On a cool fall night, senior Fabiana Ayala sat cross-legged on her navy University Forest Apartment couch in a pair of red-and-white striped pajamas while catching up on emails. Ayala typically finished up her schoolwork by 10 p.m. during the week so she could get to bed at a decent hour. She dragged herself out of bed around 6 each morning to run her business, TodoSuma.
TodoSuma, which means “it all adds up” in Spanish, is a company that makes crocheted women’s clothing, such as crop tops and bikinis, and helps employ women in Bolivia.
“The reason why I named the venture TodoSuma is because I want people to understand that by purchasing an item you are not only adding some new item to your closet, but you’re also adding to someone else’s life by creating a job for them,” Ayala said.
When Ayala returned to her hometown of Cochabamba, Bolivia, in summer 2016, she started speaking with local women to pinpoint troubled areas. She realized that many of their issues were economic and decided that job creation would be the best way to alleviate this problem.
“The majority of them didn’t have a strong education, but they were very good with working with their hands,” Ayala said. “They would actually crochet tablecloths and other household items in their free time.”
Crocheted clothing is becoming an increasingly popular trend in the United States. Making a crocheted piece involves sewing and interlocking loops of yarn or thread together.
The FashionTag style website called crocheted tops and bikinis a trend alert to look out for in an April article. “Summer crochet and knitted tops have a bit of both worlds, which makes their styling so easy,” it reported.
Senior Domniki Athanasiadou loved wearing crocheted clothing and was excited to discover that TodoSuma made it. She used her marketing and leadership majors to help spread the word about Ayala’s company.
“I was a client first, and now I promote TodoSuma through my social media to help get more clients for it,” Athanasiadou said.
Before Ayala could build a successful social media operation, she had to ensure that she had employees to make the clothing. While she wanted to hire women back home in Bolivia, she encountered an unexpected roadblock.
“I asked the women if they could make clothing, but they hadn’t made it before,” Ayala said. “It was a bit hard for me to convince them to do it, because they were afraid that if they didn’t do it correctly, then I would not pay them for the jobs.”
Being an innovative business student, Ayala decided to show the women how they could be successful. She convinced them that they would be paid for their work and helped them learn how to crochet clothing. After Ayala bought the women patterns and materials to practice with, the women began to develop their skills.
When Ayala took part in Semester at Sea during the fall semester of her junior year, she learned about social entrepreneurship and businesses that advance philanthropic causes. This knowledge led to her creating the entrepreneurial venture in June 2016.
Even though her project was just an idea for class, what Ayala learned assisted her in creating her own company. Having grown up in Bolivia, she was aware of the nation’s social problems.
“If people believed in this project that I came up with out of the blue for a class, I could definitely do another project that truly helps, since I actually know people in Bolivia and what the problems are there,” Ayala said. “I wanted to start something that motivated me while helping empower the women in my hometown.”
Right now Ayala has five women working for her in Bolivia. The employees are able to work from home and crochet the products on their own time. Ayala hopes to eventually build a large work studio for the women to crochet in.
Every TodoSuma piece is handmade and customizable, tailored to a person’s measurements and made out of any of 60 available colors of yarn.
“You don’t want to have the same thing as someone else, so that’s what people really like about it,” Ayala said. “It is similar to the build-your-own-bikini websites that have been really popular lately.”
Senior Yasmine Karam is one of TodoSuma’s original customers. Ayala contacted her over the summer and asked whether she would be willing to help promote the suits and tops.
“I absolutely love how TodoSuma makes its products,” Karam said. “Customers are asked to provide a number of measurements so that the pieces can be tailored to fit anyone's body type.”
Ayala has been doing most of her marketing by word-of-mouth and social media posts, enlisting friends to help along the way. Because the customer base is split with about 50 percent in the U.S. and 50 percent in Bolivia, she works with her friends in both locations.
Ayala leans on social media to reach customers in varying locations while spreading a cohesive brand message. She uses Facebook (TodoSuma) and Instagram (@todosuma_) to accept orders and promote the products. Once an order is received, Ayala emails the instructions to her employees in Bolivia. She hopes to build a website in the near future to speed up this process.
What started as a social entrepreneurship project to empower Bolivian women turned into a business venture that keeps gaining traction. Ayala is not sure about her post-graduation plans, but said it would be great if she could continue the momentum with TodoSuma.
“It’s definitely hard, but I’m really passionate about this,” Ayala said. “I don’t know if I’ll keep on doing it after college, but it would be a really good opportunity for me to go back to Bolivia and help continue this.”
Contact contributor Lauren Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org.