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.

 

Why We’re Crowdfunding to Grow our Handmade Business

Note: This post was originally published on Eco Warrior Princess.

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By Mari Gray

Many people have asked me how I first got started with my artisan-made business Kakaw Designs. The short answer is this: through a small Kickstarter project for $2000. That was my way of figuring out if people liked the idea of custom-made boots using traditional Guatemalan textiles. The answer was yes, and we’ve grown so much in the three years since inception.

Now, we’re doing another Kickstarter project (until November 20, 2016) and I want to explain why.  Because clearly, ours is an existing business, not a recently launched one.

And it’s been going really well. So why another crowdfunding campaign? There are three main reasons…

We want to shift our business to work more with women artisans.

We started the business using beautiful repurposed textiles here in Guatemala. But the goal has always been to focus on our work with weavers and embroiderers. Because by working together for new textile designs, we are more directly contributing to supporting these dying traditions.

The downside is that this is more costly both in time and money. There is always trial and error involved, and the cost of making even samples is much higher because we need to prepare an entire loom of the commissioned textile. This all makes sense, it’s fair and that is how it should be, but it is an additional challenge that comes with ethical practices.

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We want to balance both direct sales and wholesale.

This has been a challenge. In order to get into different retailers, we’ve had to increase our final price on some products, and develop new products specifically with wholesale in mind.

Related Post: 4 Most Common Dilemmas of an Artisan Made Brand

So in case this is all new to you, this is how it works: Kakaw Designs sells 10 bags to Boutique A, and this is called “wholesale.” Boutique A then sells those 10 bags at a mark-up (they’re a business too, of course) and so the price generally doubles from wholesale to final retail. But in order to keep our final prices aligned both in stores and online, some adjustments had to be made, which means that we’re probably losing some direct sales beacause of the price increase.

This is a tricky balance that we’re still trying to figure out. How much should we dedicate to wholesale, and how much to direct online sales? We don’t have a clear answer yet, but we do realize that we need to have both things going for us – both wholesale and direct sales.

We want to have our products ready-to-go, which means stocking plenty.

All our bags and accessories are ready for quick shipping both in Guatemala and in the US. We have a shipping person in the US so that our delivery time is reduced. She also ships international orders because it’s just not feasible to ship directly from Guatemala to the UK, for example. We also keep stock here in Guatemala to sell within the country at different retailers, and people come to me directly as well. Word of mouth is a powerful thing!

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This is all great, don’t get me wrong. The business is expanding; we are growing. But again, the extra stocking investment is something we can feel as a small business.

Related Post: What Launching an Ethical Fashion Brand Really Looks Like

That’s why Kickstarter.

We’re using this platform to take pre-orders on our newest products focusing on increasing the impact with the women – for weaving and embroidery. The groups of orders are not even that big (ex. 10 Picnic Blankets), but it just means that we can go into production mode without having to invest in stock first, and wait around for a potential sale. By taking pre-orders, those products already have new homes, and that way we can also reduce our prices per product. We’re also not undercutting any wholesale opportunities because this is a one-time only project, limited-time. The prices will increase once the products make their way to our website. We’ve already developed the new products, and now we’re ready to gear up for production.

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I feel like sometimes there’s so much emphasis placed on the growth of a business, it can seem like a linear, positive progression. I think growth is good, but it does come with its own challenges. Kakaw Designs is at a critical point right now, one that I’m sure many small businesses have experienced as well.

It’s a great, exciting step for us in increasing our social impact and staying true to our mission of working with female artisans here in Guatemala. It’s the perfect opportunity to check our work and make sure that we are on the right path. And joining forces and grouping orders allows us to take that next step with ease.

Want to support the Kakaw Designs on Kickstarter? Check out the Kickstarter campaign here.

Why (another) Kickstarter?

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That’s right, we’ve done this before.  We started what is now Kakaw Designs three years ago with a little $2000 Kickstarter project.  It went well, and that’s how we’re here today.

So… Why another Kickstarter project, you ask?

Excellent question!  Here’s why:

As we’ve grown (in three years we’ve expanded from only boots to now shoes, bags, and accessories), we’ve also felt the effects when it comes to stocking and development of new designs.  Every new product takes trial and error to develop, and we now also maintain stock both in Guatemala and the US, for fast-delivery.  This is all great, but it just means more costs associated with growth.

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This all has made it more challenging to work with artisans from step 1, because it means more investment in trial and error.  But that’s the whole reason why we started Kakaw Designs – to work with artisans.  So we want to jump start the production of our newest products specifically focusing on work with women artisans (for weaving and embroidery) by bunching orders together on the Kickstarter platform.  This allows us to skip the stocking investments and go directly to sales – and that means that we can lower our prices.  It’s truly win-win for everyone.

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Partner weavers Irma and Francisca

With that said, we’ve got so many goodies, make sure to take a look!  And even if you’re not looking to buy anything right now, you can help us by spreading the word.  So please share the project with your friends!  ☺️

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Natural Dye Story: Palo de la Vida

Did you know that “Palo de la Vida” literally translates to mean “The Tree of Life”?  It’s soooo poetic and we love it.

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Our partner weavers at the cooperative Corazón del Lago use the bark from this Tree of Life to get the rich chocolate color found in our Hummingbird Collection.  The textiles are naturally-dyed with ikat designs and handwoven on a backstrap loom.  It’s an amazing process, and because no words can really describe the magic, make sure to watch our video.

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The chocolaty brown reminds us so much of Fall… and goes great with the genuine leather we use for our boots and clutches.

And hey, we have some good news: Our Hummingbird Wraps in Palo de la Vida are on sale for $70 right now ☺️ We only have a few at this price, so take advantage for this beautiful scarf season.  Remember, your purchase goes to support these weavers at Lake Atitlán.

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Photo credit: Birds of a Thread

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Cochinilla: learn about this amazing not-so-vegan natural dye.

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Indigo: our go-to absolute favorite color.  Do you know where else you can find this plant dye?

The #1 Problem Working with Artisans as a Brand

Note: This piece expands on the thoughts published on Eco Warrior Princess a few months back: “4 Most Common Dilemmas of an Artisan-Made Brand”

Being part of the handmade process is amazing, and it’s fantastic to support traditional crafts when working directly with artisans.  But I’ve noticed a common problem among businesses working with artisans here in Guatemala (and probably around the world, too), and I’d like to share my thoughts on the topic: the protection of designs for brands.

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Our Quetzal Wraps are a product of a design collaboration with our partner cooperative of weavers at Corazón del Lago.  We tried new ikat designs and naturally-dyed colors as well as dimensions and thickness of the woven textile to make these scarves.  Watch our video to learn more about the processes.

Is it true that businesses need to protect their designs?

This is pretty simple.  As a business, you don’t want your competition to copy you.  Got it.  But when working with traditional crafts, can a business claim a design as its own?

Though I understand why a brand might choose to protect their products, this is a slippery slope.  As artisan-made brands, our common goal should be to support local talented artisans, and elevate the traditions as a whole with respect.  This, to me, means that we should not limit the artisans.  If something works, they should be able to continue it themselves.

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We’re proud to be part of the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise!

With that said, exclusivity contracts exist and are used between the designers and producers here in Guatemala.  By signing the contract, a weaving group promises not to weave the same designs for other clients or for themselves to sell directly.  When I was invited by a Confederation of Cooperatives on a rural trip as a designer here in Guatemala, the patterns that stood out to me were protected with such exclusivity contracts, and without training on product design, the artisans were left to continue with their “same-old” designs, overdone and found everywhere around the country.

I’m going to take a leap and share some trade secrets with you.

We don’t have exclusivity agreements with our artisans.  Actually, we encourage the weavers, embroiderers, leathersmiths and silversmith to pursue their own designs, taking our collaborations in mind.  Our leathersmith is professional enough to not make footwear exactly the same, but he is producing more and more boots with textiles of his choice after working with us.  Good for him!  And our partner weaving cooperative is exploring new patterns and color combinations after seeing how beautiful our collaborations have come out.  How wonderful!

Innovation is a very tricky thing for rural artisans.  Things have been done a certain way for so long, and change doesn’t come easily here in Guatemala.  I can tell you from my experience as a teacher that the education system here is more focused on memorization and following orders rather than critical thinking and creative problem-solving.  So when something works, we as social enterprises working to support and elevate artisan traditions, should not be so selfish with these new ideas.

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Maybe I’m not business-minded.

Hey, that’s okay with me.  I didn’t start Kakaw Designs to get rich.  I wanted to work with artisans, and make beautiful things together.  I wanted to support them with new designs, quality control, and access to a larger market.

We’re fortunate to have found artisans who get excited about new designs.  I wouldn’t have it any other way, and exclusivity would change the dynamics… we’re collaborating together, and we want the artisans to benefit from the experience more than through the orders.  We want them to get excited about new ideas, and pursue their own, too.

 

Our beautiful booth at Renegade, introducing handcrafted treasures to the lovely people of Chicago.

Thanks for your support, everyone.  Your orders contribute directly to keeping traditional crafts alive and providing a livelihood to the artisans we work with.  But more than that, by working together, we hope that the artisans will continue with creative ideas and thus take on a more active role in adapting to a changing marketplace.  It’s their future more than mine, and I’m just here to help (and have fun too).

XOXO,

Mari