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