Nisolo / by Kara Marnell

Travel can be good for the soul.

And, over the years, I’ve worn out more than a few pairs of soles on my journey to discover and document the cultures and struggles and determination of cultures far removed from my daily norm. So, it’s not surprising to anyone who knows me that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my internship here at Nisolo, an amazing entrepreneurial effort to develop a marketplace and help build an economy for talented Peruvian craftsmen who produce an endless supply of wonderful shoes! Being a part of this business is good for my soul.

I’ve always loved the adventure of travel and, as an adult, have combined it with a love of photography and the study of language. As a kid, my experience ranged from my entire family loading into the van in suburban Chicago and heading to the north woods of Wisconsin to jumping a commuter-train to blend into the hustle and bustle of the Loop. Since then, I’ve planted my feet in the profound silence of Muir Woods and weaved through the colorful marketplaces of Morocco, lingered among the gorgeous textiles of Guatemala and savored the rich coffees in San Salvador-- and many, many places in between.

Like the contrast in a black and white image, my experience as a photographer has been diverse. Working with an organization dedicated to fighting poverty, I’ve documented hunger in Central America and then returned home to work commercial shoots in the fields of fashion, cuisine and real estate. I’ve captured the joy of couples’ wedding days and then, incongruously, left home to raise awareness about violence against women in Guatemala as part of a United Nations-sponsored team. It’s through these experiences that my eyes have been opened to a much larger world, not just as a spectator or a photographer, but as a participant—a catalyst for improving the world around us by documenting, informing and telling the truth. 

So, that’s why this year, once again, I picked up and moved from the comfortable ‘burbs of Chicago to Nashville to work for an organization I’d only spoken with over the phone, to live with a roommate I’d never met, and to make home in a neighborhood I’d never seen. I wanted to work and learn about an organization that shares my passion to make a difference in the community, locally and globally. These are people who had a vision and turned that vision into reality and have made a difference in lives of many and perhaps generations to follow. 

So, here I am. I brought my camera with me . . . and packed my most comfortable shoes.

Nisolo, loosely translated from Spanish meaning “not alone” truly embodies its name. Born of a collaboration of passionate local Nashville entrepreneurs and talented Peruvian artisans, Nisolo empowers individuals to determine their futures by directing their talents and skill developed over generations to reach accessible global marketplaces and provide a product that you’ll be proud to wear. At the start of the New Year, I became part of their greater story as I joined the Nisolo team as a photographer. I can help tell their incredible success story.

Now my journey has taken me to photographing Nisolo’s beautiful, handmade shoes from Peru and capturing the stories of the diligent and talented Nisolo artisans in Trujillo, Peru.  One of those artisans, Willan Oxford is a father of four, who once made shoes out of his humble home with its dirt floor and tight quarters.  However, Willan’s remarkable talent never had an audience, a platform or a market beyond local villages. Despite his years of experience and impeccable skill set, Willan couldn’t provide for his family—couldn’t repair their leaky metal roof, couldn’t send his sons to school and couldn’t escape the cycle of poverty that trapped him and his people.  Today, thanks to Nisolo, Willian has not only repaired his leaky roof, but expanded his horizons and those of the people around him. He no longer works in his home but employs eight craftsmen at a separate shoe shop and is helping to lift his village out of poverty by producing shoes that often proudly bear the names of their humble makers. Each and every pair of shoes sold moves Nisolo one step closer to achieving the goal of allowing these artisans to shape their future through their amazing craft and hard work.

As a proud owner of several pairs of Nisolo shoes, I’ve stepped up in a small but meaningful way to give a tiny but worthy village a footing in part of the vast and emerging global economy. In just a few months' time, my Nisolos have transplanted me in Nashville to be a part of not simply a product, but what the product means to others. As I've taken my first steps with Nisolo, I’m inspired by the passion behind the organization and am excited to see where my shoes will take me!