Elena Brook-Hart Rodriguez is the founder of Handmade Stories, a slow fashion brand and social enterprise that supports women in rural communities in the Peruvian Andes, artisans, and men in prison in Peru so they can reach economic independence and keep their traditions alive.
Elena used to work as a strategist in advertising agencies such as Wunderman Thompson and TBWA in London. Her clients included BT, EE, British Airways, Eurostar, Iberia, Nissan and Tesco.
In 2020, after struggling with her mental health, she decided she needed to take a break from the world of advertising. She went to Peru as a volunteer working with women in rural communities in the Andes, where she learned about their struggles and aspirations. The Covid-19 pandemic forced the volunteering operation to close down, but she decided to stay on and give these women on-going support by setting up a business that incorporates their weaving crafts in modern clothes. Handmade Stories works to provide a fair income and flexible way of working for the women in these communities so they don’t have to travel far or be away from their families. It also also supports them in setting up their own businesses so they can be independent.
While locked down in Cuzco, Peru, she also collaborated with a family of local jewellers who had been forced by the pandemic to close their business. Working with them, she helped them reopen their workshop and reemploy people who had lost their jobs.
Another of her initiatives with Handmade Stories has been to work with inmates of Cuzco Prison, giving them the opportunity to support their families by being paid a fair price for their work.
Handmade Stories follows the WFTO’s guidelines to ensure their working practices are fair to everyone involved and improves the lives of those involved. Elena also dedicates part of the profits to funding Development Projects in the communities she works with. The projects are chosen by the communities to ensure their needs are met.
As well as ensuring the wellbeing of their workers, Handmade Stories also tries to reduce their footprint and use recycled materials. In 2022 they were awarded the Draper’s Sustainable Fashion Award in the Ones to Watch category. They are an accredited Social Enterprise, Good Market approved, they are Ethy accredited, and are part of the Catalyst 2030 collaborating to achieve the UN’S SGD goals.
Recently, Handmade Stories launched their Pre-Loved platform joining the circularity culture by encouraging customers to buy and sell their Handmade Stories pieces they’re not using and avoid them ending up in landfill. And this year they’re launching their first upcycled collection.
As well as producing their own collections in small batches to reduce waste, they also host upcycling and mending workshops in London so people can learn how to take better care of their clothes and make them last longer. They also partner with other social enterprises to make their impact and reach go further.
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