We had the good fortune of connecting with Fabiola Lara and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Fabiola, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
My husband Sabith and I come from cultures with strong craft traditions– India and Mexico. We both come from families that promoted learning and education but also appreciation for traditions, handcrafted pieces and respect for the people making them.
As published authors, researchers, educators, and avid travelers ourselves, we saw a gap in people’s knowledge and understanding of rich craft traditions and the economic as well as cultural importance of these crafts to the communities. We started tlali•pani with the idea to not only provide premium quality, sustainable and ethically handcrafted home goods produced in small quantities but also share the knowledge and insights around these crafts for more socially conscious living.
One of our customers recently said, “the best charity is to give someone a job”– we are proud that as of now, 100% of our artisan partners are women and that through tlali•pani, we are empowering them to not only sustain their craft and generate income but also inspire future generations of women.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I have over 10 years of professional and academic experience in international development, working across international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and agencies in areas related to children, education and gender equity. I have seen first-hand across contexts how financial stability and a reliable source of income can positively impact families and communities for generations to come. I believe that growing up in a classroom (my mother’s, of course) is what first led me to this field– the fact that education is power and that it can single-handedly change a person’s life. As a daughter of immigrants, I also understood the importance of work ethic and maintaining cultural roots as I myself witnessed how my parents worked tirelessly to transmit language, knowledge, and traditions that form a key part of my identity. I am thankful for this because it facilitated my ability to pick up and work in multiple languages, connect with and understand people as well as easily adapt to the countries where I have lived and traveled to extensively in my personal pursuits and throughout my professional career. However, it hasn’t always been easy. As a woman of color (WOC) in a field that was established by Western or “developed” nations and historically, largely white men, I have learned to advocate for myself especially in spaces where I was not “seen” but I have also been fortunate to have come across a few key figures (both men and women) that supported and guided me when I needed it most.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This is an easy one– it’s the tour that Sabith and I give to all of our friends when they come to visit us. We start off by introducing them to Mercado La Paloma in South L.A. It’s a great place with a noble mission. Aside from eating some of the tastiest Mexican regional cuisine (as well as other foods) that you can find, Mercado La Paloma also promotes community building and development by supporting living wage jobs and business ownership opportunities, which are so often inaccessible to our communities of color. By the time we finish eating, we have talked for hours and caught up on everything in our lives, which easily works up an appetite. We then head over to Little Tokyo and hit up our favorite udon place. Little Tokyo is an essential part of L.A. with a rich history. Sabith and I especially love to point out to our friends all of the plaques with historical information on them. After eating and strolls paired with matcha ice cream, we usually take friends to the Japanese American National Museum. This is one of our favorite museums in the city, one that shares and explores the Japanese experience in the U.S. I was born and raised in SoCal so Japanese history, specifically in this part of California is not new to me (one of my favorite elementary school teachers was forcibly held in a detention camp with her family during WWII) but for many of our friends, it’s an eye-opening experience and one that they often remind us of, long after they have returned home. Depending on the time of day, we like to end with a sunset at the Griffith Observatory or the Los Angeles Arboretum where you can find the most beautiful array of plant life.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First and foremost, I would like to dedicate this Shoutout to our mothers, Samiunissa and Maria Lara. Our mothers, both school teachers and strong women, instilled in us the importance of culture and traditions, respect for people, empathy toward others and above all, the humility to never stop learning. Finally, to all women artisans fighting to support themselves and their families, working to pass on knowledge, culture and skills in bringing up future generations of humans, and fighting to assert their voice and needs in their communities and society at large.
Eva Lépiz and Yaquelin Hernandez