Entrepreneurship is alive in Boston. Facebook, Gilt Groupe, Zip Car, Trip Advisor, and Wiggio all started in Beantown or its metro cities. And so did Tis•tiK.
The Boston metro area is long known as an educational hub that attracts students to its universities from across the U.S. and the world. Harvard, MIT, Brandeis, Tufts, Wellesley, and Babson are among the institutions that attracts these students. However, most of them leave Massachusetts for lucrative finance jobs on Wall Street or opportunities elsewhere. The mass exodus of young, talented, and diverse students from the state is a problem that Massachusetts legislators are trying to actively remedy.
Perla bucked the norm and decided to stay in Massachusetts after graduating from Babson College. Born and raised in Taxco, Mexico, Perla was surrounded by talented artisans and jewelry makers. While studying in Boston, she could not find pieces of jewelry similar to what she grew up with in Mexico. And that void led her to open up Tis•tiK.
In the ancient Mayan language, Tis•tiK means a warm welcome. The store’s jewelry features designs made largely by young, talented artisans from Taxco as well as other parts of Mexico. Some pieces of jewelry are made by Perla’s long-time friends, former art teacher, and even relatives.
Have you ever thought that jewelry could be made out of fish scales? I certainly didn’t until I entered Tistik. Much of the store’s jewelry is “very unique, colorful, fun, and sometimes made with unexpected material,” explains Perla. Along with necklaces made from fish scales, you can find small to mid-size handbags made with candy wrappers, colorful earrings made with agave plants, and woven necklaces made with palm tree leaves.
While scouring Taxco for artisans, there is no shortage of them willing to sell their jewelry and accessories to Perla. However, she acknowledges having a discerning eye for finding the right artisans. These artisans must design high quality yet affordable pieces. They also must design pieces that are unique and stylish. Moreover, the artisans must abide by socially responsible practices whether it be disposing of their scrap metal in responsible ways or treating their employees well. Perla purchases jewelry mainly made by young and rising artisans under 40.
Taxco may not have the star power among other tourist hotspots in Mexico such as Cancun or Cozumel. But its storied silver industry and abundant artisans makes this city of 100,000 inhabitants extremely unique. And Perla is passionate about introducing Tis•tiK’s customers to these artisans’ craftsmanship in an effort to support their livelihoods and maintain generations of traditions.
All the artisans that Perla buys from are paid immediately and at cost. No questions asked. As she thinks about introducing her growing customer base to more of Mexico’s finest artisans, Perla has a new jewelry line in the works.
Tis•tiK Masterpieces is a line that will feature antique-like jewelry made by renowned artisans from Taxco. Many of these designers have decades of experience mastering their craft and are uniquely capable of creating exquisite pieces. And Perla is very excited to showcase these artisans and their work. Each piece of jewelry will be carefully crafted and molded by a veteran artisan in Mexico and shipped directly to the customer’s home. Many of the custom-crafted pieces will embody 1950’s Mexico yet imbue a sense of timelessness.
Moreover, Perla sources jewelry made by Mexico’s indigenous population. At the core of Tis•tiK is Perla’s commitment to being a socially responsible business owner. “I want to help people in Mexico preserve their traditions and pass it on to future generations,” explains Perla.
Among many economists, 2008 is considered to be a watershed year. The real estate bubble burst and a global financial crisis hit both Wall Street and Main Street. Moreover, consumers’ attitudes towards businesses reached an all-time low. Despite the tumultuous year, Perla decided to open Tistik. “It was a good opportunity for me. It was actually easier in 2008 to open a business,” reflects Perla.
While many people started guarding their wallets and purse strings more closely, Perla believed that people would celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, and graduations. Perla noted, “People still need to buy gifts. People were looking for lower prices gifts.”
With regards to opening a store in Harvard Square, Perla recalls not considering any other location. The receptivity from the area’s college students and business owners made the store’s location ideal.
Darryl Myers, Wiggio’s vice president of business development, emphatically agrees that Boston is great city for entrepreneurs. “With Harvard and MIT next door in Cambridge, it’s no surprise that smart entrepreneurs settle in Boston. The weather may not be as appealing as Palo Alto but that doesn’t detour top talent from settling in!”
Shortly after opening Tis•tiK, Perla was greatly surprised that many local business owners would stop by to “thank [her] for opening such as beautiful store.” She found the warm reception amazing because business owners in her native Mexico typically would not be as supportive.
Similarly, the team at Wiggio found Boston’s startup community to be supportive. “What strikes me the most is the unconditional willingness to assist entrepreneurs like us. The startup community in Boston is always willing to share success and failure stories to help fellow entrepreneurs succeed,” notes Myers within an e-mail.
As Perla reflects on the two-and-half years since opening Tis•tiK, she offers a few nuggets of advice for aspiring young entrepreneurs in Boston. First, she recommends that the entrepreneur not do everything. “It will just leave you exhausted,” explains Perla. Instead, she suggests surrounding yourself with others who have skills that you don’t. She also believes that it is very important to find good employees to avoid the risk of running the business yourself. Moreover, an entrepreneur needs to be ready to change or modify their plans. “It turns out that 95% of my jewelry sales are for gifts. I initially thought that people would come in to buy for themselves,” says Perla.
As she continues to introduce unique jewelry to her customers and thinks about Tis•tiK’s future, Perla remains fervently committed to maintaining socially responsible business practices. She contends that her business philosophy is “not all about making money. It is about doing something good.”