Anna Andres, the Co-Director & Co-Founder of a vibrant jewelry and accessories brand Pura Utz, greets her business partner, Co-Director and Co-Founder Bernabela Sapalú, virtually from her Copenhagen studio. Five minutes later they find themselves in Guatemala on a virtual tour of a deep purple room stacked with hefty, colorful bead-filled jars. This is the Pura Utz office in Santiago Atítlan.
The duo’s joy is infectious and it reflects their brand’s mission: to make everyone feel at home. They say Pura Utz is their “happy place:” that happy place they created together when they found each other. “We wanted to be able to share the joy of creating our products and the little things in day-to-day life. I dreamed of a space where we can be together like a real family, share a meal around the big table, laugh, and most importantly, feel valued,” says Bernabela.
Anna, a freshly graduated nurse in her early 20s in 2006, traveled through Guatemala working on women’s reproductive health projects. It was not her first time in the country; mother who brought her there as a child and already then, she felt had found herself a second home.
Anna and Bernabela met in 2015 through an NGO where they both worked with local artisans who specialised in beading. Soon enough they both felt the constraints that the NGO world imposed on business and creative freedom.
“At times, volunteering or NGO work serves ourselves more than it serves the locals. So I decided to start an actual business there. Shortly after that, I realised that I was totally falling into the stereotype of a white savior in a country with a history of colonialism,” explains Anna.
“I knew I had to be careful to not create a divide between me and my team. I carry that with me. It takes long conversations with Bernabela and the team, who are able to help tell our story the right way,” Anna says.
Transparency is the beating heart of their business and it’s reflected in the way they engage with consumers. “We have no secrets between each other. Everyone on the team knows what markup we put on our products and how much everyone is paid. So do our customers,” says Anna. She notes, “all the information is on our website for anyone to read. This starts a conversation about the choices we make and how we do things. It’s important to be critical and to ask questions.”
Pura Utz was born in 2019 out of a passion to for the Mayan heritage. “30 years ago, a German man brought beads to Santiago for the first time. Locals who were known to be skilled at embroidery quickly picked it up and started creating beautiful products. It put our town on the map for beaded products,” explains Bernabela. She continues, “when I was young, I worked in a factory where I was severely mistreated and received one of the lowest salaries. I couldn’t leave because I needed to pay the bills. Then one day, my boss came to tell me that my work was not good enough and I lost my job.”
Telling the story makes her emotional and it’s clear this incident was instrumental in her founding Pura Utz. “That day, I promised myself that I will do things differently. My motivation to ensure fair working conditions and payment for employees was my driving force. Imagine: it takes 24,400 beads and a whole lot of know-how to create one pouch by hand. I want to make sure that the time and craftsmanship put into this is valued,” says Bernabela.
Soon after launching the brand, a few artisans who had been at the NGO with Anna and Bernabela joined them. There was a steep learning curve. “It was a huge commitment and I felt instantly overwhelmed by the responsibility I suddenly had for all the artisans worked with us. It kept me up at night, but what calmed me was knowing we’re in this together. I definitely owe it to my initial naivety that I went for it,” Anna explains.
Catering predominantly to the Danish market, the brand stands out of from the minimalist crowd with its vibrant jewelry. Anna recalls that in the beginning, “I felt like I was outside of the cool kids crowd. I entered the industry in a different way. I was a nurse with no experience, and I realised how closed-up the industry can be. But when you create a brand you believe in, don’t worry about not being accepted. Just put what you’re doing out to the world, no matter how cheesy that sounds.”
The first successes for Pura Utz came when customers in New York and London discovered the brand and fell in love with the joyful, colorful designs. While their overseas customers asked for their earrings and necklaces to be “bigger and bolder,” the Danish customers were a bit more reserved at the beginning.
Now that Pura Utz is starting to make a mark in Denmark too, Anna hopes that she’ll be able to replicate that feeling of a “happy place” for anyone who buys their jewelry.
See more on Pura Utz.