The Yellow House: The Story of Fermin and Madelyn
San Juan de Lurigancho in Lima, Peru is hot and dry, surrounded by steep stone covered hills with few plants in sight. The hillsides and streets appear dusty, but are bustling with commerce and life. The local population is constantly growing as more and more people move from the Peruvian countryside in search of opportunity in the capital city. As the population swells, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people in areas like San Juan de Lurigancho to find work. This neighborhood is the largest in Lima, with over 1 million people residing within its boundaries. Despite the intensities of urbanization and the stress on families, emerging business leaders are providing a pathway out of poverty for migrants to the region, creating opportunities for people to care for their families and invest back into the local community.
On a side street in this community is a brightly painted yellow house. This house has become a beacon of hope for families who are emerging from the hardships of the recent economic crisis and reinventing their lives in this sprawling city. This yellow house is the jewelry workshop of Fermin and Madelyn, Artisans who create jewelry for Noonday in Peru. Fermin has created jewelry for 25 years. Together they employ 15 people who hand craft jewelry for Noonday’s customers. For Fermin, supporting the economic health of this community is the principal reason he continues his work. He shared, “we want to provide people with the tools to get ahead and ensure that they always have a place with us here.”
Fermin says that fair trade is about “action not words” and that there is no value in fair trade if one does not actively live out a philosophy that empowers one’s employees. (Click to tweet)
Generations of Jewelers
Fermin learned how to create jewelry from his stepfather, a master ironsmith, who had learned the trade from his father in his humble home workshop. Fermin and his sisters were taught the tools of jewelry making at a very young age – working with traditional Peruvian techniques and using local materials such as silver and gold to create elaborate custom designs. They first learned the skill of casting metals, a technique that has been passed down through the generations. The artisan works with a clay fire, fusing the metal pieces together with a torch and a tong, slowly manipulating the metal before passing through the various phases of completion, from shaping to casting to polishing to the final quality control check.
In Fermin’s workshop, one piece of Noonday jewelry may pass through the hands of at least four workers, each completing the meticulously detailed work that Fermin or a relative of their own has trained them in.
The Love Story
Fermin and Madelyn have been married for over 20 years and have two children: Franco, 16, who is currently studying marketing and management in University, and Aron, 13, who is a dedicated musician. With his typical shining smile, Fermin remembers meeting Madelyn as she passed his house on the way to the market when they were teenagers. After seven years of courtship, the two were married. When they first, met Madelyn recalls, “I knew nothing of jewelry making,” but she enjoyed designing and Fermin taught her the trade slowly, encouraging her love for detail and innovation with metals.
Madelyn tells their story differently, giggling and sighing openly, giving a glimpse into that young 15-year-old on the way to the market. She talks about how inspiring Fermin was from the moment she met him. “He exuded a joy, a different concern about others,” that attracted her to him as a partner and eventually a spouse. Today the two work side by side in the workshop. “There are days we disagree, of course,” Madelyn shared, “and I sometimes think I need a break. But I only ever leave for five minutes because we are a team and we can get through anything.” Their love is infectious and fills not only their home, which is attached to the workshop, but the workshop itself. Each worker is deeply focused on the tasks at hand but a joy permeates the room and constant interactions of collaboration, led by Madelyn, fill the air.
Birginia is the leader of polishing and finishing in Fermin’s workshop, a bright young woman who exudes hope and optimism. She is one of the many Peruvians who migrated to the urban center of the country. Originally from Chachapoyas in the Northern region of the Peruvian Amazon jungle, Birginia came to Lima for work at the age of 16 without knowing anyone in order to support her family. When Birginia met Fermin and Madelyn she was living in a one-room apartment and looking for work. She began to watch Fermin and Madelyn’s sons when they were young and eventually she entered the workshop to help with their orders. When Birginia met her husband, Fermin and Madelyn became the godparents of their marriage, a tradition in Peru. Through them, she says, “I have learned the power of working together, always working as a team.” Now her husband works by her side and her two young children are in private schools. She is saving to travel to visit her family in the north – a great investment for her, but one that she says is worth it.
The Door is Always Open
Johan is Madelyn and Fermin’s nephew and has worked in the workshop off and on for over 10 years. By supplementing his income this way, Johann was able to study cooking and now has a full-time job with a cruise line, allowing him to pursue his passion for travel and food. When he is home in Lima he continues to work with Fermin, teaching others the trade and supplementing his income. “They are always there for me and the door is always open,” he shares. Fermin listens to the story of his nephew with a smile on his face. “In our world we are always trying to collaborate,” Fermin tells us. He mentions that this is an important part of his commitment to fair trade – supporting people to be independent and helping them thrive.
Noonday Collection – A Relationship of Hope
Fermin remembers when he met Jessica, the Founder of Noonday Collection. In his words, “she believed in me from the beginning – it all happened so fast! Noonday has shown us how to work in fashion, using new designs that are innovative and interesting. At first, we thought that Noonday was a small business, but now we know it is large and growing and we hope to grow with them. It is the first time we have worked directly with a client and now we have hope for the future of our own business.”
Working with Noonday Collection has offered Fermin the opportunity to thrive, empowering him to hire new people, invest in his workshop and research new opportunities to grow his business. Last summer he visited Noonday’s offices in Austin, Texas with his oldest son, Franco. After their visit to Austin, Franco shared with Fermin, “Dad, going to Texas to visit Noonday was the best investment we could have made.”
Fermin says that Noonday’s orders have reinvigorated his employees given them new opportunities. Watching his employees work so diligently gives him hope for the future. He dreams of a day when everyone in his community has the opportunity to flourish through fair, dignified work.
Click to shop metalwork pieces handmade by Fermin and his talented workshop.
Words by Adrienne Chaillé, Images by Daniela Talavera