Janet Latuga ’11 sells Nicaraguan crafts, sending the profits to the artisans

Janet Latuga ’11 sells Nicaraguan crafts, sending the profits to the artisans

by Carolyn Arnold

Fairfield strives to instill in its students a global outlook, and a desire to serve the common good. Janet Latuga ’11 spent her senior year putting these values into practice.

Latuga, a marketing major in the Dolan School of Business with minors in English and math in the College of Arts and Sciences, appropriated a small on-campus business selling authentic handmade pottery and craft goods made by indigenous Nicaraguan artisans. All profits are sent back to the artists.

“The crafts range from small and large vases made out of clay, sugar bowls, and vase-shaped crafts made out of pine needles as well as picture frames and jewelry boxes,” The East Williston, N.Y. native said.

Members of the Fairfield community would have seen her selling the crafts in the Barone Campus Center during the fall 2010 semester, and, of course, during the important Christmas shopping months.

The Nicaraguan artisan project actually began before Latuga was a student at Fairfield. Dr. Winston Tellis, professor of information systems and operations management began the project in 2004 when he led a student trip to the country to study globalization and its effects. The students followed up on the hands-on trip by creating a business model to sell the local artisans handcrafted pottery in America.

Years later, when Latuga was a sophomore, she applied for and was awarded an E. Gerald Corrigan Scholarship to work on her own project with the help of a faculty mentor. E. Gerald Corrigan ’63, the former President and CEO of the New York Federal Reserve and Managing Director of Goldman Sachs, is a strong advocate of Jesuit education and donated funds to establish the E. Gerald Corrigan ’63 Scholars Program as well as the E. Gerald Corrigan ’63 Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences. The Scholars Program matches undergraduates with faculty members who serve as mentors.

Dr. Tellis became Latuga’s mentor when she received the grant and suggested she adopt the artisan business as a social entrepreneurship project and Latuga eagerly signed on. Funds were borrowed from the scholarship and used for the shipment of products. Anything left over was saved to build capital to order more crafts.

At the end of Latuga’s junior year she began seeking further funding from outside sources. This time she was helped by alumnus Marco Ambrosio ’07, whom she met while he was visiting campus and she was selling the crafts.

Latuga applied for a grant from the Emily C. Specchio foundation. This was on the advice of Ambrosio who had also received a grant from them when he was a student. The funds from this grant were used to help acquire new merchandise.

It’s no surprise that Latuga took to managing her own business so easily. Her parents own a store that is a canine dog and pet bakery boutique. While remodeling the store the family was trying to think of a more upscale name and Latuga came up with “Dog Delights.” After the selection was warmly received by the family, her father told her that she might like to study marketing at school. Latuga agreed.

“I like marketing because it allows you to be creative and you have the opportunity to come up with new ideas,” she said. “I’ve had to think of a lot of creative ways to alert students to my booth,” she continued.

In addition to Latuga’s marketing skills, her mentor, Dr. Tellis said that she was able to hone her skills in many facets of business.

“Janet has put a tremendous effort into this project, working with poor artisans, learning about packaging and shipping in
a developing country, and in a different language,” he said. “She has developed a self-sustaining business on her own, for which she deserves a lot of credit. I know the artisans are very grateful for the regular income stream!”

Latuga’s work is also helping to put Nicaragua more on the forefront of the international craft market, according to Dr. Tellis: “The project is one facet of a larger effort to create a self-sustaining sales channel for the handmade craft items and artwork that will benefit and stimulate the Nicaraguan community and economy.”

In 2010, Latuga visited Masaya, Nicaragua, and met a family that makes some of the pottery she had been buying to sell at her booth. “Each member of the family has something they specialize in,” Latuga recalled. “Some of the family members go and dig for the clay in their backyard, some of them make the pottery, and some of them decorate it.”

Because she is a senior Latuga, is working to ensure that her project will have a life beyond her Fairfield experience. “I’ve been talking to on-campus clubs and groups that might have an interest in this,” she said. This includes the Students for Social Justice and the Entrepreneur Club. The hope is that a fair trade business will be created to sell the pottery and crafts at Jesuit universities nationwide.

“I love that I’m helping families,” said Latuga. “In comparison to here we don’t understand how much we have. This is making a difference in their lives and I hope it runs indefinitely at Fairfield University.”

For updates on Latuga’s Nicaragua project visit her blog at: http://nicaraguancrafts.wordpress.com