Empowering Women Never Goes Out of Style

Levi Strauss & Co.
December 7, 2022

Mercado Global is a not-for-profit accessories brand that transforms the lives of Indigenous women and their communities in Latin America. Their business model brings together consumer market access, community-based education and asset development into a program focused on financial independence to overcome poverty.

In 2007, the Levi’s® brand began a partnership with Mercado Global to create products that literally weave together the timeless Levi’s® style with handmade Guatemalan fabric. The Levi’s® brand was the organization’s first major retail partner over 15 years ago, and now their products are sold through global fashion brands and major retailers.

“Levi’s has been supportive of Mercado Global since the beginning,” said Ruth Álvarez-DeGolia, founder and executive director of Mercado Global. “Back when we were a relatively small organization, Levi’s believed in us and our mission. Now, our relationship with Levi’s is as strong as ever and continues to be key to bringing economic opportunities to the nearly 1,000 Indigenous women artisans with whom we partner.”

This longstanding partnership will continue in 2023 with a sustainable accessories collection that includes a bucket hat, an apron and a tote. Leaders in the Levi’s® Design and Accessories Teams partnered with Mercado Global to help develop the collection, which is made from Levi’s® denim combined with the artisans’ handwoven fabrics.

A deeper initiative that began two seasons ago in the U.S. — providing consumers with the opportunity to customize their Levi’s® products with handwoven Mercado Global fabrics at select Levi’s® tailor shops — will also continue next year. Levi’s® Lead Tailor Bria Cheng has embraced the partnership and has seen firsthand how consumers have responded.

“The Mercado Global textiles are so incredibly unique and beautiful,” Bria said. There is a certain quality from artisanal crafts that cannot be replicated by machines. I think that is why our consumers gravitate toward customizing their Levi’s® products with these textiles. They can create a garment that is truly one of a kind.”

Our partnership with Mercado Global extends well beyond our business relationship. A few years before the Levi’s® brand began working with Mercado, the Levi Strauss Foundation provided early funding to help the organization increase its capacity and scale its cooperative model. Since those early years, the foundation has been a critical partner and has invested over $1.5 million in the organization.

“Funding from the Levi Strauss Foundation has been vital to the success of Mercado Global over the years,” Ruth said. “The foundation’s trust and flexibility has allowed us to grow as an organization and reach heights that at times we did not think were possible.”

Mercado Global believes that empowered women are key to breaking the cycle of poverty. When women are provided with the tools and opportunities they need to be successful, they reach their full potential and help those around them do the same. On average, women invest 90% of their wages back into their families and are more likely to send their daughters to school and improve their families’ health, making them catalysts for sustainable change in their communities.

The partnerships with the Levi’s® brand and the Levi Strauss Foundation have helped Mercado Global create this change and have had a tangible impact. Since 2004:

  • 1,250 women have been trained and graduated as Mercado Global artisans
  • 7,000 community members have been impacted by their work
  • $6 million+ in sales have been generated to improve the livelihoods of partner artisans