled down at a menu listing over 20 types of natural chocolates made in Bolivia.

Veronica Gantier opened the franchise in 2015 after helping launch the first Chocolates Para Ti store in Sucre, Bolivia. As an architect and designer, Veronica designed the entire store layout for booth the Sucre location, and her own franchise in La Paz.

chocolates para ti 2

Veronica admits that since opening the La Paz franchise in 2015, “business has been slow. It is not as successful as I had hoped. While La Paz is an excellent place to start a business, our location within La Paz doesn’t have a lot of traffic. Regardless, I believe that the design and layout of the store helps bring in some customers because it creates a great environment to enjoy chocolate.”

“My cousin and I have been dreaming of opening a place for years. While, the concept did great in Sucre, neither of us knew how to run a business and had to figure it out on the go. Originally, I was supposed to help start the business and leave it to my cousin, but in the end I wound up taking over most of the operations.”

The future of Veronica’s franchise in La Paz is uncertain because of the struggling sales. “Only time will tell,” she says. Our fingers, and taste buds are crossed!

Disenos Ana Palza: Empowering Indigenous Culture

Disenos Ana Palza

The first thing we noticed when we walked into Ana Palza’s design studio, Disenos Ana Palza, were the mannequins adorned in colorful cholita dress, equipped with the iconic bowler hat, plush petticoats, shawl and huge decorative jewelry. Ana is a jewelry designer for Cholita fashion, the style worn by Cholas or Cholitas (the common term given to Bolivian indigenous women).

“It wasn’t too long ago when Cholitas would have been shamed for the way they dressed. They were discriminated against in their education, job opportunities and were even banned from certain parts of the city. Now, Cholita fashion is huge and even non-indigenous Bolivians are taking part, like me.” Ana participates regularly with the numerous fashion shows in La Paz, featuring solely Cholita dress. But, the biggest time in Cholita Fashion is Gran Poder, a two week long Christian religious celebration observed by the indigenous community in La Paz.

A big reason why Cholita fashion has become a movement in Bolivia was the presidential election in 2005 when Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president was elected for the first time. His two terms has ushered in pride for Bolivian roots and reduced social injustice. The president was elected for a third term on January 22, 2016 (historically only two, five year terms have been legal).

Cholita fashion

“Fashion is seriously important to Cholita culture. It’s a huge status symbol. Wealthier Cholitas will spend up to 3,000 USD on a piece of jewelry and that doesn’t even begin to cover the expenses regarding their skirts, hat and shawl.” Cholita women who can’t afford a 3,000 jewelry set which includes earrings, pin for their bowler hat and shawl, can rent the jewelry at a lesser cost if they have the money, or settle for cheaply made copper jewelry (keep in mind, minimum wage in Bolivia was set at $215 a month in 2014). Ana is exploiting a middle of the road approach. “Our jewelry sets are about $300 and are handmade by Bolivians.”

It’s also important to Cholitas that they own a unique set of jewelry. The look of the jewelry is fiercely guarded secret in case competing women copy the style.

Ana has been in the jewelry business for 15+ years, starting when her sister and former business partner traveled to China and brought back Chinese styled and priced jewelry back as a gift for Ana. They quickly started a jewelry import business in Zona Sur (The wealthy district in La Paz) and employed over 15 women to help sell and create elaborate pieces. “But, like all good ideas, it was soon copied by other entrepreneurs. Margins slipped, we starting laying people off and eventually closed down the business.”

Two years ago, Ana started Disenos Ana Palza. “We are the only option available in Cholita fashion in the mid-tier price range. But, I know that because we have been successful people will soon start to copy our model. Our competitive advantage is our styles. We mix today’s Cholita fashion with older indigenous styles and modern western flairs. For example, this year our fish and coin jewelry has been very popular.” Ana shows us a special set of jewelry featuring fish (a sign of abundance) and old Bolivian coins. “Pearls have also been a hit.”

“I am very ADD,” admits Ana with a chuckle. “So, I am constantly creating. I think that is a big asset for me. Ideas just fly and I notice new trends all the time. The way my mind works helps me create and helps me stay ahead of the competition.”

Regardless, Ana says, “Entrepreneurs have to be adventurous, risk takers and can’t be afraid of failure.” Her piece of advice for current and wanna-be-entrepreneurs? “Figure out what you love to do and make that your business. If you love what you do, the money will come.”

Cholita 2

Merida Romero Art Gallery: "It is for the love of Art"

“My wife and I opened the art gallery four years ago because we wanted to show off Bolivian artists and their talent,” says Jose Miguel Romero, the co-owner of Merida Romero Art Gallery, located in La Paz, Bolivia.

“We wanted to be part of the lives of people who pass our gallery on the street. So, we turned our gallery into a personal experience for visitors, allowing them to look at books of art and choose the music playing in the gallery from an Ipad.”

Merida Romero Art Gallery in La Paz, Bolivia

Merida Romero Art Gallery in La Paz, Bolivia

As we walk around the gallery with Jose, he points out some of his favorite Bolivian artists, like the sculptor Leon Savadra and 87-year-old painter Alfredo Lapla.              

Alfred is one of the most important and representative artists in Bolivia; not only because of the multitude of paintings he has created, but also because of his amazing talent with oil and acrylic paints. Jose proudly tells us that Romero Gallery has the honor of hosting Alfredo Lapla’s last exhibit ever later in October 2015.

Picture of painting by  Alfredo Lapla      (Copyright: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g150811-d8180239-Reviews-La_Sala_Art_Design_Gallery)

Picture of painting by Alfredo Lapla  

(Copyright: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g150811-d8180239-Reviews-La_Sala_Art_Design_Gallery)

Earlier this year, Jose expanded the Romero name and opened a new art gallery in a high-end mall in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

“Selling in a mall is a completely new experience for us,” says Jose. “We are seeing if people will react well to the concept.” With 5-meter high paintings and large abstract sculptures, the exhibit is drawing people in and doing well.

“Santa Cruz is a tropical, almost jungle-like setting and the people are very eccentric! We are getting amazing reactions from the abstract work in the exhibit.”

At the end of the day, “our goal is not to just sell art in our galleries,” reminds Jose. “It is to promote art. Merida Romero is not just a business for my wife and I, it is so much more than that, it is a love of art.

Unique: It's all about the fashion!

With walls covered in hand crafted boulder hats, knit alpaca scarves, trendy sweaters and ethnic jewelry, the brand name Unique describes the tienda perfectly. Founder Maria Stach is a veteran entrepreneur. “I used to own a restaurant,” says Maria. “Then one day, I woke up and suddenly being in the restaurant business no longer appealed to me the way it used to. I started looking for other businesses that would fit my personality. The concept behind Unique came naturally to me because I have a real love and passion for handcrafts.” The pieces in Unique are designed by Maria and made by local artisans.

Kaitlyn Ersek on left, Maria Stach on right.

Kaitlyn Ersek on left, Maria Stach on right.

“My biggest challenge was switching from the restaurant industry to the fashion industry. I had to learn a completely different industry and way of running a business.”  For example, it took Maria some time to find the right artisans that would collaborate with her on designs, deliver on time and create a quality product.

Another big problem Maria faced was the location of her store. While the best locations for shops is the main drag in La Paz’s tourist district, Maria’s store is a few blocks away from the main shopping corridor. “My location hurts business. I need to constantly be handing out flyers and getting referrals from customers. My webpage didn’t seem to help matters, but Facebook and Trip Advisor have been extremely useful.”

While being an entrepreneur can be a challenge, “if you believe in yourself, you can make your dreams come true,” states Maria.

Check out Kaity’s finds at Unique! A cholita, inspired felt hat.

Andrew Bagwell on left, Kaitlyn Ersek on right with Unique's felt hat. 

Andrew Bagwell on left, Kaitlyn Ersek on right with Unique's felt hat.