Founder of Ciela Handmade, Amber Hammond, is an adventure traveler turned social entrepreneur. Her life was changed forever from a trip to Colombia in 2018. Unsatisfied with the results of traditional charitable organizations in the Wayuu region, Hammond was driven to take a different approach to address the pressing economic and social needs she saw there. Ciela Handmade, and its motto “Fashion with Compassion” was born from this vision.
“We believe that everyone born under the same sky (cielo) should have the same opportunities to succeed and we are working to make that dream a reality.” -Amber Hammond
1. Name: Amber Hammond
2. Business: Ciela Handmade
3. Describe your business:
Featuring handmade jewelry and accessories made by indigenous artisans from Colombia, Ciela Handmade fights poverty by funding community schools for indigenous children and providing employment and entrepreneurship training for artisans and teens.
4. Everyone in business has that moment when they know this is what they’re supposed to do. When and what was yours?
I was in Colombia visiting the Wayuu indigenous tribe and on the second day of my trip I woke up to the sound of my guide crying. He informed us that the night before a little boy 8 years old had died of malnutrition in a region nearby. It was heartbreaking. I watched the people of this community working from sun-up to sundown and still not be able to afford something as basic as food. I couldn’t let it go, and while I had never done anything like this before the idea started to take shape that I could work with the community to help them sell their products in the US Market where they could earn a sustainable living for their work.
5. What were the first five action steps you took to turn your dream into a reality?
1. I prayed. Starting a business is a big commitment and I wanted to be sure it was the right decision for me.
2. I spent a little time defining that dream. Your business isn’t going to look like your dream business from day one so it is important to have a vision in mind for two reasons. 1) It helps to keep me motivated. I always think of the picture of Jeff Bezos in his garage with the piece of cardboard that has “Amazon” handwritten on it. On your less than glamorous days, it helps to remember that you are building something great. 2) It helps me stay true to my mission so that every decision I make now I can ask ‘will this bring me closer to that vision?’
3. I made everything legal and official by registering my business name, buying a domain, and building a website.
4. I ordered some products. I have zero fashion merchandising experience so instead of placing a huge order and being stuck with products that I would never be able to sell, I purchased a variety of styles and colors as a way to test the market before I started developing my collection.
5. Hosted a launch event with the help of some friends. I didn’t have the budget for a big glamorous launch party, but I knew a lot of other small business owners would want to get their products in front of customers so I hosted a pop-up shopping market event. The event was held in an apartment building’s community center and advertised as an event for the residents, and the space rental fee was paid for by the other business’s booths. It was a win-win for everyone involved and saved me a lot of money and helped me promote and sell my products to a much wider audience than if I had just had my own party and invited my network.
6. When did you know you had something special that people loved?
When I started out, I spent every weekend at pop-up events, festivals, and markets. So I could watch people’s faces light up when they would look at my booth and see all of the colors and patterns. In COVID times I think what really gets me is seeing people’s support online. It’s one thing to make a purchase, but to go a step beyond that and make a post about our mission or our brand, it means that something struck them and that they want to be a part of helping us succeed. It means the world to me.
7. What current company or entrepreneur do you admire?
Amber Runyon of Eleventh Candle Co.–she is very similar to me in that she has an international mission, but she has found a way to bring her mission home and make a difference in her own community. That is something that I’d like to do someday. When I look at her social enterprise I see truly transformational work that isn’t purely charity but is empowering victims of trauma to heal and become self-sufficient. Lately, I’ve been seeing her brand everywhere so I think she’s been pretty successful from a business standpoint as well.
8. What are your plans for future growth?
I’ve always wanted to get into home decor, I think the whimsical colors and patterns of the Wayuu would look amazing on some pillows, rugs, and maybe table-sets.
9. What are the top five things you keep on your desk?
1. Photo of Marisela- one of the girls that I met when I traveled to Colombia. She’s a reminder to me of why I’m doing what I do and to stay focused on our mission.
2. A Notepad- I’m old-school when it comes to note-taking I like to write things down
3. A To-Do List- I write down three things I want to get done every day and keep adding the tasks for later so that I can come back to them without getting stressed.
4. Bluetooth headphones- when I need to get into focus mode I’ll play some classical music and cancel out any background noise.
5. Whiteboard- there is no problem that can’t be solved on a whiteboard. I like being able to visually map things out and erase them quickly. It’s a huge help for me when I’ brainstorming.
10. Behind every entrepreneur are people who helped them get where they are and continue to support them: who are your people?
Columbus has a real ecosystem of resources for small business owners and startups. Innovate New Albany has experts that you can meet with every other week and they will give you advice for free. As a social entrepreneur, I was able to get into the SeaChange program which really helped me to define my mission and get funding. Countless other entrepreneurs that I have met along the way are always around to give me advice from the trenches, collaborate, and offer encouragement.