Just Leather Shoes

Ever since we started Kakaw Designs with custom-made boots, we’ve gotten requests from people wanting simple designs with just leather, no textile. I’ve been resisting against this for some time, just because I’ve always wanted our focus to be textile over leather.

But… you know what? I was wrong. I love these Quetzal Shoes in Just Leather, and it’s always a pleasure to support Don Julio’s cobbler business. And through these sales, we can also invest more in textile prototypes and pursue new designs. So really, it’s win-win.

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I’m sorry I was narrow-minded and it took me so long to incorporate Just Leather shoes. But now, they’re here. I hope you like them too, I’m loving mine.

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Available online for $185. Choose “Just Leather” option under “Textiles”.

 

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Thank you, Don Julio!

 

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Working with artisans – is having a brand the best way?

To tell you the truth, I struggle with this concept of working with artisans as a brand.  Maybe I didn’t think it through when I started the business (and by maybe, I mean definitely). I chose to start a brand because I love designing things, working with artisans, and I thought that I could add something special through new ideas and high-quality details.

< Read: 4 Most Common Dilemmas of an Artisan Made Brand >

 

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I definitely don’t regret it, because it has been an amazing experience and I have been able to build relationships with local artisan groups, textile lovers all over the world, boutique stores focused on quality, and similarly-minded designers. And I have learned so much. Also, I just don’t think I would’ve known any other way, these thoughts are the result of years of experience, and seeing some loopholes in the logic of artisanmade brands.

And maybe it’s because I am away now, in Europe studying Sustainable Development, and this distance of course makes it challenging to work with rural artisans even more. We’re only able to manage this because of our wonderful Production Manager back in Antigua, Evelyn.

But it’s got me thinking for other ways to support the talented artisans we work with. This was the root of our Textile Travels this past August, inspired by idea-exchange through textile workshops, to benefit both international participants and local artisans alike. This way, I thought, the artisans could get new ideas, maybe some feedback on existing products, and continue to improve on their own. Sometimes that’s all it takes, a spark of a new idea, encouragement from other textile lovers.

Indigo San Juan

Now, we’re trying out another way to increase impact.  I’m so excited to share a different brand with you: Kaleido Collection actually works with the same talented weavers specializing in natural dyes and ikat patterns at Lake Atitlán. The founder is Emmy, a good friend from our time in Antigua, Guatemala. She’s been able to create gorgeous cushion covers together with the partner weavers and a talented seamstress she’s known for years. I can tell you from experience that one of the hardest parts about production in Guatemala is the actual sewing, especially when zippers are involved. But Elvia is truly a pro! These cushion covers are so beautiful, and I’m so impressed by Emmy’s sincere way of writing and story-telling. It took me a lot longer to understand how important the sharing of stories really is.

Read the blog post by Emmy about her thoughts behind Kaleido Collection >

 

We invite you to take a look at the limited-time listing. Our goal is to increase impact for these talented rural artisans we work with, and it’s always a good thing for the artisans to diversify and work with other brands and try out different designs.

XOXO,

Mari

 

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Finally online… new treasures!

It’s no secret that designing and producing new items is more challenging when far, far, away from the talented artisans we work with. I’ve been outside of Guatemala for the better part of a whole year now, and this is one of the things I miss most about being in Guatemala: the ability to try new things with artisans, this sort of “trial and error” process that every new product needs. I can still sketch anywhere I am, and of course I’ve gotten new ideas for products as a student in Europe – new product needs, new patterns, new colors, new aesthetics, new weather needs, too ❄️. But the conversations with artisans, and physically feeling textures and seeing colors… these are things very challenging to accomplish while so far away.

All this to say that I’m extra pleased to announce the addition of these items, finally online and available for shipping from the US.

I’d like to add a special note here to say that these items would not have been possible to make come true without the existing relationships with the talented artisan groups we partner with in Guatemala. I think over the years we’ve gotten to know each other’s strengths, and have been able to figure out what kind of beauties we can make together. It must be extremely challenging for them to also communicate with me via email and messages, they’ve done a wonderful job and I am so grateful.

It felt great to be back and lead the first Textile Travels in August. I’m thinking about doing another trip in the summer of 2019, let me know if you’re interested in hearing more. Photos below were taken in Chichicastenango by Leander Khil.

XOXO,

Mari

mari@kakawdesigns.com

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<Find the items in New Arrivals section of our website>

Textile Travels Recap

Though it’s been over a month now since we said our goodbyes to our friends from our very first Textile Travels, I feel like I’m still processing the experience, there is just so much to take in.

 

First off, I’d like to say that we had a wonderful trip. It was a small group, which was great considering this was the first trip of its kind that I’ve organized, full of workshops with artisans for the goal of collaborative idea exchange. It’s a new concept for me and our partner artisans, so this was a trial run – a successful one at that.

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Amanda shows off her shibori work at Lake Atitlán

My favorite part was probably dyeing with Francisca and her cooperative of dyers and weavers. Indigo was especially fun, and I feel like where we were able to explore different designs and ideas well, since we all had a bit of experience with the magical dye, and had at least seen (some had even made) intricate shibori designs. I even stuck my jeans in the vat, and by the end of the day there was a whole line of indigo-dyed jeans, all from the weavers and their family members.  I loved that they  liked the idea!

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Line-up of jeans dyed in indigo

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Indigo beauties, trying new things with the weavers

We also organized workshops for embroidery, ikat, backstrap brocade weaving, as well as many visits to observe other techniques. It was a packed itinerary, but we squeezed in down time whenever we could. I would personally prefer a slower-paced trip, but it’s hard when there are so many beautiful places to visit, so many textile workshops to participate in… and not everyone has the luxury of taking part in a longer itinerary.

 

I have some new ideas on how to improve the trip – how to encourage even more idea exchange, prepare the participants better for them, and make sure the artisans get as much out of the workshops as possible (and not just the travel participants). I’m excited.

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Rural travel is beautiful in more ways than just textiles

And now, looking at 2019, I’m wondering if people have any requests on the time of the year. This first trip took place in August, which was meant to be helpful for those busy during the school year. Though we got very lucky with the weather, it’s possibly not the ideal month for travel because it is still during the rainy season. October/November are usually better weather-wise.

 

With that said, please let me know if you would like to receive more information about the next trip, or if you have any particular requests.

 

XOXO,

Mari

mari@kakawdesigns.com

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Brocade weaving class

Brocade loom and threads

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Collab Art Totes

We are loving these Art Totes, designed by Kelly from Cardamom Collective ❤️ We worked on the textile colors and the general bag concept together, and the end result is so beautiful! These totes have been such a hit that we have now produced the design in a variety of naturally-dyed tones for Kelly. Take a look!

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We always enjoy collaborations, but with Kelly it’s especially fun because we dream up new color schemes together. And these gorgeous hues are used as part of our original products as Kakaw Designs as well.  Like our Duffel:

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(Side note: do you notice a certain familiarity here with the beautiful model? She’s Kelly’s cousin Lily of course! 😆)

Coming up next: rich hot pink tones – can you believe these colors come from natural dyes?

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Do you have artisanmade design dreams? Let me know, we’d love to help you. Our artisan partners are talented natural dyers, weavers, embroiderers, leather workers, and even a silversmith. Together, we’ve been able to create a wide range of unique high-quality products. Email me at mari@kakawdesigns.com to get the conversation started.

 

XOXO,

Mari

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. 

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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.

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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. 

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 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. 

-Elena

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.>

XOXO,

Mari