A Cuban Cooperative that Managed to Open New Doors

Decorarte’s progress contrasts with the experimental nature of non-agricultural cooperatives in Cuba, which began in 2013.

By IPS Cuba

Founded in 2013, it considers itself to be the only cooperative that has government authorization to make graphic prints, carry out decoration and interior design turnkey projects, as well as personalized objects.  Photo: Taken from www.cnadecorarte.com

HAVANA TIMES – An online store, that exports, partnerships with the chocolate industry and the future use of its Gaby & Sofi brand in the perfume world, mark some of the achievements of the Cuban Decorarte cooperative located in the tourist resort peninsula of Varadero.

It was founded in September 2013 and considers itself to be the only cooperative that has government authorization to make graphic prints, carry out decoration and interior design turnkey projects, as well as personalized objects.

Toys made in Cuba

“Gaby & Sofi” initially started out as a local product, in Varadero, Matanzas province, after the cooperative’s founders picked up on a need for children’s toys and products on the market. And it really impressed many at the 2016 Cubaindustrias Fair, where it presented itself for the first time.

If they were only making educational toys in the beginning, they gradually expanded and “Gaby y Sofi” became a brand with a store at the National Zoo, in Havana, and in Camaguey, another store in Ciego de Avila and a theme park in Santiago de Cuba, as part of a local development project.

According to the cooperative’s president, Ariel Balmaseda, in order for wooden toys to be manufactured at the factory in Santa Marta, in the Cardenas municipality of Matanzas, certified scrap wood from the tobacco industry is used, which used to be thrown away in the past.

New roads ahead

According to Gabriel Torres, Decorarte’s marketing expert, they had hoped to launch an online store during the Havana Fair, in early November, “but we waited to have it with all of its features and all of the publicity that a store like this needs.”

Educational toys, as well as the other products that make up the Gabi y Sofi brand, attest to quality, durability and unique designs. Photo: Taken from www.cnadecorarte.com

In association with a Spanish company based in Cuba, the website was designed for the national market with the Cuban payment gateway EnZona, and at the same time, with a payment gateway in dollars, which would accept international cards such as Visa and MasterCard, for the international market, Torres explained.

“Every company needs an online store. Today, over 70% of global purchases are made online and we want to enter this market,” he said.

During the fair, the group signed an agreement with the German company PROFUMED to sell its “Gaby & Sofi” educational toys on the foreign market, via the Cuban State company Copextel, which would make Decorarte the first cooperative of its kind to export in Cuba.

“They are especially interested in the toy line, because of the material used, their attractive designs and because they promote a different kind of toy: made in Cuba, which as well as our national identity and cultural values, promotes interactive play, knowledge learning, memory and the development of motor skills,” the expert explained.

According to Balmaseda, the cooperative has quite a strong production capacity right now, which has increased thanks to an investment for textile printing, for children, teenage and elderly sports clothes, “thinking about options to try and solve problems the country faces today.”

On the hunt for new opportunities

Ground gained by the “Gaby & Sofi” brand hasn’t gone unnoticed by the joint venture cosmetics enterprise Suchel Camacho LLC.

According to Mercedes Priedes, the company’s head of communication and marketing, they have agreed to a contract to use the brand and develop a line of children’s perfume and cosmetics.

“They are working on their children’s line and good results are expected, and they gave us the great idea of including children’s perfume, cologne, make-up and to see a line of products that we can develop alongside them,” Priedes explained.


Cooperatives in Cuba

Non-agricultural cooperatives began to be allowed in Cuba in 2013.

– Out of the initial 126 that were launched, over 400 are currently running, which group together 17,000 people.

– They are represented in 10 of the economy’s sectors, bringing in the equivalent of 240 million USD in revenue, in 2018.

– The government says many coops have digressed from their allowed purpose and, among other things, are wrongfully appropriating resources and funds, are involved in corruption and pacts between cooperatives and state-run businesses to engage in illicit activities.

Source: Information offered by Yovana Vega Matos, Assistant Director of the Finetuning Bodies Department belonging to the Committee of Implementing Guidelines, when presenting new regulations for cooperatives. August 2019.

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