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
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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**

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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>>

XOXO,

Mari

mari@kakawdesigns.com

Dye Pot Plants

Supporting traditions with roots as deep as the chocolate tree.

Announcing: Textile Travel 2018

We’re so excited to be branching out (get it, like the cacao tree? 😆) to include a new and exciting way to support our partner artisans further.  Read on!

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I started Kakaw Designs as a way to financially support talented artisans in Guatemala through custom orders, and help continue the beautiful handmade traditions so dear to my heart.  This seemed clear to me: more money for beautiful, valuable work, more likely the arts will survive in this ever-changing world.  I still believe this.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that artisans are also hungry for new ideas, and ideas can be hard to come by.  For rural artisans living in a country where copying is the norm, it’s not easy to “think outside of the box.”  This really hit home for me when I was hosting a few weavers from Cobán at my house in Antigua.  They started to flip through books I had on Guatemalan textiles, and they were so genuinely delighted to see other work from their own country!  You see, Guatemalan textile designs and techniques can vary greatly depending on the region, and they were thrilled to see colors and patterns uncommon in their area.

This is where it gets a little bit complicated as a brand, because while we encourage our artisans to continue building up on these new design ideas, we still need to somewhat protect ourselves as a business.  I find myself in an ethical dilemma that I am uncomfortable with, since the end goal is to support the artisans, and being protective of designs created together does not seem to support that.

<<Read more about these ethical dilemmas I’ve encountered, published on Eco Warrior Princess>>

That’s why I want to encourage more idea exchange.  That’s what this Textile Travel for Makers is all about.

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We’ll be visiting beautiful parts of Guatemala: towns, villages, families, homes.  People I have known for a long time; or rather, people who have known me all my life (through my parents).  We love building up on these life-long connections, and we’re ready to add a twist:

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We will be hosting workshops to exchange ideas.  Of course, there is so much to learn from the traditional artisans: backstrap weaving, dyeing with local plants, making ikat knots, different weaves and embroidery techniques, too.  This is all valuable for the participants, and the artisans are so excited to share their crafts.  But again, we want our partner artisans to benefit in this idea exchange, too – so we’ll be arranging workshops for the participants to share their creativity with the artisans.  Things like different dyeing techniques (think shibori, or wax-resist), or color preferences, new embroidery techniques, or just different products we might use in non-rural settings.  These ideas will be for the artisans to use on their own, if they wish.  I can’t wait to be sharing different textile traditions from around the world, flipping through books and physical samples… and I hope that you’ll join us.

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Let’s have some fun with this.  Let’s get our creative juices flowing together, and support rural artisans in a new way – in a bilateral exchange.  We want everyone to benefit.

Want to learn more? Send me an email at mari@kakawdesigns.com.  We currently have two itineraries, with prices starting at $1800 and possibly even less depending on the final number of participants.  I would love to include you in this new adventure.

 

XOXO,

Mari

Cardigans

I’m going back to school

I have some exciting news to share:  I’ve decided to get my master’s in Sustainable Development.

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I’m excited and nervous for this next step.  Berry’s mostly just excited for the snow.

These are the two reactions I’ve been getting about the news:

  1. “That’s wonderful!”
  2. “What’s that?”

To all the encouraging people in my life, thank you.  I’ve been nervous about taking this step, but it will give me more tools to be able to work with artisan communities effectively.  After all, Kakaw Designs has always been a development-inspired social business.

And to those of you who have no idea what this Sustainable Development thing is, let me tell you.  It’s the study of development for countries, and how to merge economic, environmental, and social aspects.  How to find a common happy ground, for all three aspects of growth.  Needless to say, I’m interested in focusing on developing countries, as well as artisan communities, indigenous areas, and foreign aid / non-profit models (or rather, how to make these models more efficient).

I’m excited to get back into the academic world and delve into some of these questions that have been circling in my head.

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Sustainable Development for small villages

What does that mean for Kakaw Designs?

Don’t worry, I’m in the process of training people to take over production and logistics in Guatemala.  Some of the artisans will take on additional responsibilities, others will be continued by me online, and I have a great person lined up as the Production Manager.  <<More on that soon!>>  And we’ll continue fulfilling online orders from the US as we have been doing.  We’ll also continue to take custom-orders, which have been really fun.  So really, there’s nothing to worry about.

I’ll be gone for two years, mostly in Europe.  But I will be back in Guatemala for visits, and am working on a smooth transition to keep the business going as usual.  I really contemplated what the best thing to do was – to take a pause and refresh in two years, or try to keep the business steady during my absence.  And in the end, it just seemed like a waste to lose the momentum we’ve gained, and the idea is always to keep production going so that the artisans have work – that’s our mission, after all: supporting talented artisans and their traditions in Guatemala.

Exciting times are ahead!  Thank you for all your support.

XOXO,

Mari


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A favorite for scarf season

*** Discount code at the very bottom 😘***

We love all our products, but we’re so excited that this chilly season the top favorite has been the newest scarf addition, our Corte Wrap.  It’s beautiful and cozy, but more that that, we are including two different groups of artisans in its production – the weavers who prepare the naturally-dyed cotton thread, and the embroiderers who do all the amazing embroidery work, stitch by stitch ❤️

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Francisca with the naturally-dyed thread her cooperative prepares.  She liked the finished prototype!

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Embroidery master sisters at work!

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Stitch by stitch…

 

And the result is a super soft, cozy scarf ❤️

 

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Kelly from Cardamom Collective snatched one of our prototypes!

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Adrienne shows off her Corte Wrap AND her Quetzal Backpack 😆

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Rachel and Laura both got a hold of these beauties with red stripes… lucky them!

Want your own?  Use discount code SCARFLOVE for $20 off your own Corte Wrap just until January 25, 2017.

 

Facebook Live Discussion: Working with Artisans in Guatemala

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We’re so excited to be hosting a discussion on the challenges and rewards involved in the work we do here as social entrepreneurs in Guatemala.  Join us for an interactive live video discussion on Perhaps you need a little Guatemala tomorrow, Tuesday, January 17th at 5pm PST!

Together with the lovely boss ladies behind Stela 9, Luna Zorro, and Uxibal we will be answering questions and having a fun discussion sharing stories.  Hope to see you then!

Join the event on Facebook.

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