CHICA Boss: How Carolina Arenas Infuses Her Business With Her Culture
The Colombian American entrepreneur has made Meraki Wayuu into a company that reflects her roots.
As part of People CHICA's celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, each week we'll be spotlighting Latinas who've founded their own visionary companies without compromising their beliefs — CHICA Bosses. This week, we talk to Carolina Arenas, founder of Meraki Wayuu.
When you navigate around the Meraki Wayuu website, you're instantly transported to the colorful, artisanal culture of Colombia. For founder Carolina Arenas, that's the point — she wants the products to reflect the passions of their creators, for visitors to see what makes Colombia so special. ″Colombian people are extremely outgoing — their spirits are always high even when things are going negatively,″ she tells People CHICA. ″Everything is very vibrant.″
Arenas first made the leap from her career as a social worker to found Meraki Wayuu because she wanted to stay active while raising her children. ″I've always been the type of person to want to do something. I'm very active, so becoming a stay-at-home mom was very hard for me,″ she says. ″I'm very thankful that I had the opportunity to stay with my children and raise them — I know not a lot of people can do that — but it got to a point where I'm like, 'OK, I feel like I'm losing myself, and I need to do something where I can still be home but that fulfills me as a businessperson.'″
Arenas went to Colombia to visit family, and there realized that she wanted to work with artists and set up a fair-trade model. The creation of Meraki Wayuu only took a couple of months after her trip, and with the help of her best friend she started the website. For the name, she chose ″Wayuu″ — an indigenous group from the Guajira Peninsula — to represent the artisans, and ″Meraki″ — a Greek word that roughly translates to ″adding soul to what you do″ — to represent their labor. ″It's the love and the passion, the essences of yourself that you put in the work that you do,″ she explains. ″For me, that is the definition for both how artisans work and the art that they do, and me as a worker myself — I feel like I try to give everything my all.″
She does that by staying very hands-on, mostly doing it on her own with help from some friends, all while raising her children. ″At the moment it's been hard because both kids are home, they are not in daycare,″ she says, referring to the effect the coronavirus pandemic has had on so many working parents this year. ″So I try to either do things very early in the morning or as soon as they go to sleep. But I do feel like I do need more time, because I feel like I'm doing bits and pieces throughout the day.″
While she loves all of the products in the collection, her current favorites are the half-moon clutches. She'd also like to create something more suitable for the active person. ″I would love to do the yoga mat strap carriers,″ she shares. She wants to expand the company's reach, too, by getting the products in brick-and-mortar stores and fair-trade boutiques.
She says she could see herself returning to social work one day, but for now, she plans to focus all her energy on Meraki Wayuu. ″I miss the interactions with people, the face to face, the one-on-ones, being that go-to person to help them with whatever it is that they are looking for help with," she says. "If that doesn't cross my path again, at least I feel that with what I'm doing right now it's sort of in the same realm of social work. You're telling people about a culture that they may never have come across."