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.

coop group shot

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

weaving herlinda back

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.

Why Ceramics?

Maybe you’ve noticed. We started working with a new cooperative, new medium, not too long ago: hand-turned and hand-painted stoneware ceramics.

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Our Ikat Donburi Bowl and Ikat Tumbler on display at Xilabla Joyas

At first it was for completely selfish reasons. To be honest, this is how most of the product designs come about. For entirely selfish reasons – because I got a new computer, and want a laptop sleeve. Or I got a scooter, and want a new backpack (it’s too hard with a shoulder bag). Or it’s getting chilly, and I want a thick and cozy shawl. The list goes on and on.

For our ceramics, I felt this desire for a new product when I was working on my master’s in Europe. I was getting pretty used to the coffee (espresso) culture in Austria, but I still missed having cozy and large vessels for tea. That’s how I grew up in Japan, after all – tea all day. (Side note: I remember the first day of class in Austria, where education was surprisingly traditional, the professor said that there would be one break, or sometimes no break at all, for a 3-hour meeting. But then he added something like, “Unless you need a coffee – in that case, feel free to leave and take a coffee break whenever you need.” They sure love their coffee.)

And at the time, I was sad to not be able to work in-person with our artisan partners while away. I felt like I wasn’t being as creative as I usually was. And I just wasn’t feeling all that cozy, living in a sterile apartment with all white walls, everything electric, no garden, and for me, no character.

So even though I was thousands of miles away from Guatemala, and months away from spending summer here, I did the most reasonable thing in order for me to obtain some ceramic pieces I wanted in Europe. I designed them to be made in Guatemala. 🤷🏻‍♀️

It took several tries to get each design right. We now have four different ceramic items we are making in partnership with a cooperative at Lake Atitlán. They have been received well in the Antigua community, and have been selling well at the stores here. It has been a very interesting process to work with the new medium.

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Prototype Cappuccino Sets in the making at Lake Atitlán

One thing I love about working with ceramics is the ability to incorporate textile designs in a non-textile way. Something about this departure is freeing. With woven designs, I find myself worrying about using traditional Maya patterns, or even the opposite – introducing designs that are somehow inspired by all the different traditions from around the world that I have been exposed to. My conclusion is that above all, I believe it’s important for our artisan partners to make a living. Traditions will only continue now if they can be a source of income for rural families. But still, there are other ethical concerns whirling in the back of my head. And with ceramics, we’re actually working entirely with non-indigenous techniques to begin with, and so I see no conflict with trying something new. New shapes. New sizes. New patterns. New colors.

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Our Cappuccino Set features simple and calming running stitches in an indigo shade

With that said, I do try to stay away from designs that are strictly Maya. I don’t want to copy village patterns. So you won’t see any of the beautiful brocade patterns found here on the stoneware. What I wanted to show was more of a global common thread of textile traditions. Thus, the simple ikat patterns in indigo, and the simple running stitches, also in indigo. We tried other colors, but settled on my favorite, the calming navy blue. What’s more fitting than the magical indigo hue, the strongest of the natural dyes, found all over the world in textile traditions?

Anyway, thank you for reading. If you’d like, here are the links to take a look at our ceramic bundles online:

Ceramic Bundle with Tumblers

Ceramic Bundle with Cappuccino Sets

XOXO,

Mari

 

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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A special bundle for you and your best friend 🐶

collars both colors

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).

Indigo fringe Kelly 1

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

25% Holiday Code is live

Just a note that our 25% off sale is going on! Use code HOLIDAYS2018 for 25% off all orders over $50 until December 31st.

We took a different approach this year. Usually we try to avoid selling out of products, but this year that’s already proven difficult. Some of our newest items are now sold out, but still plenty of other items are in stock for shipping both from US and Guatemala, so don’t worry.

Shop at kakawdesigns.com

 

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See you soon, Chicago!

We’ll be at Renegade again this fall at the biggest fair in Chicago! It’s going to be a great weekend, because of course we had so much fun the first time around a couple of years ago.

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Exact booth number is still TBD, but stay tuned as I will definitely let you know. Here is our Facebook event if you prefer to stay updated there.

 

Hasta pronto, Chicago!

 

XOXO,

Mari

Summer Picnic Bundle 🌻

We only have a few of these bundles available! Perfect for summer picnics out and about.

Together with Hecho, we bring you a beautiful summer picnic bundle. Get one Picnic Blanket by yours truly and a handmade basket from Mexico in either medium or large.

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Pictured here: Picnic Blanket + Medium Hanging Basket

You might already know that our Picnic Blankets are multi-purpose and a true upcycled product. We’ve chosen traditional cortes (cortays) that specifically have minor holes from years of use. These holes have been mended carefully by hand, stitch by stitch, and reinforced sashiko-style with naturally-dyed thread to give the fabric new life as a blanket. Good for picnics, for hanging out on the couch, as a travel towel, baby blanket… so many ways to enjoy the piece.

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The hanging basket is handmade in Mexico by our friends at Hecho. It’s traditionally used for carrying babies in Puebla – can you believe it?? This story intrigued me so much, I knew I wanted to do a little summer special including the beautiful basket.

Together, the bundle prices are lower than normal retail:

Picnic Blanket + Medium Basket: $150 (normal retail $195)

Picnic Blanket + Large Basket: $170 (normal retail $215)

Prices include shipping within US.

Email mari@kakawdesigns.com to claim your bundle, just in time for summer sunshine.

 

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XOXO,

Mari