A gift is something that usually comes wrapped in colorful paper that more often than not gets ripped to shreds and thrown into the garbage. But what if those gifts could instead come swathed in colorful, luxurious scarves that could be reused and repurposed time and again?
That’s the idea behind “TeloWrap” Puerto Rico, a novel venture launched Tuesday by retail executive Elaine Shehab that seeks to make that environmentally friendly option popular among consumers, and their manufacture a job prospect for a segment of the island’s population looking to succeed through self-employment.
“In the early 90’s, Japan’s Minister of Environment, Yuriko Koike, launched a campaign to return to the tradition of using decorative fabrics to wrap and move away from using paper and plastic as a way to encourage recycling and solve the waste problem,” Shehab said. “In Puerto Rico, we want to implement this ingenious custom responding to the need to improve the environment by reducing the use of wrappers, boxes and paper bags.”
To launch her venture, Shehab partnered with local battered women’s shelter Proyecto Matria, a nonprofit organization that provides technical and economic opportunities for women living below poverty levels who may not otherwise contemplate the idea of becoming an entrepreneur, study or get a job.
“Projecto Matria helps participants prepare for a successful future, whether through self-employment or the creation of a small business,” said Amarilis Pagán-Jiménez, director of the nonprofit. “We are an incubator for small community businesses that also works with the emotional, mental, physical and family issues of the entrepreneur looking to develop her business.”
Proyecto Matria’s technical training and job placement program focuses on promoting non-traditional trades. It also gives priority to formal, full-time job placement for participants.
Believing that the “TeloWrap” concept can be a new opportunity for the shelter’s candidates to become entrepreneurs, earlier this year, Shehab provided a sewing machine to a shelter resident that soon learned the special folding and knotting technique. The unidentified woman made enough scarves to cover the cost of the equipment and is now selling her creations back to the retailer.
“TeloWrap” scarves come in four sizes and are sold at between $10 and $35 each at the retail level. If sold wholesale, the cost of each scarf drops to between $5 and $17 each, for a dozen or more. Aside from using them to wrap items, the fancy scarves can also be used to create bags to carry bottles, handbags, pillows and baskets, among other ideas. At present, they are sold at high-end specialty retailers Palacios, Habitat and the Bahía Beach Resort shop.
Enrolling more corporate sponsors
Because the fabrics that are used in making the scarves are delicate and expensive — mostly silk and similar textures — the manufacturing process requires certain investments, including between $800 and $1,200 for industrial sewing machines with special attachments, Shehab said.
“We’ll be promoting this venture, appealing to corporations willing to offer donations to buy the special sewing machines and/or fabric by the bolt to donate to these women who so need them,” she said. “This way, women who qualify will be able to become small business entrepreneurs, making and selling scarves to retailers.”
Once the local “TeloWrap” venture is in full swing, Shehab plans to establish similar projects in the Dominican Republic and U.S. mainland markets.