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Meet Erika Salan of The Nicavana Project in Topanga Canyon

Today we’d like to introduce you to Erika Salan.

Erika, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
The Nicavana Project started as a healing project. In September of 2015, my beloved Doberman, Sierra, passed away. Months went by and I was simply stuck in a state of grieving. I truly sensed as if I needed something bigger than myself to focus on to help me throughout the process of losing her. As an avid traveler and fair-trade advocate, I decided that I really wanted to embark on a project to honor her with something that reminded me of her, while staying true to causes that I believe in the most, and that’s ethical and transparent consumerism. It was then that I decided to start making dog collars in Central America.

By that time, Nicaragua had already become my home away from home, and I felt deeply rooted in Nicaragua. It was imperative for me to be able give back to a community I loved by providing sustainable jobs for those in need, all while always keeping Sierra in my memory. In May 2016, I went door to door in a small town in Nicaragua that had a tannery, a place where I knew I would be able to find artisans to help me. I literally went door to door, workshop to workshop, and just explaining my story and what I wanted to accomplish. Naturally, some people laughed at me, others thought I was crazy, but luckily, a few families said they would love to be a part of our project and they needed the work. I had some samples made, and that’s really when Nicavana Project was born. Fast forward three years, and our dedication to our artisans, radical transparency, donations to non-profit organizations, and honesty has really resonated with thousands of people across the globe, and now our shipments sell out within a few days of being launched on the website.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The Nicavana Project has been the absolute hardest endeavor I’ve undertaken. Working with artisans in a third world country while living in the United States is extremely difficult. I don’t have the ability to be in Nicaragua full time, I can’t micro-manage and check each and every piece made. I am forced to trust my artisans to get everything done as requested and I am completely reliant on cell phone pictures that are almost always blurry or pixelated. After my orders are done, I stress out for days and days that our order is safely shipped to the United States and will pass through customs without issue. I will never forget that our very first order came in marked with pen – each and every single piece was marked with a blue pen. I cried for a week. We had to sell the collars from that shipment below our cost to some very generous friends, save money, and start all over again. We’ve also had a number of items get lost during transit. Last year, we received a shipment with a hole in the box, and missing nearly a third of our products. Now our current struggle is due to the current political climate in Nicaragua. Tanneries all over the country have stopped producing most colored leathers. Our artisans have been having to make do with whatever little leather they can source. I’ve learned when doing business abroad, it takes a lot of patience and understanding to be successful.

Please tell us about The Nicavana Project.
The Nicavana Project is a multifaceted project. Our goal is to provide sustainable work for artisans in need, all while generating enough income to donate to multiple causes. We are a huge supporter of World Vets, a non-profit organization that focuses on providing veterinary care for animals around the globe. We started donating to World Vets because their former training center was in Granada, Nicaragua which was also our home base. We wanted to give back to the organization that helped thousand and thousands of animals in a country we called home. Sadly, they’ve moved to Ecuador due to the civil unrest in Nicaragua, but we will always support World Vets. We also donate to various rescues, and our local shelter, the Agoura Animal Shelter located in Agoura Hills. Aside from giving back, we are a project that’s dedicated to the relationships we build with our artisans. First and foremost, we make sure they are taken care of as Nicavana Project is completely reliant on our team abroad. We check in with them constantly to make sure they have everything they need. Here in the US, while I am the founder, I am hands on with my business in every aspect. I am social media, content creator, marketing, research and development, customer relations, bookkeeping, even shipping — and I am certainly now a packaging expert. I focus mostly on social media, and developing relationships with my customers. I pride myself on our transparency of this project, and I believe out of the many canine gear companies in the world, customers always feel that we are approachable and love to chat with us about our work. Aside from our mission, our products are also very unique. We also work with a family of Mayan women weavers in Guatemala for all of our textiles. They are able to offer us traditional backstrap weaving, hand stitched textiles, free-hand machine sewn textiles, and they also have access to a co-op owned embroidery machine. Each type of stitching gives us tons of different options to offer to our customers. Our customers can feel confident that when they purchase from us, they are supporting a family in need of sustainable work.

What were you like growing up?
Growing up, I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum. As both a Latina and an only child, I’ve always wanted things my way and have never settled for anything less than that – needless to say I was stubborn. My parents certainly did not appreciate that. I grew up spending a lot of the time in the kitchen with my abuela learning how to make things from scratch, and watching her recycle nearly everything she had. She was the sole reason why I started relating the importance of everything from the source of my food to all my tangible products at such a young age. My friends always thought I was crazy because I was so militant with my ethics. There I was, this young teen raising chickens for ethically raised eggs, and buying organic-cotton everything I could get my hands on, while all my friends didn’t really care. That stubbornness blossomed into the passion I have for ethical consumerism today.


  • Collar prices are between $65 – $135

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