IBD Suritex

Written by Gloria Gerngross,  Sophia Kaady, Deepak Nainani, Isei Nakae, and Lyndsey Wilson

The sun was setting on the rural landscape, the grassy highlands of rural Peru, as Gregor’s truck bounced over unpaved, rocky roads, all five of our team members squished into the backseat as he sped to the new textile workshop before night fell. We had spent the day in a bus from Lima, winding our way through the Cordillera mountain range for 8 hours and ascending 14,000 feet to Huancayo, where our client was waiting to introduce us to the women who worked in the textile workshop, and the alpaca breeders who lived in the highlands.Suritex-group

We arrived at the construction site with just 20 minutes to spare before the horizon was swallowed by the darkness. Gregor’s eyes lit up as he waved his hands, pointing at empty space above the large foundation as though showing his blueprint for the new plant. Where we saw exposed rebar and hand-laid concrete bricks, he saw a room for the women’s children to play, a resting area for alpaqueros that came to have their fibers weighed, graded, and dyed, and a weaving room four times the size of their current plant’s. We left inspired by Gregor’s vision for growing his small social enterprise and energized to use our business skills to enable this dream to become a reality.

Suritex 2 AlpacasThe Project

Our team was hired by NESsT, an Oakland-based impact investing firm, to help its portfolio company, Suritex, increase its revenues by expanding sales of alpaca-blend textiles into the U.S. market. Though Suritex prides itself on its high-quality products created through technically sophisticated dying, weaving, and fiber-blending methods, it is their impact on the rural Lima region that is truly incredible. Suritex pays above-market prices for alpaca fibers, ensuring continued livelihoods of agricultural communities. They hire and train single women to operate machinery and manufacture textiles, creating jobs in communities struggling to develop economically. Our team met several women who worked in their factory, and their young children played while they fed colorful yarn into the large looming machines.Suritex loom.jpg

Prior to arriving in Lima, our team focused on understanding the U.S. alpaca-based goods market, sales channels, and our client’s capabilities to create designs and products that U.S. customers would be excited to buy. However, the disparate nature of the imported alpaca-based goods (textiles, clothing, and yarn) market made it difficult to collect any quantitative data, so our team relied on information collected by visiting local stores, and interviewing sales partners and customers.

This preliminary research led us to conclude that our client needed a re-brand, targeted marketing towards high-income, socially conscious customer segments, and to emphasize their strong social and environmental impact to differentiate themselves among hundreds of textile importers. We were excited to meet the client, visit the processing facilities, and better understand how we could make Suritex stand out among competitive exporters of similar products.

Suritex - loom 2The Focus Changes

Once in-country, we learned more about Suritex’s technically sophisticated and uniquely socially-conscious supply chain. Our meetings with the textile mill workers and the alpaqueros confirmed the importance of scaling Suritex’s efforts, and inspired and energized us to develop a sales and marketing strategy so that U.S. customers understand the impact that their Suritex purchase will have on the community.Suritex working.jpg

It came as a surprise to our team to learn that our client had already hired a marketing consulting team, so we were no longer needed in the proposed re-brand!  While our team had initially focused on creating branding and marketing strategy that would enable Suritex to successfully enter the US market, we had to do a 180° pivot and reframe our project. When our focus had to change, we spent hours whiteboarding and reframing the problem, ultimately pivoting to more of a sales and product strategy. Our focus turned then on researching the logistics of how to actually sell products in the US: who to sell to, how to sell them, and which products to sell.

Suritex thread.jpgThe Final Presentation

Our final presentation provided Suritex with tactical recommendations on how to begin selling products in the US, and how to modify their current product offerings to ensure U.S. customer interest in their products. We provided a thorough go-to-market guidebook that included sales on online platforms (such as Etsy or Amazon), hiring a fulfillment center and sales reps to manage buyer relationships, and which certifications and trade shows to pursue to access the right B2B customers. Our client, a technical and operations-focused career manufacturer, was very happy with the detailed recommendations. Our team left energized by the important work of Suritex, driven by the knowledge that our recommendations would enable Suritex to reach its goal of building more manufacturing facilities closer to workers’ communities, hiring and educating more workers, and ultimately developing these rural economies to support the sustainability of this artisan trade.Suritex finished product

IBD Team Works with La Clinica Oftalmologica Divino Nino Jesus, a Non-Profit Eye Clinic

Written by Mark Angel, Robert Gutierrez, Megha Kansra, Tyler Saltiel and Sarah Evans

As soon as we landed, the humidity knocked us out. Walking off the airplane, we immediately felt our clothes stick to our bodies and walked through the still, thick air toward the open-air baggage claim. We had heard the Amazon was humid, but we were not expecting its immediacy. Despite the unprecedented heat and humidity, we couldn’t contain our excitement to begin the in-country portion of our project.

Our team is working with La Clinica Oftalmologica Divino Nino Jesus (DNJ), a non-profit eye clinic based in Lima, Peru, dedicated to eradicating curable blindness. We had just landed in Iquitos, the largest city in the world not connected by a road and the “gateway to the Amazon,” where DNJ had recently expanded. We were to spend the next three weeks working with DNJ’s team to provide strategic marketing recommendations: one week in Iquitos and two in Lima.

Alberto, the executive director of the clinic and our main client, picked us up the next morning in DNJ’s van to drive us to its clinic, 40 minutes outside of central Iquitos. After a brief pit stop to push the van out of wet sand, we arrived at the clinic.

We spent the morning with Diego, the Outreach Coordinator in Iquitos, touring the clinic and learning more about the operations of the Iquitos facility. We even got to see the inside of the operating room where DNJ ophthalmologists perform their life-changing surgeries.

Hot, sweaty, but extremely inspired by the facility, we returned to our hotel to prepare for a meeting with Alberto held in our conference room for the week – the outdoor hotel restaurant and bar. After a productive meeting with Alberto discussing the financial performance of DNJ, we returned to the clinic the next day. Diego and Alberto were eager to have us interview patients and family members accompanying them on their visits. We stationed ourselves in an unused triage room in the clinic, and two by two, patients and their companions sat down to chat with us (en español) about their experiences with the clinic. We were immediately struck by patients’ gratitude and openness. One older woman excitedly told us about her beloved garden, and how grateful she was for the free cataract surgery that would enable her to tend to her garden once again. She and her daughter talked about the excellent service they had received, noted some areas for improvement at the clinic, and finally – to our surprise – gave us an invitation to their home. Another older gentleman, stylishly dressed with a Canon camera slung around his neck, waxed poetic about how eager he was to photograph the people and traditions of the beautiful Loreto region again.

As we spent more days in Iquitos interviewing patients, we continued to hear similar stories. Patients described DNJ as a “gift” and “blessing,” praising the personal attention of the staff. In Iquitos, a city accustomed to seeing NGOs shuttle in and out on a temporary basis, DNJ’s gleaming new Iquitos facility and world class staff, seemingly here to stay and providing services for free, prompted awe and surprise. By the end of the week, we were all deeply moved by the immense difference DNJ was making, and we felt doubly determined to provide impactful recommendations.

After a final day in Iquitos – spent boating down the Amazon (the world’s widest river) and feeding piranhas, alligators, and adorable baby monkeys – we headed back to Lima. In Lima, we extensively interviewed DNJ staff members, collecting their stories, recommendations, and perspectives on patient experience and marketing. A highlight was getting the opportunity to scrub in and watch a live cataract surgery conducted by one of the top ophthalmologists in Latin America. The head nurse patiently explained each step of the process, from the medical checkups of patients just before surgery to the steady incisions and movements of the surgeon to the final, triumphant moment – a mere 10-20 minutes after the surgery began – when patients were helped up off their bed and walked out of the clinic. We were amazed that in under an hour, we had watched a man get back his sight…for free.

After a final push to crystallize our recommendations, we made a presentation to the DNJ board and senior management. We were touched that the board attentively and eagerly listened to our recommendations, and even brought us gifts – delicious alfajores! They were excited about the opportunities ahead and the path forward we charted for them.