Custom Elevation: Elevating Artisans’ Lives

Artisans employed by Custom Elevation
Artisans employed by Custom Elevation

Christian Estrada

Custom Elevation is a for-profit social-venture started by Notre Dame Undergraduates in the summer of 2012 trying to solve a widespread problem experienced within most artisan communities in the world: highly skilled artisans not being able to earn enough to rise out of poverty.

Custom Elevation tries to solve exactly that: ‘Elevating Nicaraguan Artisans Lives’ by exposing their crafts to international markets, where people are able and willing to pay the fair price for the products.

In order to be different than other artisan-centered ventures, Custom Elevation decided to tap into the collegiate market. Our products offer a beautiful combination between culture, tradition and school pride. 

Handbag sold by Custom Elevation
Handbag sold by Custom Elevation

We currently have two lines of products: cotton-based and wood-based and are currently selling them at Notre Dame’s bookstore. Throughout the length of the semester we have been able to enter the Greek market (fraternities and sororities) as well as other prestigious universities.

In order to make this business sustainable we will have to adapt to the needs and wants of our market as well as work closely with the artisans to become more efficient. Throughout the length of this project we were able to access various concerns relevant to the progression of this business as well as plan for what the future brings. For one, we studied closely how the supply and demand of the raw materials will alter in the near and distant future and what we can do to anticipate these changes. Wood, for example, constitutes to 60% of our cost of goods sold. We currently focus on Nambar (beautiful hardwood native to Nicaragua) but recently found out that given to it beauty it is starting to be heavily exploited by several foreign groups. In response we have reached out to NIFATA (Nicaragua Sustainable Forestry, Agriculture and Tourism Alliance) in order to weigh in and find solutions to this problem. As a backup we have started to look for other woods that are beautiful and that are not in danger of extinction.

Furthermore, throughout this capstone project we were able to look into several other components that would both reduce cost and result beneficiary for the environment. One of them was electricity consumption. We researched and found the times when it would be more effective and efficient to operate the machinery necessary to cut wood. In the first two months we were able to cut electricity cost by 14% and 17% respectively.

Wood products sold by Custom Elevation
Wood products sold by Custom Elevation

Custom Elevation is about enhancing the Nicaraguan artisan’s lives, whose skills are unparalleled and have been handed down from generation to generation. It is about moving them to a fair market and reducing the predatory price wars that they engage in within their local markets.

The triple bottom line definitely controls our business model and daily operations. Focusing on these three pillars: Planet, People, Profits definitely allows us to maintain a clean balance between being a for-profit business and a socially centered venture.