The Pivot – From a ‘merchandiser in search of meaning’ to ‘ethical entrepreneur’

Career Pivot


Today we talk with Carrin Robertson….

Although Carrin (33) currently lives in La Esperanza, Guatemala, she used to work as a project manager for a busy creative production company in London. However, she was feeling dissatisfied with the conditions in the industry and yearning for more meaning in her life. She is now the Founder of The Moon Made Me Do It, an ethical handcrafted brand, and a designer for UPAVIM, a women’s co-operative in Guatemala. This is how she made her pivot to the other side of the globe…

I worked in visual merchandising and retail design for luxury brands for over ten years and at the time I loved it, mostly – though there were definite challenges! I worked for a company called Creative Services where I project managed window displays and pop-ups for brands like Tory Burch, Charlotte Olympia, Charlotte Tilbury, Clinique and Anya Hindmarch, mostly in their stores and at Harrods and Selfridges.

I loved being involved creatively with the design and materials but it was often really stressful, especially later when I worked freelance for a production company. I loved my team in both jobs but I did feel like I wanted something else.. something that actually mattered. I felt people in production were undervalued and I hated seeing talented work being unappreciated, especially when weighed against budgets. I knew how much time went into making something, and often at the end of a campaign, all that hard work was disposed of. It felt wasteful and didn’t have any meaning in the end.

I needed more creative control, I wanted more value in what I was involved in making and putting out into the world, environmentally and creatively, with care for people. I felt constantly on call and at times I was really burnt out. Then, in 2017 I was at a pyramid exhibition in Tenerife and spotted a map showing Tikal in Guatemala. I decided then and there that this was where I wanted to live and work. I could speak Spanish or at least enough to communicate pretty well. (However, now I know that there are actually 24 languages spoken in Guatemala! Spanish is the colonised language, there are way more indigenous languages.)

I remember Googling ‘design’ and ‘Guatemala’ on LinkedIn and up popped UPAVIM. I went on a week’s holiday and when I returned I had decided to apply for the job. I filled out the application form and sent my CV over. UPAVIM is a Fairtrade company in a ‘Red Zone’ of Guatemala where there is gang violence and poverty. The women who work at UPAVIM create products that are sold in the US and the profits fund their school and clinic.

The next day, I was made redundant from Creative Services, with all my friends and it completely shut down. It was quite horrible, but serendipitous in a way. I was offered the job as product designer at UPAVIM with the artisan department and I was excited and scared – after all it’s quite a dangerous area.

So before moving to Guatemala my biggest fear was mostly about my personal safety due to the amount of gun crime. I knew that I could come back to the UK if I didn’t like it there. The only thing I did consider was ‘Am I too old?’ – I decided quite quickly that I wasn’t. Luckily, I’ve been here 10 months and I’ve been safe, I absolutely love it.

Initially I decided that I would work in Guatemala for a year and then return to the UK to set up my own ethical company. I’ve made some jewellery and bags for fun in my spare time in London, and bits of upholstery – all self-taught and this brings me lots of happiness to work with my hands. However, in the end I chose to start my own ethical business, The Moon Made Me Do It, while actually working for UPAVIM.

I feel like I’m at the start of my journey still with The Moon Made Me Do It, which is amazing as it feels fresh and exciting, and above all, it has meaning. I can co-operate and work with many, many more artisans too – anywhere in the world, making a difference in their lives. There’s no limit to where we can go, it can be a lady working from home in Scotland making candles who wants to sell through my website or Peruvian jumpers from a co-op to a group printing t-shirts in Guatemala City. I’ll be stocking UPAVIM’s products, which I’ve helped design, and that means a lot that I can do that.

So that’s how it all began. My life has changed drastically since moving out here and setting up The Moon Made Me do It. I’m not scared of many things any more. I also am so much more aware of what is important in life – family, friends, the environment. PEOPLE are the most important. Travelling has been the biggest and best part of this. I don’t stress out like I did before over timelines – people work slower here as they have very different life challenges.

I’ve been very lucky to have seen beautiful parts of Guatemala and my Spanish is so much better than before, and I want it to continue to improve and to learn Kakquichel and maybe another dialect too. I know how fabrics are woven, and the histories behind Mayan weavings in Guatemala. I have visited ceramicists and wood-workers and I love seeing what people make. I always want to learn more. Since I’ve been here, the stories from the women I work with are heartbreaking, honestly – they have survived the most horrific things you can imagine.

Overall I am a million times happier with my life and what lies ahead. I mostly enjoy the feeling of freedom. There are some financial challenges because everything I stock has to be substantiable. I hope people support our work by actually buying from us, otherwise it won’t work and I’m already keen to invest in other co-operatives, but we need to find enough support first. I believe in what we’re about, and I think others want to know that what they choose to buy makes a difference to someone else’s life. So I’m positive that it’ll succeed.

These days, I don’t miss the amount of waste that I saw in my previous job or some of the attitudes and ways of working. Mostly, I don’t miss routine and knowing how it’s all going to turn out. I like that I have so many surprises ahead, good ones.

My advice to others is – just do it – and although I can’t just say to everyone ‘leap and the net will appear’, I think the experience you have in your previous life, more likely than not will still be relevant and useful in your future. We have to know where we have come from in order to know where we’re headed. If you’re 80% ready – go for it. If you’re not, ask where you’ve been and where you’re at now. Then seek the future you.

To make it work? About 75% of it is you and 25% is magic and luck. You can waste so much time waiting for the perfect moment but it’ll never be perfect. It’s definitely a balance. Research what you want to do and put in the time, get clear and most of all – enjoy the journey.


LinkedIn: (design and travel in Guatemala)

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