In 2011, Antonio Nuno quit his corporate job to work full time with friends and fellow students from Tecnologico de Monterrey, Enrique Rodriquez, Fatima Alvarez, and Jose Cruz y Celis.

“All my friends from university were like are you crazy?” Says Nuno, “You have the best job in the world and you quit to start your own company?”

Do something not for the money, but for the mission and impact. That’s what keeps you going and motivated. Tweet This Quote

Three years later, his startup, Flor De Mayo—a textiles company that merges traditional arts and crafts in rural communities with contemporary design and mainstream markets—is in the process of impacting more than 600 thousand indigenous Mexican artisans living in poverty by giving employees sustainable incomes and community support. They employ 50 indigenous artisans from Naupan and Puebla, and will hire another 100 artisans from Cuetzalan and Puebla in late February to expand to a total of 500 employees by 2016.

Nuno volunteered in various communities in high school and admired the work of the mostly women artisans who made elaborate embroideries, but who never sold them. He saw only potential.

“We made shirts for ourselves and then our friends started to ask for us to make them t-shirts,” Nuno says as he explains the initial product development. “We tested our product at a small fare and sold out. In less than a week, we had 700 artisans wanting to work with us.”

Flor de Mayo Pocket Tee designed by local artisans

Flor de Mayo Pocket Tee designed by local artisans

It took time and experimentation to create a cost-effective and humane production process starting with unique designs from indigenous communities all the way to mainstream distributors. Many traditional production processes they’d been exposed to don’t value each individual, but the Flor De Mayo team developed a transparent process where each person along the way is fairly compensated.

“We had no idea about fashion. We are all engineers. We looked into the fashion industry and learned as we went,” says Nuno who mentions it would have been helpful to work backwards from the selling price of the shirt to decide what materials to source.

Artisans make pieces of textile handcrafts according to design specifications in their homes then deliver to leaders in the community for immediate compensation of up to 300 percent more than their previous earnings. The embroideries are dropped at the nearest FedEx en route to Flor de Mayo’s headquarters. Using economies of scale to reduce cost, they source shirts, backpacks and other items from different suppliers that meet quality standards and incorporate the local designs.

Christina designs handmade threads from generations of tradition.

Christina designs handmade threads from generations of tradition.

Flor de Mayo gets creative with their production chain as it is filled with potential ways to impact Mexican society. “We are really excited about this part,” says Nuno, “After we receive both the handcrafts and the products, we take them to the jail where the prisoners sew them together, add the labels and pack the finished product. The prisoners use the money we pay them to sustain their children´s lives outside the prison, especially to pay the school fees.” Then the products get delivered directly to stores and end customers.

“Last week we closed a deal with SEARS,” says Nuno, “Mexico´s largest department store chain, to start a pilot project in five of their shops in Mexico City. If it goes well, we could expand to the 87 stores they have all around the country. We are looking for more partners like this to distribute our products, specifically in the US and Europe.”

Flor de Mayo keeps up with the growing number of employees is by creating brand-partner relationships. This saves them the assembly and distribution steps in addition to creating another source of revenue. “Our current brand partners are Permachef, Mexico’s top manufacturer of chef uniforms; and Chiquimundo, one of the largest manufacturers of baby products,” explains Nuno, “They are both producing items that incorporate hand embroideries made by our artisans.”

The pieces of clothing come with something beyond a brand name, a story of social impact. Each label has a name of an artisan.

During an annual gathering of mentors, supporters and artisans, a woman was interviewed about her work with the company. “They asked her what has been the most significant change in her life since joining us,” says Nuno, “We were expecting something about the increase in her income, but the answer surprised us and made us realize something really powerful. She answered that the greatest change in her life is that now she has a group of friends that support her.”

She answered that the greatest change in her life is that now she has a group of friends that support her. Tweet This Quote

Part of Flor de Mayo’s business culture includes encouraging supportive relationships amongst communities and artisans. Beforehand, artisans would compete for the same small group of customers—leaving individuals feeling isolated.

“We made a quick study and realized that now every artisan has five close friends in average—usually their closest neighbors—and 45 other acquaintances they can rely on, just because now they work for the same goals and see themselves as a group,” explains Nuno, “Just knowing the impact this can have on these people’s self esteem makes us want to replicate what we are doing in as many communities as we can.”

Thinking back on the reaction he garnered from other students at the get go, Nuno, still in his twenties, offers this advice: “Do something not for the money, but for the mission and impact. That’s what keeps you going and motivated.”

About the author

Cayte Bosler

Cayte Bosler

Cayte is an Unreasonable correspondent. She collects stories and lessons from and for entrepreneurs dedicated to solving the world's most pressing problems. She writes on a variety of subjects including science, technology, international development, the environment and travel.

  • John Mulhern

    We read about successful startups all the time. However we often hear about them because of their impressive financial gains. This company is sucxessful, but on so many more levels than just finances. Here we see a business taking its resources and talent and using it to develop an entire culture. This is brilliant and its methods should be used as a template for other businesses. Finding a way to reach into a culture and utilize it’s amazing capabilities without exploiting them, but rather strengthening them and building them up is monumentally impactful. Well done.

  • kgallaher

    I really enjoyed reading about Flor de Mayo. As an artist myself, I really value start ups who are interested in preserving culture and art. I think a company that takes a contemporary spin on traditional arts and crafts is genius.

  • Abbusse11

    This is a great story. I love the concept of using local artisans to make a community impact. There are so many wonderful things going on here. This is more than a success story and wow Tshirts are a great business they never go out of style.. Good for Flor de Mayo a thinking forward, positive influence to her culture.

  • storres001

    I really like how they’re bringing more traditional Mexican textiles to the main stream market. This business is not only making out standing profits, but helping bring back the culture in Mexico,and helping bring pride back in Mexican artisans who can some times be forgotten about.

  • Katie Larson

    I also admire the focus of Flor de Mayo on success outside the financial realm. Yes, these artisans are making 300 percent more than their previous earnings, but they are also gaining a greater sense of community because they are all working towards a common goal. In addition, I like Flor de Mayo’s inclusion of prisoners in this socially impactful enterprise. However, I wonder how they monitor where the prisoners send their earnings?

  • dbickel

    It’s really awesome how this idea brought together such a talented group of people. These artisans do not do the work for the money, but for the mission, impact, and support groups that go along with working in such a interesting situation. I like how every aspect of this production is in some way helping someone, somewhere.

  • Matthew Montoya

    I thought this article was awesome! When I first read about the story of Amazon.com’s CEO Jeff Bezos, one of the things that stuck out to me was how he quit his seemingly perfect job to pursue something else. A lot of people thought he was crazy, but in hindsight, he was a genius! I like this article particularly because this reflects the story of another entrepreneur who seemingly left a great position, but in turn has created an organization that makes a real difference for so many people! I have always had great admiration for people who are willing to put it all on the line for the things they are passionate about! So often we hear about how businesses fail and the risks are too looming, yet I believe if people rely on their passion and have the proper skills, we should pursue the things that make us happy. That may seem cliche, but if we all pursued our dreams without the fear of failure, we would have some pretty amazing organizations! For more risk averse individuals it is a process and requires some work, but I think the reward is well worth it, in terms of the lives you can impact, regardless of how big or small the idea may be!

  • Jack Strader

    I didn’t expect to see the connection between friends and work be such a notable characteristic for working for a company but this does go to show that management and team building is an incredibly important part of running of a business. I also think the idea of using prison labor was very outside the box in terms of cutting costs and fulfilling an essential assembly need. That kind of thinking is so valuable and so underrated sometimes.

  • Jenny Lynn Shaver

    Awesome article. Such an encouragement. This is the reason I want to be an entrepreneur. Not to make myself money but to change peoples lives in a positive way. The reward for that type of work is worth ten thousand times more than any paycheck you could collect.

  • danphaw

    I don’t have a comment abut this article specifically I just thought it was a coincidence that I’m using the same photo for a design project.

  • danphaw

    There have been businesses using prison labor for many years. It’s actually inside the box, or cell.

  • Wilson Mugabo

    I’m inspired by how he left his corporate job to start up something he is passionate about

  • Bryan Parrish

    I know that the prisons in Mexico are not the greatest, and this type of job for the prisoners gives them a bit of a purpose. Being able to support their children outside is amazing as well. Whatever happened for them to be put in there should not cost their children a future. I am glad to see someone doing something to help.

  • kbell003

    I agree with this. I think that it is great that they involved the local economy. I also really liked how the original creators were engineers and they were able to admit their faults and find someone to help them.

  • Will Carter

    Oh my gosh, this is such an awesome thing! I love the idea of the fusion of corporate scale with traditional artisanship like this. The ability to imbue that kind of heritage and grounding is just so good. This is hipster-bait if ever there was, lol.

  • sadeakindele

    This is such a great idea. The textile industry is already riddled with producers in Asia and Latin America, but they have found a way to differentiate themselves in a way that has many social and economic benefits.

  • CCzuchra

    Utilizing jail populations to manufacture goods is not only becoming more common but is actually a great use of labor resources. Rather than doing nothing, these populations can help promote a company with significant positive impact in the communities. And they are also able to provide for their families then. It’s seems to be a basic element of capitalism to do this, but even those against capitalism can’t argue that this has benefit the prisons welcome. Great business model and use of available resources

  • Arnthor Kristinsson

    Great article and I found it really interesting that each label comes with a name of an artisan. Its good that its just more than a brand name and it is a story of social impact.

  • Halea McAteer

    This was really cool to read about. I believe that helping generate jobs for impoverished countries is one thing that will truly help change and better their situations. However, the part I found most powerful about this business is the fact that it created a closer knit community with the people working for it. The encouragement and support they receive through these sort of connections I’m sure will help them to keep moving forward with their work.

  • JuanFonseca1995

    This article shares the story of a bright man and his vision to change the lives of many people living in poverty. He looked at these women and saw the potential in them, and instead of looking at the limitation of resources; he hired them and fairly compensated them. His perseverance has been displayed throughout the structure of the business and because he was passionate in his idea and he believed in his employees, they are successful in Mexico and other places as well. I’m cheering for this business to be a powerhouse because the impact this organization is making on heir employees’ lives is outstanding. Always love yourself and surround yourself with people that have a positive outlook on life and you will empower yourself to overcome any obstacles.

  • Katie

    I think that this company had a great idea in the beginning, and then made it even greater when they added in a social cause. I think it’s great that prisoners are able to pay for their children because although they are in prison, their children still deserve an education. This is a great use of labor. By reading this, I am able to understand that this company’s mission as well as their impact on society is very important to them.

  • kschwein

    It is really cool to see someone leave their job even though they are making good money because they don’t necessarily believe what it stands for. This is a great idea and is great at using its resources.

  • karnold001

    “Do something not for the money, but for the mission and impact.” This is such a powerful quote! I really like what Flor de Mayo is doing and I believe they are headed in the right direction in regards to impacting those in need.

  • Tiffanie Marszalek

    I love this story! So great that these prisoners are able to help their families, those who also directly suffered from their poor decisions.

  • ZakFritz

    This is a very powerful post. It makes me think about how I should start looking for m career as I will be done with school soon. I shouldn’t be focused strictly on money but on what it can do for the community as well.

  • erinleigh28

    Wow. I really appreciated the part where the artisans were commenting that the most impact was that they had friends. I can definitely see how that would be different. Before they were essentially competitors, and now they can work together.

  • James Callahan

    What a great idea, to marry traditional embroidery with modern garment manufacturing and top it off with the social cause. Flor de Mayo has a great business model that has created hundreds of jobs and helped restore dignity to prisoners as well.

  • Lynn Kraus

    I agree Katie – there are so many positive impacts to his business model I found it to be inspirational. Not only has Nuno figured out how to deliver to his customer’s wants and needs, he created unexpected value for his key partners (the artisans & the finished product manufacturer), which I think in the business world is pretty rare.

  • ali Alamri

    I enjoy reading this article

  • ChaiseSheldon

    This article was inspiring. Antonio was truly brave to take such a huge risk for this. Now Flor De Mayo does great work for their artisan community. It is truly amazing how you can change the lives of people around you.

  • nsales

    The article was nice and truly a big risk for what its doing for prisoners. The fact that its even adding a social cause makes it all around better. Very empowering and inspiring.

  • mleano

    Doesn’t Etsy already provide a good place for artisans and craftsmen so showcase and sell their products? And I’m not so much on board for using prison labor for a for profit organization. I much prefer the idea of prisoners giving back to the community they took from such as parks restoration.

  • Jcwilson480

    This is a pretty cool way of getting a unique item. Being able to choose a design that was made by artisans all around the world makes this a pretty cool opportunity.

  • Shae Moyano

    This makes me so happy to see people in Mexico trying to help others and create new jobs so people can make some of a living and be able to have their Mexican traditions in the clothing and share it around the world.

  • Shae Moyano

    Well maybe in Mexico they don’t have that opportunity. I think it is a great idea having the prisoners help with labor and making some money for their families. They are in there for a reason and this allows them to build more responsibility and humility sewing the tags on and packaging

  • Shae Moyano

    I agree with you! the fact they are helping and trying to do something other than sit in a prison is beneficial to the men. Builds humility and responsibility again.

  • Shae Moyano

    I love how they are combining the traditional artisan style with corporate scale as well! Even though they do not know much about fashion this is going to make a huge statement and when it hits off SEARS is going to really help show it across the country

  • jsims001

    This is great work on so many different levels!! I am deeply impressed by the companies firm commitment to make a positive social impact in Mexico. By providing work to family men in prison so they can sustain their families while they are serving their sentence is a brilliant idea! Not only does it better the lives of the women and children, but it also gives prisoners the chance to participate in society while seeing their own families place in the larger picture (possible rehabilitation benefits). I loved that the company is uniting artisans and providing them with their own networks as well. Establishing cooperation and collaboration in these communities that used be strictly competitive will lead to many more opportunities for sustainability.

  • Spencer Rafii

    Not only is Flor de Mayo, creating a profitable business, they are functioning while increasing the value of every ones life that is involved. Entrepreneurship is so amazing because, like Antonio has done, companies can spread culture around the world while strengthening the community in which they originate.

  • mpierson19

    I really like how Flor de Mayo creates jobs for those in prison in order for them to create a living for their children back home with the money they make packaging and sewing the clothing items provided to them!

  • glmcguir

    What a great project! While I don’t condone what some of the men have done to be in prison, it does leave some families stranded and hurting. This allows the men or women in prison to still provide for their families so that they don’t have to suffer as well.

  • sking4air

    Wow, I am amazed by this. What great strategy and forward thinking. This is a great way to control cost and make profit while helping the lives of others. I wish we could create this kind of prison work in the US. I could see some people boycotting the product but their are many people that would like the prices and buy it. This is far smarter and better for society than child labor and sweat shops in many under developed nations.

  • rall1

    I’d be curious to hear more about the impact of this organization with the Mexican prison population and why that population was chosen to be a participant. However, this is an inspirational story of a company driven to make an impact in a deserving community.

  • tinkers4

    What an impressive way for people that are in prision in Mexcio
    to help support the people they left behind. I think that it is healthy for them to learn and work a honest wage. Also what they are doing helps to give back. Hats off to Flor De Mayo

  • tinkers4

    Agreed, I think to some extent that is everyones dream. Its always refreshing to see people succeed.

  • malopez93

    This is a all around great business. Flor de Mayo gets real creative with how they assemble their product. It is a benefit for them because they are keeping cost down, but they are also helping out the community at the same time. I really agree with what Nano had to say at the end where he states, “Do something not for the money, but for the mission and impact. That’s what keeps you going and motivated.” I have read similar statements like this again and again the last couple weeks. It is all about the ‘Why’. If you can continue to focus on the why of your business/company, you will continue to strive and be motivated to help not only the community around you but your business as well. This seems like a company that gets it when it comes to their ‘why’.

  • Mdraymore

    I really liked this post more then many others I’ve read because it explained how the company worked in detail. The way the company impacts local artisans and even helps out prisoners is amazing, and i think it is very ethical and impressive how they created a “cost-effective and humane production process.” Additionally, I wonder if they will be able to keep up their relatively high payments to the artisans and economies of scale when the grow bigger and become international. Lastly, I admire Nuno’s entrepreneurial spirit by quitting his corporate job and following an idea and passion.

  • chadvallen

    This post is actually really inspiring! I think it is an amazing idea to provide work to men in prison in order to help pay for his families needs in the outside world. The man is being productive to society, and helpful to his family. This company really came up with an excellent idea here and I think the motivation to help each other is what keeps this system beneficial to everyone involved.

  • Just an amazing company that is taking care of it’s people. The thought to empower prisoners to take care of and provide for their families is stellar. I really like the idea of reaching out to indigenous people and having the best craftsmen working on items for Sears. That is Unreasonable!

  • Jennifer Diaz

    Wow, this is amazing. To give jobs to those in prison and to keep their minds creative is an incredible thing. Good thing Nuno quit his job!

  • epmcinty

    Wow, this article was so inspiring in so many aspects. A man who had a great job and everything many people could dream of, was not satisfied with what he was doing. Nuno quit his job and began a startup that will employ over 600 artisans by next year, 2016. These craftsmen/women working for him are creating specific garments and clothing designs and are making earnings around 300 percent greater than what they were before. Not only is this a break through for Nuno as he is probably gaining a lot of profit, but his noble focus on his workers and the community is creating many jobs and profit all over Mexico and production is beginning to expand to places like America and Europe (he sealed a deal with Sears!). One thing I really enjoyed about this whole process, is that the clothes are finished and packaged at Mexican prisons, where he pays the prisoners so they can take care of their families outside of their cells. Very amazing, and am looking forward to seeing the success of Flor De Mayo!

  • pdeese

    This article reminds me to keep it simply. Do not try to start out changing the world notice the small things around me and how people are impacted. I believe the importance of community is showing up in so many innovative business now days and this article points to that also. The last statement “Do something not for the money….. Once again it is not for money that many of want to make a difference but we can get caught up in the economics too much. Thanks for the article it helps to be aware of these products also so I can support them.

  • january26throwaway

    If the shirts were made by Mexican citizens, instead of inmates in one of the worlds’ most corrupt and brutal prison systems, would Sears still be interested? The idea is great, but come on. Mexican inmates are basically slaves.

  • Jessica Andrew

    Thank you for sharing this article. This article is inspiring. It is amazing that this guy just dropped everything to start his own company. From what it seems like he had a pretty good job too! It is awesome that he is helping people from prison to do this. This could be like therapy for them and hopefully change their lives around and maybe it even gives them hope. The picture of the shirt looked good too!

  • MeierKM23

    Wow! I really I like the idea! The fact that you quit your good paying job to help and empower prisoners to take care of and provide for their familes is a great thing to hear. Also noticing people for their talents and helping them use those talents for a good cause is a really great feeling. I like when Nuno was metioned and said “Do something not for the money, but for the mission and impact. That’s what keeps you going and motivated.” So many of us (sometimes even myself) get caught up how much we are going to make after we go to school but really what should motivate us is to make an impact on others. Keep up with the wonderful work you are doing Nuno and greatest luck.

  • MeierKM23

    I am also on the way to graduation very soon and time is going fast. Although I have another year, it will go by before I know it. I know sometimes as college students, we focus on the money we can make because we spend so much of it trying to get our degree. But, I have learned that impacting people and even the community around you can also make a difference in your life, and not just the money. Looking for a career after school will be important as both of us should realize how we can impact the people we are working for and/or are helping first and then the money. Greatest luck to you in the rest of school and after as well.

  • Ryan

    I like this idea a lot. Not only do the families of prisoners benefit from the extra income, but those incarcerated can still feel as though they are contributing something to their families, which is important for gaining or maintaining a positive outlook. There are many programs like this in States, though, that allow prisoners who have committed non-violent crimes or are considered to be rehabilitated to enter a work program and distribute their earnings to their family or save it for their release.

  • asprain

    This is an awesome idea that employs people for their artistry. Definitely making a difference in people’s lives. This is great.

  • Gaby Perez

    I love this company! I think this business is great because the artisans feel as though they are working for the money they are getting. I know that pride is a huge thing in these communities so its truly empowering them!

  • rschneider2800

    There was another person in China who did the same thing with her rural village; her video is on unreasonable too. I love projects like this that utilize skills that people already have instead of bringing in a new factory or product that doesn’t add to people’s skills or culture.

  • Lindsey Kessler

    This is a very creative startup. I was expecting to read that Nuno’s idea would be to offer workers who currently work in sweatshop labor to sew the clothing, to offer these workers a better opportunity in the garment industry. Nuno’s idea of having prisoners sew the clothing really threw me for a loop, because it’s something no one has ever thought of. I think it’s a great idea, and I think it has potential to go very far.

  • JConklin805

    Wow, this is inspiring! A business that takes care of not only the people working for them, but offered work towards prisoners to take care of their families when they can’t be there to provide. Pretty amazing idea!

  • fkrutsky

    Flor de Mayo is not only providing an economic growth in communities but also social benefits as well. I can see this idea growing into many design companies that are looking for authentic sourcing. With Flor de Mayo providing these textiles without the price of over working the community that makes them, this opens new doors for sourcing. By setting up these deals they are making authentic handmade textiles in reach for designers without the price being impossible. I am excited to see who they close there next deals with!

  • eljefeboulder

    So cool that so many people can benefit in this. I really like that the prisoners are being paid and are using the money to support their families. Spouses and children of prisoners should not have to be faced with the financial burden that the criminal has left them. This is a great way for the imprisoned to fix that.

  • caro5039

    This is such a great idea! I love that their mission isn’t about making money, but making an impact on those they help. I really liked that Nuno took a risk and it ended up being super successful. Flor de Mayo has great potential and I think they are doing all the right things to expand their business.

  • AndreaOlsen22

    This article really shows how it shouldn’t always be about the money. It proves that money can’t buy everything. This company’s work was about helping out others in the world. They weren’t payed extreme amounts, but the overall outcomes/impacts were greater than the money in their eyes. Whatever we do in this world, we must make sure there is a purpose and that we believe in it.

  • Mabel

    I echo the previous statement! The article promotes a positive form of business and allows the community around it to grow as a whole.

  • JeremyWahl

    It is really cool to me how ideas of different groups can come together and combine to make a powerful group. I also like that the people making the craft is doing it for the bigger cause first, rather than the money first. These people are great people by putting everyone before themselves.

  • joconne4

    This looks like a really good example on how to take advantage of talent where you find it. If you already have people with a certain set of skills and passions, then it makes sense to get such people together to meet the potential demand for those abilities out there.

  • ClaytonEI08

    It’s one thing to want to start your own business when you have nothing else going for you at the moment, but to leave a great job to start your own business from the ground up, now that takes courage. What I liked most about it, was that the idea behind it was, “Do something not for the money, but for the mission and impact.” I was always taught never to do something for the money, for you may find yourself doing something you hate. It’s nice seeing someone else that lives with the same idea that has been taught to me my entire life.

  • Glassborow

    I think this can really bring people and communities together. You are taking local and original designs and then the people that sew them can then use the money to help out their families and allow them to get proper education. It’s a positive spiral and impacting those who need it in a great way.

  • MattDennert

    It’s amazing how someone who has every thing has the heart to try and help those who are not so lucky by quiting his job and creating a buisness to help other people.