May 2019

Melissa Ortiz ’12 has been called many names: a boundary-breaker, trailblazer, college graduate, world-class athlete, Olympian. She was the first Colombian woman to play for a professional U.S. soccer team. Perhaps most importantly, however, she is an entrepreneur.


Shot of Vakano bracelets on the wrist of a woman.

In 2015 Ortiz created a small business to support artisans in her home country after suffering a devastating injury while training for the FIFA Women’s World Cup match that same year. Ortiz’ torn Achilles heel rendered her unable to compete, and it became a significant setback for Ortiz’ both professionally and personally. With shattered dreams, she returned to Colombia.

While visiting Colombia, she discovered a flea market with local artisans making bracelets. Ortiz, a life-long lover of handmade jewelry, fell in love with one artisan’s work. During her first visit, she bought a bracelet and chatted with the artisan. Their relationship quickly flourished, and on her second trip to the flea market, Ortiz left with 100 bracelets. The purchase felt good—she knew she was helping the artisan pay for rent, food and basic life necessities.

It’s wonderful to know that every time a bracelet is purchased, we are helping people in need.

Melissa Ortiz

“It was at that moment I knew what I had to do,” recalled Ortiz, “sell handmade bracelets and provide local artisans with a sustainable income.”

A few months after her trip to Colombia, Ortiz launched her business, Vakano bracelets. Ortiz chose the name for its special meaning, rooted in Colombian culture. Vakano means awesome, unique and cool.

The Vakano line features a variety of handmade beaded, braided, tribal and stackable bracelets. Proceeds provide income for Colombian artisans who are thrilled to have their craftsmanship featured beyond their local shops and the streets of Colombia.

Woman wearing Vakano bracelets

“It’s wonderful to know that every time a bracelet is purchased, we are helping people in need,” she said.

Ortiz’ has made it her mission to support Colombia and create jobs for the less fortunate, talented artisans. As word spreads about her socially conscious business, orders have increased in size and quantity. Vakano continues to increase its community of artisans, generating an impact on her home community.

“This small business became possible through the heartbreak my injury caused,” she said. She added that she’s grateful for the opportunity to show others that sometimes failure is part of the journey.

Vakano bracelets can be found in New Jersey and Florida boutiques, online and in Lynn University’s Schmidt Campus Store.

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