Ashley Shoshan, Founder of Seiba - A Dog Collar Brand
While traveling through Central America, Ashley discovered a sacred weaving technique in the villages of Chiapas in southern Mexico. After building relationships with the indigenous Mayan community, Seiba was born – her brand of woven dog collars that she sells around the globe. Ashley’s passion for growing alongside the indigenous community of artisans in Chiapas is the backbone of her sustainable business model. Let's get to know her better...
Tell us about your journey creating your dog collar brand, Seiba.
After college, I backpacked through Mexico, making my way down through South America, and along the way, I came across a stunningly intricate and vibrant weaving technique. I purchased a woven belt and wore it with just about everything; from jeans, bikinis, to a purse strap. I received tons of compliments and quickly realized I wasn't alone in my love for this product. Wanting to learn its history, I spoke with locals and artisans where eventually I traced the technique back to Chiapas. It was there that I discovered much more than a beautiful weave, something that transcended generations.
Seiba, my brand of woven dog collars, was and continues to be inspired by the Chamula people of Chiapas, an indigenous Mayan community living in an autonomous region in southern Mexico. The female artisans are hardworking, dedicated, and they persevere despite the many hardships they face in daily life. Their stories are so courageous and powerful…Marcelina is a 34-year-old mother of 4. She has rheumatoid arthritis, a debilitating disease that affects her entire body. Despite intense pain, she weaves to provide for her family and to pay for the expensive medicine that she needs to take daily for the rest of her life. In addition to the physical pains, she feels great pain in her heart as she worries about her family as the disease takes a major toll on her health. Another artisan's mother passed away when she was just a teenager, so she dedicated her life to helping her father raise her younger brothers and sisters, forgoing any chance at future love or marriage. Not once have I encountered selfish desires amongst the Chamula people of Chiapas.
At Seiba, we work with an inspiring team of mothers and daughters, who tirelessly strive to build careers alongside raising their families. As I explored the community, I learned that despite the beauty and quality of their craft, they lacked resources for selling their products on a larger scale, and many artisans were forced to leave their communities to sell their crafts in surrounding towns and cities. Others were forced to fend for themselves in busy cities with the hopes of finding a way to bring money back to their families. I was saddened to see how poverty broke apart their families and eroded sacred traditions.
I saw an opportunity and a larger market for these beautiful crafts. I wanted to enable them to remain with their families to protect the sanctity of their villages. I believed that if I could extend their branches to the greater world, the artisans could continue to live in their communities. I wanted to do what I could to bring in dependable revenue streams to help preserve their culture.
As a result, Seiba was born, and together we have built a brand that focuses on quality, style, and comfort and have stayed true to our roots of creating ethical and sustainable products at every level of our business. We are most known for our dog collars and other specialty items that are woven using the Chamula community’s traditional weaving technique.
How do your personal values align with your brand?
My passion has always been about creating a sustainable business model that benefits the artisans of Chiapas. I have weaved my personal values into the very concept of Seiba: to be honest, truthful, helpful, and to give back to our planet. We support local and indigenous artisans who are the best in the world at their craft, and we build products with quality materials that are meant to last a lifetime.
What do you love most about being en entrepreneur?
I’m proud to offer something that is so much more than a disposable product. It’s a story, it’s real people, it's quality, and it’s sustainable on every level. Our products are all made to last through life’s adventures, for years and years.
Over the years, my relationship with the artisans in Chiapas has grown – we have become a close family, which has been very rewarding. The trust in the team we have built inspires me every day. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like, or what language you speak – as long as you have good intentions, listen, and build trust, you can become family. We truly believe in each other and are in it together. People say it's not good to be emotionally invested in business, but I feel it’s exactly that which keeps our team moving on every level. It’s bigger than me – it’s a family we’ve co-created and continue to grow.
As a business owner, it’s important for me to help my customers make educated purchases. I love that we’ve created a product that is fashionable, builds upon cultural traditions, and is made to last. We share the story of the artisans and craftspeople behind the product, so the end consumer knows exactly where the product came from and how it was made.
We are a small team, but we’re dedicated and righteous. We listen and learn from each other. The women we work with are independent business women on their own. We’re here to build a business that works for them as well as the US-based crafters we work with, and everyone else involved.
What is the hardest part about running your own business? What are your biggest struggles you face and how do you deal with them?
When you fight for a cause and mission you believe in, it’s hard to not take some setbacks personally. I strive to take the high road and not get caught up in the little things, but it’s always easier said than done.
In the beginning, the language barrier and building trust with the artisans were the two primary challenges. The artisan’s native tongue, Tzotzil, is only recognized and spoken within the indigenous communities, with most of the elders speaking it exclusively. Luckily, there are a few artisans who speak both Tzotzil and Spanish, and they’re able to help with the translations.
That being said, it’s amazing to see that even with language barriers, you can still connect on a personal level just by spending time with each other, sharing different cultural practices, showing respect, and making each other laugh. I made some of my first friendships and connections by playing dress-up with the children, goofing around, and letting them braid my hair. Laughter and smiles are truly universal. With this connection, we are able to form the foundations of trust which we continue to build over time.
How do you define success?
I define success by the amount of growth and benefits each person involved in Seiba experiences through scaling our connections. Success to me means happy families of artisans and happy customers with products that will last them for years and years.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere, but it’s definitely heightened while I’m traveling and exploring cultures, art, and meeting new people. Whether it’s colors in nature, taking a walk on the beach, dreaming, or just roaming, inspiration seems to seep in when I least expect it.
What motivates you?
The family of artisans I have the pleasure of working with are my #1 motivation. I have to work hard to keep the flow of business reliable and it’s bigger than me. We are a team and family. Seeing them laugh and grow to accomplish their dreams makes me the absolute happiest!
Are there any life philosophies you abide by?
To stay true to your core values and trust your vision. Be real, honest, authentic, and original. Treat everyone with kindness. At the end of the day we are all people, and everyone deserves the same respect.
When do you feel the most alive/the most YOU?
Traveling of course - making and creating. I love to paint and build things. I’m a huge DIY-er. Scuba diving is exhilarating and I love a good reggae concert.
What is next for you? What are your biggest dreams?
Seiba is constantly growing and branching out. Whether we are creating new displays and colorways we always strive to be innovative and create handcrafted pieces that will last a lifetime. We have commissioned several equine items and have made special collections for overseas clientele. My biggest dream is to create a reputable brand that can stand the test of time, that is known for its quality, and to help our team members accomplish their goals and dreams.
Who do you admire?
Rossalba, Seiba's Product Manager in Chiapas. Rossalba is a fierce feminist and she fights for everything she believes in. She is one of the hardest working, most dynamic woman I have ever met and she is raising a beautiful, courageous daughter. She taught herself English, among many other things, and she defines what it means to be a true warrior woman.
Spot in LA: Malibu beaches - for the natural beauty, especially the dolphins and whales. Leader: Maya Angelou - for her wisdom and Berta Cáceres - for her warrior spirit, defense of indigenous and the environment.
An unusual or surprising fact about you:
I have literally been stranded on a desert island before!
Your TOP 3 HANDBAG ESSENTIALS, go!
#1: Keychain tape measure - you never know when you’re going to run into a dog in need of a new collar or need to measure something. #2: a pen - I need to write everything down and draw sketches. I am very much a visual learner. #3: Lip balm- moisture, baby.
Connect with Ashley: @ASHLEYSHOSHAN
Connect with Seiba: @SEIBA_
Photos by @CAMBRIA_FODEN
February 12, 2019