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How this Entrepreneur Diversified to Save Her Business During the Pandemic

A Peruvian woman wearing a gold sweater stands at the counter in her store. Behind her are rows of hanging jerseys.

CARE

CARE

When COVID-19 disrupted the supply chain to devastating effects, Marlita Tenorio Gonzales pivoted her business model to stay afloat

Thirty-five-year-old Marlita Tenorio Gonzales runs the sportswear business Águila Sport in the Peruvian capital of Lima. She has been running the business for 11 years and now employs 13 people. She lives with her husband and son.

Starting her business at the young age of 24, Marlita faced a number of challenges. She says, “The biggest challenge I had was my age. They did not give loans to people under 26 years of age.” In addition, credit was hard to secure for any business that was less than a year old. Determined to succeed, Marlita worked with a machine supplier to secure a bank loan to buy her first embroidery machine. This enabled her to supply embroidered t-shirts made from 100% Peruvian cotton for academies and other institutions.

“We cannot wait for clients to fall from the sky, we have to go out and find them.”

A smiling woman holds up a red and white face mask bearing the Peruvian flag.

Like many small businesses worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on Marlita’s business. Three days before she was due to send a large order to Puerto Rico, borders were closed. The value of this client was around fifty thousand garments a year, so it was a huge blow to the business. Marlita says, “Many of our workers were paralyzed, because we were paralyzed, and they did not have a livelihood to support their homes. It gave me depression and I got sick. The government shut down all sporting activities. But then I had the idea of making these masks that could help me and my entire work team.”

Marlita started building a supply network for face masks through the Police, Fire Department and other public sector workers. She recalls, “These masks saved me financially. It has cost me tears, it has cost me dawns, late nights. But these experiences have strengthened me, and helped me to value myself, my work, and my products.”

During the second wave of COVID, Marlita had to close again. Faced with bankruptcy and not willing to give up, she pivoted her business model once again and started making retro t-shirts. She recruited a network of people who had lost their jobs through COVID and built up a supply chain. “I was able to empower these people and offer them my products. They are selling through virtual stores and in this way can support their family and themselves. If I hadn’t been brave, I might not be here,” she says.

“If I hadn’t been brave, I might not be here.”

It was during the pandemic that Marlita heard about CARE’s Ignite program, supported by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. During the provided business training, she says she learned the importance of digitalization. “This pandemic has completely changed us from the root. One can no longer be in a physical point, sitting, waiting for the client to arrive. We have to use digital tools like websites, Facebook, TikTok which can help us to expand abroad. We cannot wait for clients to fall from the sky, we have to go out and find them.”

Through Ignite, Marlita has been introduced to several digital tools to help build her skills and more effectively manage her business. This includes the LISTA financial education app and the EmpreSARA app, which has been developed by the Ignite team as a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs. Marlita adds, “EmpreSARA has given me tools to help my business grow. It has helped me tremendously, together with saving, financial literacy training, marketing, and to learn the best way to conduct our business.”

“This pandemic has completely changed us from the root. One can no longer be in a physical point, sitting, waiting for the client to arrive. We have to use digital tools to expand.”

A woman helps a customer who is purchasing an athletic jersey.

The Ignite “Recharge your Power” workshop has also addressed the stresses that many women face in business, providing support on work-life balance. Marlita says, “These workshops have helped a lot in my life, which has helped me to free myself from stress.” Marlita is a strong advocate for women in business. “Some people think that a woman cannot work like a man. I think women are also more efficient, more responsible, more organized,” she says.

She continues, “The Ignite program helps us to be more organized, so that we can have internal control, so that we can have more stability. I see myself as a more empowered woman with higher expectations. I feel very grateful because these opportunities have been presented to us in these very difficult moments.”

“I see myself as a more empowered woman with higher expectations.”

For the future, Marlita wants to build her brand internationally and she has Brazil and Ecuador in her sights. To do this, she hopes to take a loan with support from the Ignite program to invest in new products and to grow the business. Her determination to succeed is clear as she says, “We just have to go out and look for it, not wait, and opportunities come. You have to be very persistent.”

Find out more about Marlita’s business on Facebook and Instagram.

Marlita is participating in CARE’s Ignite program, which unleashes the power of growth-oriented entrepreneurs to contribute to resilient, inclusive economies. The program runs in Pakistan, Peru, and Vietnam where there are large segments of unserved and underserved micro and small enterprises ready for investment. Ignite takes a market-based approach to service delivery that is sustainable and scalable, by working closely with local service providers. Ignite offers access to finance, such as loans with more flexible terms; access to critical support, such as mentors and digital skills; and outreach campaigns, focused on financial education and harmful gender norms.

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