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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ethical Fashionistas & Argentinian Economics

In the last two days, we have visited two companies in the fashion industry. Yesterday we visited Pampa & Pop (, which was started three years ago by two women who used to work in the non-profit industry and who shared a love of fashion. They decided to create Pampa & Pop as a stand against slave labor in the fashion industry and to share the idea of ethical fashion with the world. They specialize in women's accessories and clothing, all made of either Argentinian leather or organic cotton. Many people don't know that Argentina has some of the best leather in the world. It is a fact that there are literally more cows than people here!

Currently, Pampa & Pop sells products to retailers in Europe and Japan, including the exclusive Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Their competitive advantage is the high quality of their leather products, the ethical practices behind their brand, and the fact that they create products in bright, fun colors that fit the styles of women of all ages. Our group (especially the women) really enjoyed hearing this entrepreneurial story and seeing the merchandise. We were even asked our opinions on whether or not Pampa & Pop should try to enter the North American market. After seeing the amazing quality and design of the products, many of us were convinced that they could do quite well in the U.S.

The second fashion company we visited was Tejidos San Nicolas. This company was started by three Greek brothers and is still run by their sons today. Originally a textiles manufacturer, the company has diversified its business portfolio to include real estate, food, and logistics. Today, instead of manufacturing textiles, the company has changed its business model to just import textiles from China and sell them to large companies such as Lacoste and Zara in Argentina for production of their final goods.

We met with the owner of the company who not only told us a great deal about the company, but also shared his opinions on the current economic state of Argentina and some of the pros and cons of doing business in Argentina. He also asked us about our own country's economic state and how business is doing. It was a very interesting to hear what he had to say about Argentina's economic history and future, and overall an enlightening experience for us.

Tonight, we are going to a tango show. I'm excited to witness one of Argentina's greatest traditions and will be sure to comment on it tomorrow! Until then, ciao!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bienvenidos a Buenos Aires!

As I mentioned in my previous post, we arrived in Buenos Aires yesterday morning. After our arrival, we took advantage of the fact that it was Sunday, when the city is quite empty compared to the weekdays. We went to the Recoleta Fair, a huge outdoor fair with lots of vendors, entertainment and food. There, we found just about everything we could possibly want - beautiful and original artwork, handmade jewelry and trinkets, and much more. After meandering through the fair for a couple of hours, we stopped at a small park across the street to listen to some local bands, who happened to be pretty good.

On our way back to our hotel, we stopped at the Recoleta Cemetery. It was unlike any cemetery I've ever been to because it was all huge, ornate mausoleums with almost no grass. This cemetery is especially famous because Eva Peron, otherwise known as Evita, was laid to rest in her family's mausoleum. Evita (perhaps you've seen the American movie about her life starring Madonna?) was the second wife of President Juan Peron, making her the first lady of Argentina from 1946 until 1952, when she died of cancer at the young age of 33. Evita was loved by many and is still remembered well today. In fact, walking through the city, I have seen her name spray painted on buildings many times!

Today, we went on a city bus tour. My favorite stop was at La Boca and Carminito. This is where one of Argentina's biggest traditions - the tango - is alive and thriving. The buildings are all painted bright colors and tango dancers walk the streets, dancing and posing for photos. It was also here that we had our biggest surprise of the trip yet...we ran into a Clarkson alum!! I was actually the one to spot him, as he was wearing his "CU" hat as he was walking into a store near me. I stopped him and sure enough, he was a Class of 1962 grad! We were all so excited to see each other and make a connection from across the globe. It was a great pleasure to meet him and to hear about how is "CU" hat has been worn in 57 countries around the world since he graduated. It was so wonderful to see the Clarkson pride he had! 

Tomorrow, we are heading to two companies - IBM and Pampa y Pop, a company that makes organic, high end leather goods to sell in Europe and Argentina. I'm really looking forward to both these visits and I will make sure to tell you more about them tomorrow. Hasta luego!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Iguazu Falls = Niagara Competition

We spent the last two days in Iguazu, a town on the Paraguay and Brazilian borders that thrives on tourism thanks to its natural wonder, Iguazu Falls. The falls were recently named one of the new seven wonders of the world. Friday, we had the great pleasure of visiting the falls. Unlike Niagara Falls (which is about five hours from Clarkson), they are surrounded by thick jungle and remain virtually untouched by technology (only one hotel sits on the property for miles and miles).

The waterfalls stretch quite far and are broken up into many small waterfalls. There are trails to the top of the falls and the bottom of the falls. There are also boat tours that will actually take you under some of the smaller water falls. We opted to take one of these tours, and it was quite an adventure! Everyone was positively soaked and thrilled with the ride.

Yesterday, while taking a small bus to Posadas (to meet our large, luxurious overnight bus), we stopped at a mate production plant called Pipore. Mate is probably the most widely drank product in Argentina. It's a social drink, sort of like a tea, but without the teabag. Someone in a group puts the mate plant in a special mate holder and adds a little water. Then the one mate is shared with the group, everyone passing it around and taking turns drinking it. It's a great Argentinian tradition that we have seen many times already.

The mate plant was very interesting because the mate industry is spreading out of Argentina, to places like the Middle East and Eastern Europe. We learned a great deal about the mate process and how the plant does business with other countries. The guide told us that Pipore tried to export to the southern United States a few years ago but did not find much success there. He also mentioned that the plant has had to become much more environmentally-friendly within the past year due to government regulations. For example, they can no longer take lumber from the jungle surrounding the plant because they were using 150 tons of lumber per DAY. Now, they use left over chips from hardwood factories in the area, so there is less waste and less destruction of the jungle. I found it very interesting that the government was the party to step in and force a better environmental choice for these types of companies.

After a very nice overnight bus, we are now in our last destination of the trip - Buenos Aires. Today, we are heading to a big open market and some members of my group are going to enjoy another great Argentinian tradition - Catholic mass. Since Argentina is about 95% Catholic, it should be easy for them to find one. They are excited to see the similarities and differences of Catholic mass in the different counties. I'll let you all know what they think of it!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sustainability at Work in Mendoza

Yesterday, we had the great pleasure of visiting two businesses that are both very conscious of their environmental impact. The first was Laur, an olive oil producer just outside of Mendoza. Laur has several hectares of six different types of olive trees, some that only grow in South America. They use these olives to make a blended olive oil in extra virgin, virgin and common.

Laur has a factory to produce its olive oil. We had a tour of the “museum,” which was their old factory. Up until 20 years ago, they used the machines in the museum to make olive oil. Today, they have machines sent from Europe to make the process more efficient, but they are the only olive oil producer in the region that uses this technology.

Their entire process involves many sustainable practices. First, they use left over water that they drain from the olives to water the olive trees, so they waste no water. The water is naturally high in potassium, so it makes for great fertilizer. Then, they take any leftover olive oil to a biofuel manufacturer to be made into biofuel.

The owners of this factory also own a local winery, so they share resources and reuse items between the two businesses. For example, the winery uses French oak barrels to age its best wines, but the barrels are very expensive and can be used several more times for lower quality wines or other products. So, after the first use of the barrels, the winery sends the barrels and left over smushed grapes to the olive oil factory, where they are turned into balsamic vinegar. Who knew balsamic vinegar was made out of grapes? Not me! But yes, this goes to show that this company has really thought of how to best use its resources and stay sustainable.

The second company we visited was only a few kilometers down the road, Almacen del Sur (an amazing property that reminded me of a movie scene!). This company has a farm, factory and restaurant that makes every high end product they sell right on the property. We had a beautiful tapas lunch that must have had upwards of 100 different herbs, vegetables, fruits and meats. We were amazed that all of it could be made right on one property. Unfortunately with the price of the dollar, Almacen del Sur had to close its factory this year and try to sell its inventory, and they may have to close entirely if the dollar does not begin to gain value again soon.

We did get to see some of their different methods for staying sustainable. The coolest thing I saw was how they dry the vegetables that they make into delicious paste. They use no energy, only the sun. Lucky for them, the area has 300 days of sunshine!

After a four hour plane ride, we are now in Iguacu, on the border of Paraguay and Brazil, and we are heading to the falls tomorrow. I'll be sure to keep writing every day to keep you all updated! Buenos noches!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Ride Through the Andes

Yesterday, we had quite the once-in-a-lifetime experience! We left Santiago in the morning on a double decker bus to Mendoza, Argentina. To get there, we had to cross the Andes Mountains, some of the highest in the world, on a two-lane road. It was by far the best bus ride I've ever been on. Within an hour, we were climbing up, eventually getting to 3,000 meters. To give you some reference, Mount Marcy, the Adirondacks highest mountain, is 1,629 m. We were still low compared to some of the giants surrounding us on every side, including Mount Aconcagua, the range's highest peak (6,962 m).

It was both a beautiful and scary experience, as some of the roads did not have a wide shoulder as we were making some very sharp turns. I was lucky enough to snag a front seat on the second deck, so I could see over the ledge as we were climbing!

Once we arrived in Mendoza last night, we took a walk to the largest square in the city and ate dinner at a wonderful restaurant. Our waiter, Mario, treated us like family. He told us poems, took pictures with us, and even let me go inside the kitchen to rub elbows with our chefs.

Today, we went to three places: a local winery, an olive oil factory and a delicacies producer. I'm going to talk more about these three places tonight! Hasta luego!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Business & Leisure in Chile

We arrived in Santiago de Chile yesterday morning. Everyone was pretty exhausted and excited at the same time. After checking into our hotel in Old Santiago, we went on a city tour of Santiago, which involved both a bus ride and some walking. Our tour guide, bus driver and Chile guide were all amazing and friendly. They have a lot of pride for their country, too!

After the city tour, we decided to walk around and ended up at a big park named Santa Lucia. We climbed what seemed like 1000 stairs and ended up at the top of a castle-like structure. The grounds, the historic little buildings and the view from the top were all incredible. It was like going back in time and I was happy to have made the trek up!

Today was a business day. First, we went to a company called Start Up Chile. This fairly new company is trying to promote entrepreurial ventures in Chile, either from Chileans or other citizens of the world. We had a great presentation from the COO at the headquarters and got to talk to several entrepreneurs who are in the program from countries like Argentina, Romania, France and the U.S. It was a really great experience and I hope to be able to talk more about it tomorrow, as we are taking a bus through the Andes mountains to Mendoza, Argentina tomorrow!

The second half of our day was spent at Chile's largest wine producer, Concha Y Toro. We had a tour of the winery and vineyards, a tasting, and a meeting with one of the company's marketing officers, where we learned a great deal about the company's success and its growing interaction with the U.S. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will certainly not forget anytime soon and I hope to be able to go into more detail in the near future about this as well.

Overall in Chile, I was very thankful for all of the kind hospitality we have seen in the past two days. I wish that we had more time to explore this beautiful and booming country, but onward to Argentina!

Friday, March 9, 2012

One day!

Yes, we are leaving tomorrow! Surprisingly, I'm all packed and ready to go. I guess that just goes to show how excited I am.

On Tuesday, our class met at Lu's house to partake in some homestyle Argentinian cuisine. Lu and her husband, Prof. Diego Nocetti, are both from Argentina. She made us a wonderful spread of empanadas, including chicken, cheese, beef and corn. They were truly amazing, and if all the food in Argentina is like what she made, we have nothing to worry about!

We spent a bit of time at dinner talking about what other foods we should try. Diego mentioned that at least one of us has to try intestines. Lu added that on her last trip to Argentina with students, a couple of students were fighting for the last one because that's how good they are. I guess I'll have to make my own judgments when I get the chance to try them.

Something else we discussed was the activities we may be able to do while we're in Buenos Aires. We'll have a bit of free time while in Buenos Aires, so we're considering going to a football (soccer) match, a polo or pato (the national sport of Argentina) match, or a ballet or opera at the Teatro Colon, the main theater in Buenos Aires that hosts world renowned productions. I'd be excited to see any of these, as they are all such a big part of Argentinian culture.

Our flight departs Syracuse, New York, tomorrow afternoon and after a layover in Atlanta, Georgia, we're taking an overnight flight to the capital of Chile, Santiago. So, the next time I blog it will be from Santiago! Cheers!