An Hour With ...

Margarita Heredia Forster, Founder of Avanzar Foundation 

Margarita Heredia Forster, Founder of Avanzar Foundation 

If inspiring people and slow fashion are what The Selection is made of, who better than Margarita to start off with our series of interviews.

Margarita, tell us about yourself?

I was born in Ecuador. I have been living in Switzerland since I am 24. I really love Switzerland. I am married and have two beautiful children. When my first child was born and I quit working, I started to look for something meaningful to spend my time on. I then came across homes for single mothers in Ecuador, and then the whole story with Avanzar started. The first fund-raising event took place in 1999 and the foundation was born.

What is Foundation Avanzar’s mission?

Our mission is to support mainly women and children. Why women? Simply because in third world countries, women don’t get the same chances as men. They go to school for an average of 8 years, they get married and get children really young. There is a huge potential in these women, they are extremely creative, hard-workers and they do everything to ensure their children get a better future than their own.

Where can we donate?

Tell us how Atelier Avanzar began?

At the beginning, Avanzar was more concentrating on taking care of women, the focus was rather humanitarian. We then realised that these women’s potential was much more than receiving, they were ready to learn and give. We then started to create programs evolving around giving them an education, helping them to get a job or even start up their own company. It all started in 2009. Through our humanitarian mission for hospitalised children, we met many mothers who had to stay for weeks or even months without being able to work. We then had the idea to teach these mothers how to knit. They started knitting simple things like scarves, hats, ponchos. At first for their own use and then they sold their creations to the nurses, doctors. Six months later, we expanded this project and created an Atelier, where women come to learn and to work.

Shoot made by the Ecuadorian photographer Juan Pablo Merchan for Atelier Avanzar (   )

Shoot made by the Ecuadorian photographer Juan Pablo Merchan for Atelier Avanzar (

Avanzar is a Spanish word, what does it stand for? 

It stands for going forward, keeping up, never giving up and it reflects well the spirit of these women.

“ these women’s potential was much more than receiving, they were ready to learn and give.”


What makes Avanzar a family initiative ? 

My mother, the most trustworthy person for me in Ecuador, was part of the project from the beginning. After the first fund raising event, the money collected was sent to her. Now that she has retired, she is fully committed to the foundation, she is my eyes, my ears and the only person authorised to take money out.

My husband, who is originally from Switzerland, was also involved from the very first fund-raising event. He connected me with his network. Since then, he is mainly in charge of Public Relations. His pragmatism is also really useful to help me solve challenges.

Can you tell us more about how the funds that you raise are spent?

Atelier Avanzar is the project, which obviously has the most visibility in Switzerland. However we also support with diverse programs:

  • Hospitalised children and their relatives: the support goes from the creation of a games library to a comfortable chair next to the child’s bed.
  • Training courses: in collaboration with local universities and schools we offer adult women a six months program (every Saturday) teaching them how to run their business (marketing, accounting, how to use a computer). These women are farmers, hair-dressers, dressmakers. 
  • micro-credit interest free for woman working within the foundation: for example one of the ladies’ dream was to have a fridge, no one in her town had one. She is now the happy owner of a fridge and sells ice cream to her neighbours. 
Shoot made by the Ecuadorian photographer Juan Pablo Merchan for Atelier Avanzar (   )

Shoot made by the Ecuadorian photographer Juan Pablo Merchan for Atelier Avanzar (

Less than a year ago your foundation was recognised by an NGO the RSC “Social Corporate Responsibility”. What does it mean for Avanzar?

It means so much to us. On one hand, it proves that we are doing what we say we are doing. The foundation can only survive if we have the trust of our donators. This recognition was excellent news to share with them.  On the other hand, it gives us comfort that our projects are sustainable that they are socially and environmentally responsible.

Besides handbags what other accessories are being created at Atelier Avanzar

We recently launched summer hats, key rings, bracelets and Tagua necklaces. The latter is a very interesting material and handcraft technique. Indeed, it is made from the polished seeds of the tagua palm. These palms – also commonly known as ivory-nut palms – are native to Ecuador, and their beautiful seeds are traded under the names „vegetable ivory“. Each necklace is one of a kind.

Spring/summer collection 2017: What would be the trend colours, shapes ?

We are going to work with green, blue and sand colour. Shape wise, we will go for basic, as this is really appreciated by our clients. We will nonetheless offer more choices for customisation. 

Favourite online shop? Change Maker
Favourite App? Sumup
Favorite Instagram? I am more of a poster than a reader
Favorite Blog? DOL, Ask The Monster
Where is your favourite spot in Zurich? Anywhere as long as I am with my friends
Favourite Quote? "It is only possible to advance when one looks far ahead. One can only make progress by thinking big." José Ortega y Gasset

The habits of most of our clients is that they do not change bags everyday and every woman has her favourite bag and for different reasons: because of its size, its colour that you can easily combine or because it is light. So what we try to achieve is to meet the wishes andneeds of our clients by offering them a wide range of personalisation 

How long will it take a knitter to knit one piece?

In average it will take 3 days to knit a bag and then an extra day for the inside lining and the leather handle.

As you know we offer the possibility to order personalised bags whereas the client chooses the colour, the handle etc… Because we go for the most ecologically friendly shipping option, it can take up to 8 weeks for the bag to be delivered. Doesn’t the great pleasure lie in the anticipation ?

Have you ever come across a lady in the street wearing one of Avanzar’s purse? How did you feel?

Yes I have !!!! and I felt so happy. I was so proud it was like when one of your children performs well in a school play. (laugh)

I was thrilled because behind every single bag, there is a woman who is having a new start in life. It is also a true satisfaction because we do not want to sell products that people buy because they have pity and the bag ends up in a closet. Seeing a lady wearing one of Atelier Avanzar’s bag shows that she is enjoying the product, she is proud of the quality and the design.

Besides your online shop, where can we find Atelier Avanzar’screations?

We participate to several private events throughout the year. Anyone interested can contact us at to receive an invitation.

We also partner with the shops listed below:


Seefeldstrasse 127

8008 Zürich

0041 44 422 00 08

Casteljac Shoes and Things

Dorfstrasse 33

8805 Richterswil

0041 44 687 80 80 

Changemaker Shop

Marktgasse 10

8001 Zürich

0041 44 251 21 20

Changemaker Shop

Kramgasse 9
6004 Luzern Altstadt

0041 440 66 20

Changemaker Shop

Marktgasse 16
4051 Basel

0041 61 261 48 20