Meet Elena, designer behind capsule jewelry collection 🌺

Today, we have a special blog post written by Elena Laswick. In case you hadn’t heard yet, we’re working together for a Capsule Jewelry Collection, and we are so excited for this collaboration.  So we thought we should introduce the lovely lady – so here she is, ready to tell you how she fell in love with textiles and how she came to working with Ixil women of Guatemala in particular.


Hi there!

My name is Elena and I’m teaming up with Mari this spring to bring you some new jewelry designs inspired by the textiles of the Ixil region of Guatemala! 

But who am I and why am I posting on Mari’s blog? Well, let me introduce myself. 

I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, a mere 100 km (60 miles) from the Mexican border, where I was surrounded by Mexican culture and immersed in Spanish throughout my childhood. In middle school, I even played the violin and sang in a mariachi band! And in high school, I danced folklorico (Mexican folk dance) in a school club. 


Elena in high school in her folklórico dress, circa 2007. Photo: John Laswick.

It truly was an upbringing from the borderlands of the U.S. Tucson is also right on the edge of the Navajo Nation, where there are many talented weavers who produce beautiful rugs. My mom’s motto has always been, “Support your local artists,” so a lot of those rugs found their way into my childhood home. It’s no doubt my parents and Tucson are to thank for my affinity for Spanish and textiles.


Elena’s mom’s current living room setup. Note the Navajo rug hanging on the left-hand wall above the couch. Other textiles featured: On the couch; Pillowcase from Santiago Atitlan, “servilleta” throw from Nebaj, Guatemala. Floor rug: Turkish. On the reclining chair: A Kilim pillow, also Turkish. Wall hangings above/within the mantle: Molas from Panama. On the coffee table: Kuba cloth from the DRC. Under the coffee table: Cat from the local animal shelter. Photo: Elena Laswick.

During and after college, I worked for a few different Central American NGOs and found myself critical of their theories of change. When I initially moved to the Ixil region of Guatemala three years ago, it was to work with a local social enterprise. Although I hoped this model of development would be a breath of fresh air, it too seemed plagued by similar problems as those I had encountered in the NGO world. The true novelty ended up being the wealth of textiles Guatemala had to offer. I soon realized that the only things I cared about spending money on were textiles and artisan-made products in general (not surprising given the type of household I grew up in). The irony was, I was thousands of miles from home and yet once again I found myself living amongst indigenous people with deeply rooted weaving traditions. 


 Elena’s neighbor and friend in Nebaj, Juana, weaving a new huipil (blouse) for personal use. Photo: Elena Laswick

After I quit my job at the social enterprise, I began researching Guatemalan textile-related brands. In the process, I stumbled on Kakaw Designs’ Instagram, where I eventually learned that Mari, the founder, was studying Sustainable Development in Austria. Before reaching out to Mari about meeting in person when I was traveling through Austria last fall, I tried to familiarize myself more with Kakaw Designs. Besides the beautiful plant-dyed and leather products, what most resonated with me was Mari’s life story. It seemed we had both followed similar trajectories from NGOs to artisans and had ended up returning to our roots as a result. My meeting with Mari confirmed that we are both textile lovers whose theory of change revolves around investing in artisans and trusting them to re-invest in their children and their communities. 

This capsule jewelry collection grew out of our shared desire to invest specifically in rural artisans, who have less access to an international market base. Working with me as an artisan liaison to ethically source textiles directly from weavers in the Ixil region, Kakaw Designs will soon offer a capsule jewelry collection with designs that incorporate the intricate brocade of San Juan Cotzal! I hope that these pieces make you feel connected to a place, to skilled weavers and artisans, and of course that you’ll love to wear them for their own sake as well. 


Announcing: Spring Capsule Collaboration

While we were able to restructure ourselves and have for the most part figured out how to keep the business going while I work on my master’s in Sustainable Development in Europe, there are certain aspects that have been difficult to keep up from so far away.  Product design is one of these things.

weaving mari watching

Mari with partner weavers at Lake Atitlán

So when Elena wrote to me when she happened to be traveling through Austria last year, I was missing Guatemala so much – the colors, the weather, the people – and I was delighted by the surprise connection made through Instagram, and the opportunity to feel connected to Guatemala again, even for just an afternoon.

We got to talking, and it was clear that Elena and I had some common passions and concerns about the textile tradition and weavers in Guatemala.  We talked about the role of private brands and designers; the pros and cons associated with western influence.  At this point, she was just exploring the idea of being an Artisan Liaison, someone who would connect textile artisans in the Ixil region to different buyers, including designers.  I told her I thought that was a great idea, especially since I had been away from Guatemala for the first time since starting the business, and was feeling first-hand the importance of being on the ground, next to artisans, in order to develop new products.


Elena in traditional handwoven outfit from Nebaj, Ixil region in Guatemala

Well, we are excited to be teaming up for a small spring capsule jewelry collection featuring handwoven textiles from San Juan Cotzal, in the Ixil region of Guatemala.  This is a very rural area, and while I had admired their brocade designs for years, had not seriously considered working with the group due the geographic distance.  It’s hard to communicate new designs, and to make sure the designs come out the way they should. In the almost 5 years of Kakaw Designs, we have never developed a perfect product on the first try.  Trial and error are just part of the process, tweaking the details to make things better.  There is also plenty of room for misunderstandings when working with real people, and things just take a bit longer in the handmade world.  That’s why I wasn’t willing to take on that risk with a group so far away… until now, and that’s because we’re really counting on Elena.  Without an Artisan Liaison, we would not be able to work with such a remote group.


Santos works on a prototype.  Photo by Elena Laswick

We’re so excited to be sharing more with you, SOON.

The capsule jewelry collection will be released along with spring/summer blouses, cardigans, and bags.  All in happy tones – because this has been such a cold winter in Europe, I just need more color in my life!

<Want to learn about other collaborations? Find some here.>

<Interested in the complex reality of ethical dilemmas working with artisans? Find it published on Eco Warrior Princess.>



New product: Handwoven Huipil

We’re pretty excited to be releasing a few new products soon – coming up in Spring!  🌷 Here’s a little sneak preview of one of the treasures: a Handwoven Picbil Huipil, featuring naturally-dyed cotton thread from our partner weavers at Lake Atitlán, and handwoven with the traditional picbil technique on a backstrap loom by partner weavers near Cobán.  These are both regional, specialized crafts, so we’re pretty excited to be combining the two into one beautiful blouse ❤️

Take a look:

Kelly Plants5 squareRed picbil and rebozo square

Kelly Plants1 small

red picbil and rebozo1 edited web

More coming soon – including a new capsule jewelry collection to complement spring collection products.  I’m so excited to be releasing upbeat colors – I don’t know about you, but winter has been especially long for me (away from the Land of the Eternal Spring…), and I am SO ready for flower fields, picnics, sunshine, biking around, and wearing colors that make me happy… 🌷🌷🌷

Interested in a custom color?  These huipil blouses take “slow-made” to the next level with so much work going into each beauty.  This also means that it’s possible to take special orders for small quantities.  So if you’re interested in a special color, email me at and let’s chat about it 😉




Photos by Kelly Moe-Rossetto featuring also our Rebozo del Lago and Crossbody in Indigo. 

Featured on The Maker Journal!

Take a look at this beautiful website full of narratives about artisan traditions and slow fashion practices around the world.  I love this online community feel of people who believe in the value of handmade beauties.

Our upcoming Textile Travels was featured!  Take a look at the whole piece here.

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I’ve found myself in a little pickle as the founder of Kakaw Designs, a small artisanmade brand based in Guatemala, and now also a master’s student in Sustainable Development in Europe.  It seems to me that conscious consumers are more and more focused on the environmental side of fashion, pushing for locally-made products and a general reduction in consumption.  While I am a big supporter of these movements and personally believe that More is not always Better, these trends lead me to wonder about the social and economic side effects for the small-scale producers that I’ve worked with for years now in Guatemala.

We are so excited for all the possibilities to come this summer.  Time to explore new creative ideas, together with our artisan partners.  Want to know more?  As always, just email me at:



Who is leading the Textile Travels in August?

Maybe you’ve heard the news – we’re so excited to be launching a new creative travel experience concept this year.Textile Travel announcement

We can’t wait to get into all the weaving, dyeing, experimenting with fun creative ideas, together.  We will be visiting our partner artisan groups with a small group of Makers (we’re thinking only around 6-8 participants for this first trip!).  Can you just imagine all the sharing, learning, laughing we’ll do?

**Don’t worry if you don’t consider yourself a Maker – the artisans can benefit from any feedback from consumers, and you’ll have a grand time learning traditional techniques in Guatemala anyway**

Backstrap Ikat Weaving Small

One question we’re getting is…

Who are the leaders?

Well, that’s a fun team!  It will be me and my mother, two generations; like mother, like daughter.  My mom, Aiko Kobayashi, is a career textile artist and the reason why I have grown to love Guatemala so much (oh yeah, and also the reason why I was born in Guatemala to begin with!).  Her passion for all things textiles, her knowledge of rural Guatemala and Maya traditions, plus her personal friendships all over the country makes her an excellent leader of textile tours, which she’s been doing for over 20 years now.  But she’s been wanting to change things up, and I had this idea of creating an idea-exchange opportunity…. so we’ve teamed up to offer you this unique experience!

I’ll be arranging all of the workshops, coordinating everything with our Kakaw Designs partner artisans.  My mother will be bringing her experience leading international groups in Guatemala, her passion for rural travel, and most of all, her friendly relationship connections all over – people are sincerely happy to see her, every time.  After so many years, she’s built strong relationships with people in rural communities, and it’s a treat to be invited into people’s homes, to share family updates, and bring back pictures for locals from the previous trip.  It’s a nice personal touch that only she can provide.

I hope this answers a bit about the leaders of the trip.  Please let me know if you have any questions!  We’re taking reservations for August trips, starting at only $1800.  Let me know if you’d like to save a spot.

<<see the itineraries>>



Dye Pot Plants

Supporting traditions with roots as deep as the chocolate tree.

We love custom collaborations 💗

Did you know?  We LOOOOVE to work on custom orders!

We’ve made custom scarves, pouches, pendants, napkins, belts, and more as custom orders.  It’s a fun process to be involved in making beautiful designs become reality. And it’s also great fun to see different customer preferences; we’ve learned a lot from each experience.  We all have our favorite colors and styles, so this is a great way for our partner artisans to branch out and try new things.  We can help through the process.


Our custom orders start from 6 / 12 units, depending on the item.  Let us know if you have something in mind – we’d love to work with you.  💗

Email me at with your ideas!




Textile Travels featured on Birds of a Thread!

Note: This piece was first published on Birds of a Thread on January 5th, 2018.  Big thanks to Jacqui for helping spread the word about the trip.

I’m super excited to share this travel opportunity, hosted by Mari of Kakaw Designs, with you. Read on for the details. -Jacqui

Textile Travel announcement

Come together to share, learn, and create

Are you a crafty person who likes to make things and who cherishes handmade traditions?  I am, too!  But I bet our experiences and ideas are different.

That’s the basis of our upcoming Textile Travel for Makers, launching in August 2018.  While working with textile artisan communities in Guatemala through my business Kakaw Designs, I’ve come to realize how interested our partner artisans are in learning about different techniques, patterns, designs, and concepts.  And ultimately, wouldn’t it be ideal if these talented artisans could themselves take a more active role in the design process, without depending on designers from outside of their communities?

This is the part that I love most about working with artisans: getting excited together about new creations, and trying out new ideas.  But I’m just one person, and I only have a small limited number of ideas.  That’s why I’d like to invite other creative Makers out there to join us on this new journey of idea exchange in Guatemala.

We’re so excited to share our crafts together – our partner artisans are experts in natural dyes, backstrap weaving, embroidery, making ikat designs, and more.  But it’s no surprise that it can be challenging to think outside of the box in the rural context, especially for tactile and visual traditions like in textiles.  So, we thought – why not come together and share our ideas in beautiful Guatemala, and have fun while at it?

Our artisan partners are happy to share their traditional craft techniques, and they’re also looking forward to hearing about different experiences and ideas, especially with textiles.  We’ll be hosting workshops to facilitate creative idea exchange in a safe space for all of us to come together and take part in a true and real kind of cultural exchange that we can all relate to as Makers.

Who can participate?

Anyone crafty and creative is encouraged to come. Obviously weavers, embroiderers, and seamstresses have a lot to directly contribute to rural artisans, but also I think it’s really interesting to hear from people with experience in other techniques that are not prevalent in Guatemala, such as quilting, knitting, block printing, shibori, sashiko, or leaf printing.  Skills such as color theory, presentation of products, and simple photography could also all be very helpful, so please feel free to reach out, whether you’re an active “maker” or not. I think we all have something to contribute and can learn from each other.

How much will it cost, can what can you expect?

I’ll be leading the small group through Guatemala, together with my mother, Aiko Kobayashi, who has been a textile tour guide for over two decades.  We’re excited to add this creative twist, further enhancing both the visitors’ and the artisans’ experiences and making sure that local communities benefit in a meaningful way.  We’re currently taking sign-ups for the trip, with two available itineraries starting at only $1800.  For more details, please go to our website and/or email me.

Isn’t it great when an idea is just all-around good, benefiting everyone involved?  That’s how we feel about this new branch of Kakaw Designs.  Supporting our partner artisans even more while at the same time enhancing participants’ travel experiences in an ethical and sustainable way through exchanges based on common interests as Makers of the world.  We’re so excited to get our creative juices flowing, together.

Mari Gray