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. 

Photo1

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**

Backstrap Ikat Weaving Small

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.

Textile Travels featured on Birds of a Thread!

Note: This piece was first published on Birds of a Thread on January 5th, 2018.  Big thanks to Jacqui for helping spread the word about the trip.

I’m super excited to share this travel opportunity, hosted by Mari of Kakaw Designs, with you. Read on for the details. -Jacqui

Textile Travel announcement

Come together to share, learn, and create

Are you a crafty person who likes to make things and who cherishes handmade traditions?  I am, too!  But I bet our experiences and ideas are different.

That’s the basis of our upcoming Textile Travel for Makers, launching in August 2018.  While working with textile artisan communities in Guatemala through my business Kakaw Designs, I’ve come to realize how interested our partner artisans are in learning about different techniques, patterns, designs, and concepts.  And ultimately, wouldn’t it be ideal if these talented artisans could themselves take a more active role in the design process, without depending on designers from outside of their communities?

This is the part that I love most about working with artisans: getting excited together about new creations, and trying out new ideas.  But I’m just one person, and I only have a small limited number of ideas.  That’s why I’d like to invite other creative Makers out there to join us on this new journey of idea exchange in Guatemala.

We’re so excited to share our crafts together – our partner artisans are experts in natural dyes, backstrap weaving, embroidery, making ikat designs, and more.  But it’s no surprise that it can be challenging to think outside of the box in the rural context, especially for tactile and visual traditions like in textiles.  So, we thought – why not come together and share our ideas in beautiful Guatemala, and have fun while at it?

Our artisan partners are happy to share their traditional craft techniques, and they’re also looking forward to hearing about different experiences and ideas, especially with textiles.  We’ll be hosting workshops to facilitate creative idea exchange in a safe space for all of us to come together and take part in a true and real kind of cultural exchange that we can all relate to as Makers.

Who can participate?

Anyone crafty and creative is encouraged to come. Obviously weavers, embroiderers, and seamstresses have a lot to directly contribute to rural artisans, but also I think it’s really interesting to hear from people with experience in other techniques that are not prevalent in Guatemala, such as quilting, knitting, block printing, shibori, sashiko, or leaf printing.  Skills such as color theory, presentation of products, and simple photography could also all be very helpful, so please feel free to reach out, whether you’re an active “maker” or not. I think we all have something to contribute and can learn from each other.

How much will it cost, can what can you expect?

I’ll be leading the small group through Guatemala, together with my mother, Aiko Kobayashi, who has been a textile tour guide for over two decades.  We’re excited to add this creative twist, further enhancing both the visitors’ and the artisans’ experiences and making sure that local communities benefit in a meaningful way.  We’re currently taking sign-ups for the trip, with two available itineraries starting at only $1800.  For more details, please go to our website and/or email me.

Isn’t it great when an idea is just all-around good, benefiting everyone involved?  That’s how we feel about this new branch of Kakaw Designs.  Supporting our partner artisans even more while at the same time enhancing participants’ travel experiences in an ethical and sustainable way through exchanges based on common interests as Makers of the world.  We’re so excited to get our creative juices flowing, together.

Mari Gray
mari@kakawdesigns.com
kakawdesigns.com

 Cardigans

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.

Dyeing together

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:

pila.jpg

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.

Textile Travel announcement

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

Plant Dye Experiments

It was so great to spend quality time with our partner weavers at Lake Atitlán.  It’s not always that we can afford to have some natural-dye experiment fun…. so this was a nice treat ❤️

I’m still going through the dyeing process pictures, so more on that coming soon.  For now… I’d love to share the results with you!

3 colors Mari

We dyed three Summer Cardigans, handwoven by weavers near Cobán.

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Cardigan 1: Dyed with Pericón and Sacatinta

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Cardigan 2: Dyed with Pericón and Sacatinta, taken out of bath before Cardigan #1

cardigan2

Cardigan 3: Dyed with Chilca and Sacatinta

There are only 3 of these in the whole wide world, and they are looking for loving homes!  Email me at mari@kakawdesigns.com if interested.  $150 each, free shipping to US.

All 3 colros

XOXO,

Mari

 

Photos by the lovely Kelly from Cardamom Collective.

Backstrap vs. Footloom

We started Kakaw Designs focused on supporting the backstrap weaving tradition.  It’s an amazing process, and we especially liked the idea of the women  being able to weave from home or anywhere else they want to – because the simple loom is easy to set up.  And each order is easy to divide among several women to weave separately.

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The process makes much more sense after watching this video:

 

But we’re getting into footloom scarves as well now.  Originally, I was hard-headed and thought that backstrap was the only way.  Turns out, I was so wrong.

We started with footloom because of a special request.  Cardamom Collective wanted to try them out and see what happened.  They came out so beautiful!  That’s when I knew I needed to seriously give footloom textiles a go.

Indigo Footloom Scarves, Kakaw Designs

Special order footloom scarves in Indigo

 

Why the original hesitance?  Well, because it’s not as flexible for the weavers to work with a footloom – the cooperative we work with has only one (which is completely sufficient), so the weavers would have to travel to where the loom is kept in order to weave.  And since not everyone is trained on how to use this bigger, more complicated loom, the work cannot be shared among many weavers as easily as its backstrap counterpart.  Oh, and it’s also more complicated to weave ikat designs, so footloom textile designs are more limited.

I’ve learned that the weavers are happy to take footloom orders.  Irma, left in the above photo, wove the very first batch with the help of other cooperative members for the dyeing, setting up the warp, and finishing the fringes with macrame.

footloom

A footloom is bulkier, but much faster for weaving larger orders.

Right now, we’re reserving these scarves for wholesale orders only.  We’re really loving working on special orders, so if you’d like to collaborate, let us know!  There are so many naturally-dyed colors to choose from… I’d be happy to share them with you.  Send me a note at mari@kakawdesigns.com!

We’ll continue working with the weavers on backstrap textiles too.  So we’re not replacing one thing with the other – we’re just increasing options!

 

XOXO,

Mari

The Maya Outfit Explained by Maya Traditions

We get questions on the different terminology for the traditional pieces of clothing here in Guatemala…. and this post by Maya Traditions explains it very well, with graphics and all!

Here’s just a little bit from the post:

typical-maya-outfit

  1. Hair ribbon (cinta) — These can be worn around the crown of their heads, as depicted, or they can be wrapped around braids. A third style is to wrap the ribbon like a spiral around a low pony tail which is then wrapped around the crown of the head.

  2. Blouse (blusa or huipil) – These can be simple with embroidery of birds or flowers by the neckline, or they can be fully brocade or embroidered. Some styles are embroidered on both the inside and outside so they can be reversible. The number of huipiles a woman owns depends on her economics status.

  3. Sash/belt (faja) — A piece of fabric, utilized as a belt, which wraps around twice and is then tucked in to hold up the piece of fabric which is wrapped into a skirt.

  4. Skirt (corte) — The thick embroidered band around it is called a randa. It is used to connect the two pieces of woven fabric which, because they are woven on a loom only reach a certain width which alone is not wide enough to create the entire skirt.

  5. Shawl (rebozo or tzute) — A multi-purpose fabric used as a shawl or placed atop the head, which can also be used as a bag when transporting large amounts of items to be sold, or a baby on their back.

 

Well, I hope this helps answer some questions you may have had.  Though we’re moving towards using more new textiles rather than repurposing old, right now our products are made still at about 50% used textiles.  Like our Original Boots.  On kakawdesigns.com you can design your own, and part of that means choosing your textile – we hope with this little graphic above you’ll know what piece of textile of traditional textile you are selecting.

 

Make sure to take a look at the full post by Maya Traditions here.

 

XOXO,

Mari