Ventura County Star Article
Ordinary stores might boast about offering environmentally friendly products, but Ecugreen Jewelry and Textiles, which sources its wares straight from Ecuador, takes that claim to heart.
The downtown Ventura-based business partners with Ecuadorean artists, who create handcrafted items including jewelry, clothing, bags and hammocks that are then shipped to Ecugreen.
While the store’s exotic items have helped Ecugreen carve a niche for itself in the city’s business community, it’s also been an opportunity for owner Martha Cantos to turn her passion for environmental sustainability into a full-time career.
Although many of Ecugreen’s products are designed to look like they come from ivory, they actually come from tagua nuts, which grow on Ecuadorean palm trees. Selling products that combat the animal ivory trade while supporting Ecuadorean artisans was a win-win for Cantos, who opened Ecugreen in April 2017.
“It was intriguing to me that such a beautiful piece that looks like ivory comes from a palm tree,” said Cantos, 50. “You can get beautiful pieces of jewelry that look like ivory but isn’t from animal ivory. The palm tree that the nut comes from is self-sustainable, so it is very eco-friendly.”
While Cantos assembles some of her store’s products, all of Ecugreen’s material comes from Ecuador. However, Cantos’ partnership with Ecuadorean artisans is not the typical outsourced work. She forged relationships with several of the country’s business owners after moving to Ecuador in 1989. Cantos maintained those relationships after relocating to Ventura County and would regularly purchase products from her Ecuadorean contacts as gifts for friends.
Eventually, she decided to monetize her interests in environmental friendliness and Ecuadorean culture. Cantos, who previously worked in customer service and social worker positions, began reselling her contacts’ jewelry at local festivals before deciding to open her store. Now, Cantos regularly confers with her partners in Ecuador to design custom jewelry and other products for Ecugreen.
Cantos’ business stands out because of its focus on sustainability, according to Luis Morales, an Ecuadorean artisan who ships products to Ecugreen. Cantos’ commitment to environmental friendliness and genuine passion for Ecuadorean culture were important to Morales.
“I decided to work with Martha for I found her to be a responsible and committed businesswoman, serious in our eco-friendly designs, and (for) her love for the culture of our country, Morales said in an email translated by Cantos. “The products that Martha carries in her store are high-quality, with a social responsibility, and made from natural fibers.”
While Ecugreen is one of downtown Ventura’s newer businesses, Cantos noted that it has enjoyed a successful start. Ecugreen’s custom-made products and eco-friendly focus have appealed to residents, she said.
Although Cantos is a relatively new business owner, she worked hard to turn her passion into a viable business, according to Evelina Ochoa, program officer at Women’s Economic Ventures, a Ventura-based nonprofit that advocates for more women in business. Ochoa noted that Cantos, who graduated from WEV’s business training program, was dedicated to developing her business skills and has become a commendable manager.
“She is one of those ideal clients looking to grow her hobby into a business,” Ochoa said. “She tweaked and worked on her plan and turned it into a sound business decision. It feels good to know you’re buying something that has an impact on an outside community in another country.”