Is it okay to wear the blouses? Artisan Direct profile: Cobán

As time passes with continued restrictions due to COVID-19, our rural artisan partners started to ask us if we could try to sell some of their independently-created products. With all physical stores shut and no digital means to sell on their own, it’s a really tough time in rural communities.

The Artisan Direct Pop-Up on our site was the result of these requests. This past Sunday, we started with a small listing of four blouses made by the weavers in San Juan Chamelco, Cobán. They are each handwoven, new, and so beautiful. But don’t worry, this is just the beginning – the shipment from this group included almost 50 pieces 😬

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With some of the weavers

While we will slowly be featuring other artisan groups, this Sunday’s web update will focus on handwoven blouses and dresses from this same group. (Updates are planned to go live every Sunday!)

I received a beautiful conscientious question about these pieces, which was “Is it okay to wear the blouses?” — now, if you’re not familiar with some of the tensions that exist in Guatemala related to non-Maya people wearing handwoven huipiles, this might sound like a ridiculous question. It’s a blouse. Of course it’s made to be worn.

And in this case, yes, these blouses are made and sold to be worn by anyone who would like to support the weavers. This is why:

  • The blouses made for sale by the organized group of weavers.
  • The weavers directly benefit from the sale of these items. They set their prices as a group.
  • The pieces are all new, and the cooperative keeps track of who wove which one, meaning that the original weaver is known and that the process is transparent.

With other textiles, this may not be the case because:

  • With used textiles, it can become very difficult or even impossible to pinpoint who made the piece, and how much that original weaver received for the sale of the piece.
  • Many backstrap-woven pieces, especially those with rich brocade, are made for weavers’ personal use or for a family member. They are not usually meant to become commercial items, but often weavers do decide to sell pieces for personal reasons, whether that be for wardrobe preferences or immediate need for cash. The worry is that textile middlemen may take advantage of emergency situations in rural communities, and not compensate the weavers adequately for the sale of used textiles.
  • There is a surge in products that feature Maya weaving symbols, but in print and other techniques that do not benefit weavers. These products are troublesome as there is no benefit to the weaving communities.

 

I really appreciated the question so much. I hope this clears up the complicated topic a little bit. It’s a difficult area to maneuver, and asking these questions is the first step.

 

The Weavers in Cobán

The weaving group in Cobán is comprised of 30+ weavers from a number of smaller communities around the city. They specialize in beautiful flowy cotton blouses in a variety of different weaves, with picbil being the most delicate and labor-intensive. Only a handful of master weavers from the group is able to perform this gorgeous weave.

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picbil loom weaving 2 web

The delicate picbil weave, traditionally using white on white for an elegant blouse. One huipil of three panels takes over a month of weave from start to finish, and in colder seasons the process is elongated as los temperatures make the threads stick together, making weaving very challenging.

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Backstrap weaving

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Herlinda weaves with concentration

Picbil loom

They’re starting to work with natural dyes from local plant sources, which is really exciting! Still more testing needs to be done to make sure colors are stable and replicable within reason.

Margarita in moutains small

 

Stay tuned for this Sunday’s store update on our Artisan Direct Pop-up page for the beautiful creations from these talented weavers.

Xibalba Joyas: elevating jade through design

Laura Spillari, owner and founder of Xibalba Joyas, is one of the most positive, collaborative, and design-filled people in town. It has been an absolute pleasure to have our products included in her gorgeous storefront at the center of town. Unfortunately, the store is shut down at the moment due to COVID-19 restrictions. That’s why we took this opportunity to showcase our products together digitally. Find our combos featuring one Kakaw Designs item and one Xibalba Joyas item together in our One of a Kinds page  starting tomorrow, Sunday, April 5th.

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Naturally, I (Mari) asked her to share a little bit so that you can get to know her and her jewelry designs. The following questions were answered by Laura herself:

 

1. You have one of the most beautiful stores around town. Can you tell us when you started Xibalba, and the inspiration behind your brand and store?

Thank you so much!

Xibalba was born in 2012. The idea was to recover the cultural value of jade and present it through design-oriented jewelry. Guatemala is a country where ancestral knowledge exists, materials and handwork come together to maintain our cultural legacy alive.

We started in a petit and cozy space and a couple of years ago, we moved to our current location, a beautiful colonial house in the center of Antigua. We couldn’t be more in love with the location! Now, we not only create jewelry but we have partnered with several artisans and designers who present other products such as textiles, leather goods, decor objects, and many other interesting little things.

The team consists of 5 collaborators and we contribute to around 125 artisans directly or indirectly in different regions of Guatemala.

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2. Do you think you have always been an artist, since you were little? When do you think you came to realize this?

I’ve always considered myself a creative person. I grew up in a house where everything was made or prepared by us, whether it was clothing, planting, or plumbing… so I kinda learned how things could “be done.”

I was surrounded by elements such as textiles, ceramics, basket weaving, among other handmade traditions. Walking on cobble stones and going to Mayan sites on vacations… this has been with no doubt a part of my identity and has provided great inspiration for what I do.

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3. One of the things I love about your store is the incorporation of innovative designs on traditional materials, like jade and silver. Can you share a little bit about traditional use of those materials, historically-speaking?

Guatemala has a unique variety of jade. It is formed here because of the geographical location and the geological history.

For the Maya, our ancestors, jade was the most valuable material. They thought of it as a gift left here for us, which brought all the strength from underneath the earth and was able to take our thoughts and prayers to heaven. Jade was carved by master artisans who made from large stelas to miniature mosaic masks, among other incredible ornaments.

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4. We’ve talked about doing an online collaboration before, but we finally decided to go through with it now because of the COVID-19 restrictions in Guatemala. What are the effects for your business, and what can people do to support you and other small businesses working with artisans right now in Guatemala?

Indeed it  is a situation that has affected us all. However, we are confident that together we will rise!

It has been difficult to find new paths for our partner artisans since our business depends on tourism completely. Our number one priority is to generate an income for our artisan partners, so they can support their families.

The best way to help is just by being conscientious. Learn about what you buy, where you shop, support handmade products with a value chain behind them.

Today, we make a call to a world wide community: let’s all find ways to help each other, from our homes… by providing opportunities however possible.

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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!

 

Q&A feature on Birds of a Thread

“How great would it be if we could come together and share our textile experiences and practices together, further strengthening bonds and supporting rural artisans to pursue innovative designs on their own?”

<Read more on Birds of a Thread>

That’s the inspiration behind our Textile Travels concept. As a small brand, we facilitate the reaching of new markets internationally through our unique designs. We work closely with talented artisans to make this happen while honoring their traditions. But if the artisan groups have their own storefronts or access to other stores/buyers, really the best case scenario as far as impact would be for them to be able to run with new designs on their own. Unfortunately, as a brand, we have to ask them to be respectful to our unique designs, meaning that they should not copy exactly what we have designed together. This hurts my heart a little every time!

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Thus… we’re off to creating a safe space of sharing creative ideas and having fun – among international textile lovers with unique experiences and backgrounds and rural artisans thirsty for new ideas. It’s win-win for everyone.

<Read more on Birds of a Thread>

XOXO,

Mari

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Indigo San Juan

Shibori scarves

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mari with indigo shibori

mindful morning bundle

December can be a pretty crazy month, full of activities, and maybe added stress. It’s a lovely season, but we understand the hectic nature of modern-day holiday celebrations.

We can relate. We’re makers and sellers, but also teachers, students, wives, friends, sisters… There’s a lot happening in our lives, too.

And by we, I mean: Kelly from Cardamom Collective, Ehren from Hecho, and me (Mari) from Kakaw Designs. This is why we wanted to share with you some of our favorite things, the items that remind us to relax, to take a deep breath, to brew and enjoy a cup of tea. If you think this might be beneficial for you, or if you’d like to gift it to someone you know, just email me at mari@kakawdesigns. We’d be happy to send you a bundle or two.

Mindful Morning One includes:

1 Mini mortar and pestle from Hecho (choose from pink marble and white onyx)

1 Indigo ikat pouch from Cardamom Collective

2 Hand-embroidered coasters from Kakaw Designs

Some kakaw (aka cacao) and cardamom to add to your favorite morning drink

$65 plus shipping, ready in the US.

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Mindful Morning two includes:

1 Mini mortar and pestle from Hecho (choose from pink marble and white onyx)

1 Indigo ikat pouch from Cardamom Collective

2 Hand-embroidered tea towels from Kakaw Designs

Some kakaw (aka cacao) and cardamom to add to your favorite morning drink

$85 plus shipping, ready in the US.

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El Chucho Feliz – what is that?

We’ve come together with El Chucho Feliz this season to bring you a holiday bundle for your furry friend and human. Learn more about the bundle here. Below is a lovely post by Lea, who is working on the beautiful collars for El Chucho Feliz in Guatemala. I can vouch for how much Mayo is loved by all the dogs in Guatemala – she’s one of Berry’s favorite humans for sure. -Mari

Who doesn’t love dogs? We’re proud to say we are 100% dog people!  Here in Guatemala, just like in North America, there are slang words for our doggie friends. Here’s your Spanish lesson of the day –

CHUCHO – (pronounced chew-cho) Guatemalan slang for dog.

You’ll find that hardly anyone calls dogs perros (proper Spanish) – here in Guatemala. If you aren’t familiar with the term ‘chucho, you are not alone. But it makes sense when you understand that it’s the same as the way people in North America say ‘Pup’ for example. So, El Chucho Feliz = The Happy Dog! How cute is that?

collars both colors
 

El Chucho Feliz was founded by our designer Marjolaine Perrault. Marjolaine (aka: Mayo) is a certified veterinary technician from Montreal. She is also a dog trainer, and spent years working with veterinarians without borders in Guatemala where she fell in love with the country. The exotic atmosphere, fresh fruits and flowers, incredible erupting volcanoes and lush green jungles finally led to her moving to Guatemala in 2011. Seriously – whats not to love about this country? If you have been to Guatemala – you know what we are talking about!

Soon after moving here she started El Chucho Feliz, offering dog training services that quickly expanded to doggie play dates and then boarding. Over the years she has successfully become a second Mom to hundreds of happy dogs!

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Canela, the lucky “chucho” who is now happy with Lea 💗

 

Mayo also has a slight obsession with Guatemalan textiles and decided to try combining her love for them with her love for dogs. She began working with artisans to create leather dog collars using beautiful up-cycled Guatemalan textiles.  She is constantly on the hunt in the local markets, searching for gently used, quality textiles from local women. She collaborates with these local artisans to bring these hand made products to our customers and their happy pups! Focusing on high standards in order to create unique hand made items, built to last.

Since Mayo is seriously busy with business constantly growing,  that’s where I come in! My name is Lea and I was raised in Los Angeles by Guatemalan & American parents. I studied Visual Communications and Design at FIDM in LA. I moved to Guatemala 4 years ago and Mayo and I met because she is second dog mom to our beautiful street ‘chucho’ – Canela- and the rest is history! I am here to make sure things run smoothly! We never created a job title – but that is typical here. And it works for us!

 
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“Gimme my treat, human!” psssst that collar looks nice on Canela!

Find us:

Etsy – TheMayanDog 

Instagam – @chuchofeliz 

Facebook – El Chucho Feliz

Email – themayandog@gmail.com

Not to be confusing- but in a few places we are called The Mayan Dog- easier at first glance than explaining what a ‘chucho’ is! We are delighted to be working with Kakaw on this collaboration. We hope you’ll love the work we created together as much as we loved doing it for you! 

A special bundle for you and your best friend 🐶

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Announcing…. a  limited-time bundle for our furry friends and their humans 🐶💁🏻‍♀️ We’ve come together with our friends at El Chucho Feliz for this fun bundle. We love collaborating with other makers out there, supporting talented artisans in Guatemala. We’re only one small brand, but together with other socially-minded businesses, we can support a bigger movement that stands for ethical production practices and support for traditional crafts.

Order by Nov 29th and your shipping is only $7.50 within US for each bundle 💙 That’s because we have a friend taking these to the US herself (Thanks, Lea!). International shipping from Guatemala to US is not cheap, so we are happy to be able to reduce the final price this way for you. Shipping to other countries is also much cheaper from the US. Email me at mari@kakawdesigns.com to put in your order.

Scarf + Bark Bundle includes a dog collar made with naturally-dyed and handwoven ikat textile and genuine leather, made by El Chucho Feliz. We have the lucky pup’s human friend covered also with a naturally-dyed and handwoven scarf by Kakaw Designs.

Choose from Pretty in Pink and Indigo Ikat

The Pink hue for both the scarf and collar is from the natural dye cochineal. The footloom scarf is a new design, which means it’s not available anywhere else. The navy blues are, you guessed it, from natural Indigo. These naturally-dyed textiles are all dyed and handwoven by hand. The Corte Wraps are a little different because they are made with repurposed traditional cortes, and then are decorated with plant-dyed indigo cotton threads along the edges and the fringes. The collar might look more green than blue, which is because this ikat design has two colors: indigo and turmeric (blue + yellow = green).

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Collar sizes:

S (11″-13″ / 28cm-33cm)

L (14″-16″ / 35cm-40cm)

XL (16″-21.5 / 40cm-53cm)

XXL (14.5”-20.5” / 35cm-50cm)

Scarf size:

Humans are so much easier, one size fits all when it comes to scarves.

Width: 20 in / 51 cm
Length: 90 in /230 cm

Price: $80 plus $7.50 shipping within US. Put your order in by November 29th, for this reduced special shipping price.

Normal combined retail price ranges from $110-$135. (That’s a savings of $30 – $55 per bundle!)

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Curious about ikat designs, and the whole weaving process in general? Take a look at our video.

XOXO,

Mari