Cristha Fuentes sips a Coca-Cola on the terrace of Luna de Miel in Antigua, Guatemala. She sports pineapple earrings under waves of dark brown hair and a yellow planner peeks out of her purse. But her secret is under the table – size 7.5 brown, handmade chukkas, designed by Fuentes herself.
At age 22, Fuentes runs her own fashion brand with more than 13,000 followers on Facebook. She grabs a cup of coffee and drives from her family’s four-bedroom condominium in Guatemala City to Antigua more than three times a week where she ships shoes across the country and the United States. Her tagline, which she attaches to all her designs, reads “shoes with soul.”
Her work started after she was 18 when a friend invited her to share her designs at a craft market in Guatemala City. Before the day was over, Fuentes had a list of people who wanted to buy her designs. Since then, the requests keep coming.
Fuentes makes an effort to be socially conscious and supports causes, such as Breast Cancer Awareness, for which 60 percent of the profits from her $225 pink oxford shoes go.
“I wanted that for once we as girls could finally join and fight against something that is bigger than ourselves,” Fuentes said.
She also makes her products from locally sourced materials, such as leather from Quetzaltenango. Designs are produced at three different warehouses in Guatemala City that employ seven to eight people each.
“I want to empower women through my shoes,” Fuentes said. In one day, Fuentes shipped 30 pairs of shoes to Florida from UTZ Market, a shipping nonprofit in Antigua. Fuentes doesn’t always get to see who the shoes go to, but she likes to give her customers a face, like the time she saw a girl outside Guatemala City wearing boots she designed.“She’s a girl boss,” UTZ team member Sergio “Checho” Nájera said.
When Fuentes was 19 she pitched her idea to Centro Municipal de Emprendimiento, a program designed to help early entrepreneurs reach their goals. Fuentes received training in marketing at CME and was introduced to other startups such as UTZ. Fuentes regards former CME director Roberto Mayen as the most influential to her career. She received her degree in product design in 2016 and plans to devote the rest of her time to achieving a bachelor’s in administration and expanding her designs. “I think I owe most of my confidence here [at CME],” Fuentes said.
At Tre Sorelle in Proceres mall in Guatemala City, Fuentes’ purses peek out from behind pairs of heels and sneakers. Fuentes’ most popular purse, a mixture of leather and traditional Guatemalan cloth, sells for 790 quetzales, or about $105. The shop is one of three stores in Guatemala City that sell Fuentes’ designs. “[Customers] come here to search the designs of Cristha,” shop owner Brenda Mendoza said. Before Fuentes leaves, the shop owners ask for a picture.“I believe the best form to help people here in Guatemala is to give them jobs,” Fuentes said.