Rodolfo Gioscia MANOS DEL URUGUAY... INNOVATING AND KEEPING THE ESSENCE
Interview with Rodolfo Gioscia, General Manager of Manos del Uruguay with the Newspaper El Observador
It is one of the local brands that best represents us abroad. The general manager of the company, Rodolfo Gioscia, speaks to us of the essence of an organization that goes beyond the quality of its fabrics.
With 47 years in the market, Manos del Uruguay has established itself as a brand that represents the country Uruguay in the world. Rodolfo Gioscia, the general manager of the company, speaks of its pillars and main challenges of a brand that is committed to continue to grow and innovate.
Manos del Uruguay has managed to become a successful nonprofit organization, how do you combine both?
To understand this success story, it is important in going back to how Manos del Uruguay started. In the 1960s, there was a group of women who understood that there was no opportunity for development in the rural areas. From the social viewpoint, it was unheard for women to work, for their job was to stay at home while the men provided for the house. Manos del Uruguay noticed that there were groups of available women who wanted to work, but the question of what sector remained a mystery. What happened is that they began to become aware that within rural areas, wool and weaving were the norm. As a result, groups began to form, where they obtained raw material such as wool to fabricate their products, thus selling what they made.
Manos del Uruguay was created as cooperatives in various places until they decided to establish a service center that coordinated the ongoing activities as a point of reference. In the manner of the economic sector in the family unit, it began to change. Women were now bringing home a salary, changing their social status. They also gained the ability to venture beyond organization and the economic management, they are now directing a venture. In fact, the current Board of Directors is comprised of artisans; as the general manager, I answer to them.
To further expand the project, it was necessary to immerse Manos del Uruguay into the open market. It is often said that when an organization is a nonprofit, it implies that there is no owner and this is true for us. Manos del Uruguay is owned collectively by the artisans and as I often say, ?Manos belongs to all of the Uruguayans. There are no dividends, when the results are positive, it is re-invested into the organization to keep on competing.
When there are fairs where the women who weave and sell sweatshirts there, it is perceived that they are part of a nonprofit groups. On the other hand, you have an organization that has a store in the shopping center where its perceived that they gain lots of profits. .
The difference is that those who sell in the fairs will make less and the added value and price will be less. In another way, we managing to reach, for example, tourists who want to buy quality items. Manos specializes in products and services of superior quality, therefore we cannot compete price wise because of the time and labor, and the raw material is very expensive for we work primarily with natural fibers.
In the terms of exportation, Manos del Uruguay is purchased for its high quality products. Some notable clients of Manos are Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, and Chanel. Above all, its looms are sold in Europe with the Manos del Uruguay brand which is very important because you are not conditioned to meet the demands of other brands. Besides, with the brand label on the products, people will know the brand directly.
The success depends on how you look at it; from the point of view in regards to profits, Manos is an organization that survives?it?s sustainable but has very high costs. The raw material is centralized at the service center in Montevideo as well as the design. It then sends it, for example, to the cooperative Fraile Muerto so that the yarn can be dyed, only to sent back to Montevideo where it ships it off to Sarandi to tile it which with this logistic, the cost is extremely high. The question, ? Why don?t we just work with one group in Montevideo?? can be inferred to lower the cost. The answer is that Manos wants to provide jobs in the rural areas, this has to deal with our concept of inclusion. If work is brought to the women in their own environment where their children and family and neighbors are at, it creates a question of the quality of life that Manos has generated.
In addition there is an attempt to preserve the craft trade and the Uruguayan identity, where products are made with guampa, with wood, where Manos works with nearly 200 independent artisans for the non-textile crafts that there is on the premises. As a result, it clearly can be perceived that in the stores in the shopping center there is a prosperous business that is sustainable and that it is able to maintain its ongoing operation.
Within the objectives, is there a way to dignify the quality of craftsmanship?
The perception of the people, all over the world, is that craft is not a developed work. If you want to rank crafts as a way of life, as a profession, you have to point to the quality, otherwise you?re pulling degrading the value of craft. You have to dignify and appreciate their craft, not demanding that it is a little thing that made simply . Craft is done in a earnest manner where something is created with actually your own hands; that is the value of the artisan.
Within the concern for the quality, is there any training?
Right now, the directive commission is launching a project to provide training in weaving in the rural areas. Workshops are assembled in one or two months, where we teach and train artisans because many craft trades are being lost, for there are not many weavers as there were before. The reality is that there are other work alternatives that that were not present in 1970. The rural areas are no longer as isolated as before thanks to communications and opportunities that have now been given, but along with this comes a cultural theme; the tradition of weaving that was passed on from grandmother to mother is now becoming lost to this generation.
Since 2009 Manos del Uruguay was inducted as member of the World Trade Organization Fair, what does this mean?
It is a network that promotes organizations of this type. Recently there was talk about the importance of corporate social responsibility; luckily this theme has been gaining momentum , although for some, it is just a marketing tool. Manos is an organization that is socially reasonable, it doesn?t just incorporate this practice, it is in the DNA, it is in its essence since the beginning. The positive thing about joining this network is that they make assessments, verifying that necessary steps are met and for Manos it has not been complicated. The evolution that Manos has had has been in the strategic business world, but not the institution one; the organization thus began to orient itself of its production to the market.
What is the great challenge in the future for Manos del Uruguay?
I would say there are two challenges; one is sustainability in all of its senses. We are in a very unfavorable environment for export, with very high production costs and the price of our products too, becomes high.
To be a sustainable, the international market collaborates with the local market because we receive many tourists who are very important for Manos. At the local level, they are developing different products, trying to reach the younger Uruguayan crowd with their high quality products. Another challenge is to insist on the training of rural women; it is a challenge for the current loss of trade. This happens because they can?t reach the market;
For you as the general manager, with a board of directors to respond to, what was and what is your great challenge?
I was very lucky because I found a board of directors who always supported me. To carry out any organization you must have management support to allow you to do things, and sometimes that means challenging what was being done by propose different things. I feel that Manos is a part of me, a personal project, I work here and I like it because I share the same values that the organization has. The challenge is to always have new ideas, find a way to achieve these objectives while maintaining the values and essence of Manos.