Specializing in cool, kitsch and quirky Mexicana — t-shirts, bags, jewellery, art, and interior design products — everything in Ave María, Giovanna Canela Miranda’s hip store in San Miguel de Allende, is ‘hecho en Mexico’ or ‘made in Mexico’, by Mexicans.

That means that Giovanna has designed the products herself and commissioned Mexican artists and artisans to make the gorgeous things she sells or she has sourced them from designers and craftspeople around Mexico. So why is that important and why should you as a traveller care?

Well, it’s important to buy local anywhere you go, for a whole bunch of reasons that we explain below. But in a town like San Miguel de Allende, which has a massive expat population (10% at last count!), and where many of the businesses have foreign owners, buying local is even more crucial.

As a traveller, ‘buying local’ means you’re travelling more sustainably, but buying local can sometimes mean you’re paying higher prices for the things you’re buying. We think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, but we’d love to know what you think.

Benefits of Shopping Local in San Miguel de Allende:

  • You’re confident that you know exactly what you’re buying — the business owners probably know what the product is made from, who made it, where it was made, and so on;
  • You’re supporting local producers, designers, craftsmen, artisans, artists, and manufacturers who are making the products you’re buying;
  • You’re helping to create a demand for unique local products in a climate that is increasingly competitive and has favoured cheap, insipid, mass-produced products;
  • You’re creating less demand for those crappy manufactured products — how many times have you seen the same products in the same shops or markets in different countries around the world?!
  • You’re helping to resuscitate and revitalize dying arts, crafts, cultural practices, traditions, and skills, that might otherwise die if people like you didn’t support them;
  • You’re supporting local businesses and in turn supporting local people — your money is being used to pay salaries and support jobs filled by local people; research shows that local businesses (in contrast to foreign-owned businesses) are the largest employers of local people;
  • You’re helping to ensure that town or city has a distinctive local character, the kind of character and personality that is shaped by one-of-a-kind shops like Ave María, rather than souvenir shops that all look the same and sell the same garbage;
  • You’re supporting the local economy — when you buy local it means more money stays in the community because if the owners are local they’re reinvesting their profits into their local community, are less likely to leave, and are more interested in the long-term future of the place; you can’t guarantee that’s the case with foreign-owned businesses where owners are probably sending money ‘home’;
  • You’re reducing the environmental impact — fewer fossil fuels are used to transport products locally, than all the way from China or wherever, contributing less to pollution, and in some cases, congestion, urban sprawl and even loss of habitat.
  • You’re receiving better service — research actually shows that locals provide customers with better service because they have a greater connection to their home town, they have more of an investment and commitment to the town than the foreign staff do, they understand the products more, and they may even know who made the things they’re selling;
  • You’re forming friendships — return again and again to a locally owned shop and you’re probably going to form a relationship with the people behind the counter, including the owner, and the people who regularly shop there, which will probably grow into friendship. You can’t put a price on that, can you?

So how do you know if the business you’re shopping at is local or the products are locally produced?

Here are my tips to buying local:

  • Find out who owns the store — the name of the shop and the person behind the counter might offer clues, but if you’re unsure there is no harm in asking is there?
  • Look at the labels on the products if there are any — are they made in the country you’re in?
  • If there aren’t any labels, ask where the products are made and who made them. If they don’t know, then it’s probably not made locally.
  • If you’re after a souvenir t-shirt, eschew the mass-produced, factory-made shirts and opt for one by a young designer instead. Giovanna often runs out of stock because many of her t-shirts are handmade by young designers who do the screen-printing themselves.
  • Buy local crafts wherever possible — many traditional crafts die out because of lack of interest or interest in other products. Opt for traditional handmade clothes instead of mass-produced, factory-made clothes — the quality of the fabric and stitching is a giveaway.
  • If you don’t find what you want and you’re in town for a while, you can always commission a unique souvenir from a local artist, artisan, designer, or manufacturer — that way you’re going straight to the source, you know where the product was made and how it was made, and you’re probably saving money. Now, you can put a price on that, can’t you?!

So what do you think? Would you rather pay more for a unique, locally made product or pay less for a cheap, factory-produced thing you’ll probably find all over the world? Does it matter to you if your money stays in the local community? We’d love to know your thoughts. Really.

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