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

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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.

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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

4 Most Common Dilemmas of an Artisan-Made Brand

This article by Mari Gray, founder of Kakaw Designs, was originally published on Eco Warrior Princess.  It’s a great honor to be featured on one of the best ethical fashion blogs out there.  Take a look!

When I was just starting up Kakaw Designs around three years ago, I remember getting into an argument with a friend.  Driving through a neighborhood full of pacas (literally translated “bales,” which is how leftover second-hand clothes come down to Guatemala from the US and are opened for sale), we agreed that the weaving tradition in Guatemala was in danger. Why would anyone spend so much time weaving when it’s so easy to find a T-shirt for the fraction of the material cost involved? What we didn’t agree on was how much could be done to slow down the process. My friend thought that weaving was going to die anyway, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. On top of that, he thought that it was pointless to try to keep this artisan tradition alive. Death was inevitable.

As a daughter of a weaver, an idealist, and a Guatemalan, this outright pissed me off. I understood this perspective, but to me, it meant a lot to slow down this rate of change. Yes, the weaving tradition was changing. But to slow down that change meant higher likelihood of this culture staying alive in some way. We would be able to give time for the tradition to adapt and evolve.

Mari Gray, founder of Kakaw Designs

While I completely believe in what we are doing as Kakaw Designs, this was my first little introduction to the many dilemmas I would face as the founder of an artisanmade brand. It’s been an enlightening journey, and I’d love to share with you the top 4 dilemmas I’ve encountered:

Dilemma #1: Higher income means more opportunities and incentives to leave the artisan life

Let’s be honest here, artisans in the developing world are not usually part of the royalty. In Guatemala, those who still continue the weaving tradition usually live in villages and speak one of the 22 Mayan languages. Historically, these are marginalized peoples who have not had many opportunities in life. There are always exceptions and hard work can pay off, but there’s no denying that life has been hard for the general rural Guatemalan population.

With increased appreciation in the artisan work from the global market, we are able to show our support for these talented weavers. And the great thing is that women know best how to invest their money in their families and their communities. This means that their children will be better cared for, will go to school for longer, and overall have more opportunities in life. But where will these opportunities lead them? Will their daughters choose to continue the weaving tradition, given other paths in front of them?

My two cents: Some people will probably find their calling in other fields. While it might be a loss in the artisan made industry, I support people doing what they love. In just this way, I also hope that those who truly love weaving in the modern world will be able to continue their tradition and be fairly compensated for their work.

hummingbird clutch kakaw designs

 

Dilemma #2: Used vs. New textiles

This is a hot topic in Guatemala, where used textiles (handwoven traditional clothing) are readily and cheaply available. But unless you go into a rural village, visiting the people at home, it’s almost impossible to know how the used garments were obtained. It’s typical for the textile pieces to go through several middlemen to reach a market.

Many businesses call these used textiles “vintage” and are sold as “upcycled” products. It’s true that  both the textile and the final product can be very beautiful. I see no dilemma here if a business sells these products as part of the fashion industry, but if they say that they are working with weavers, that’s just not true.

Buying used textiles does not in any way ensure that the original weaver (from years ago) gets compensated fairly. We don’t know if the weaver will create another piece after this sale. There is no direct correlation here between buying used textiles and supporting weavers today.

The other option is to commission new woven textiles. By hiring current weavers, the business is more directly contributing to keeping the weaving tradition alive. I don’t think that anyone would argue this, but because of cost and communication/cultural issues, it can be difficult for a small business to pursue this route.

My two cents: If a business is based on upcycling used textiles, just be honest and say that.  And whenever possible, add new handmade touches. That is what we do at Kakaw Designs – about half of our textiles are used and the other half is new, with our designs. We’re always thinking of ways to add value to the used textiles by adding new touches with embroidery and leather, making sure that everything is still done by hand.

Kakaw Designs Macaw_Clutch_grande

Dilemma #3: Supporting weavers means changing traditional designs

Certain colors and patterns appeal more to the global market. Beauty is so subjective, and the Maya eye for textile design can be very different from what others are used to. This is true for my brand.  Our partner cooperative of weavers produces beautiful textiles using natural dyes, ikat designs, and backstrap weaving. All of these processes are each traditionally Maya, but our combination of designs and colors are not. I have a friend who calls this “dumbing-down” the weaving tradition.

My two cents: It’s true that we are limiting creativity by asking for the weavers to produce our pieces.  But we are still supporting the weavers, and they are happy for the work and guidance. It’s important for the artisans to know the value of their work, and the goal is that with the income gained they can still weave pieces for themselves with no restrictions on creativity. Because without income, that would not be a possibility. We’ve also found that weavers can be genuinely curious about other people’s color preferences, and they find it helpful to learn about these details that are foreign to them.

Dilemma #4: Having a brand means protecting your designs

While I like to think that my business has found its own niche, I’m in no way a pioneer in this “artisan-made brand” world. There are many great people out there producing beautiful things, working closely with artisans. These businesses combined create a big force for the artisan world, and it is fantastic.

Needless to say, as a brand you want to keep your designs yours. Other brands should respect that and create original pieces. This is clear and standard, though it is not always the reality in Guatemala, where copying is the norm.

Backpack Church Edited

However, we should tread lightly here. At least on the ground here in Guatemala, designers can get carried away “protecting” their designs. While I completely understand and can relate to wanting to keep certain ideas as our own, one of the main selling points for artisanmade businesses is that we work with local artisans, and most of us even use the word “empower” somewhere in our mission statement. If it is indeed true that one of our highest goals is to support artisans, it worries me that we would be so concerned with “our designs” rather than the increased benefit for our artisans. This is very tricky.

My two cents: Many people have mentioned to me that I should copyright my designs. This might be a pretty normal thing to do nowadays in the fashion industry, but let’s think this over for a moment: Did I invent these Maya patterns? Did I come up with backstrap weaving?  Did I revolutionize the textile world with these natural dyes? I think not. I may have combined colors and patterns in a way that was not considered “normal” in a certain village, or used a textile in a way that was new for boots of bags, but that’s about it. I don’t pretend to own these ideas, and I don’t like the concept of limiting the artisans – if they see that a certain color sells, go for it, produce more and sell. Be an entrepreneur. I want the artisans to succeed, and figure how to keep their traditions alive. After all, they are theirtraditions.

There are definitely more dilemmas, but these are my mains ones. I wanted to share these because I think people sometimes believe that I have chosen a journey with rainbows and unicorns. I love what I do, but things are not as clear-cut and perfect as one might think in the artisan-made world.

#textiletravels April 2016!

It’s always fun to explore this beautiful country.  Guatemala, you have so much to offer!

I’ve come back from the trip refreshed and full of new ideas.  Met new and known artisans, saw beautiful places, and the trip gave me lots to reflect upon.  Rural life, development projects, how to best support artisans, how to grow the business…. so much to do.  How exciting!

I’m excited to report that the Quetzal Backpack proved to be the best travel pack, practical and pretty.  I’m so pleased with how this backpack held up all around rural Guatemala that I want to share the happiness!  So use the discount code TRAVELPACK for $20 off this special pack, only for the next 3 orders!  I’m also super ecstatic that I was fortunate enough to see real quetzales, the gorgeous birds out in the wild.  It is the most beautiful bird I have ever seen.  I’m such a lucky girl.

I hope you like the little glimpse of my trip!

XOXO,

Mari

 

Backpack Church Edited20160411_115628Francisca Mari EditedIMG_5770IMG_5786 - CopyIMG_5823 - CopyBackpack Caribbean20160408_092759

Embroidery Class

When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my parents spent a few months working in the village of Santiago Atitlán.  I don’t remember too much about my time there, but I do remember one incident very clearly:

There was a reason why my nickname was María Komatz, “komatz” meaning “snake” in the local Tzutujil language.  I was wild, and loved to climb trees.  So my poor babysitter had to find a way to entertain me… with embroidery.

I loved it. I have no idea what pattern I was working on, but I remember being very concentrated, careful with every needle movement.  After what seemed to Little Mari like hours, I was finally pleased with my work and decided that I was done…. only to find out that during my careful stitching I had managed to stitch the fabric right onto my jeans!

I’m pretty sure I cried after that.

It took 23 years for me to get over that Embroidery Trauma.  But with Kakaw Designs working now with a group of embroidery specialists in Sumpango, I figured I needed to overcome my fears.  So last weekend, I went for a special embroidery class with a friend.

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Learning from Claribel and Tomasita

Turns out, I love embroidery!  It takes lots of concentration for sure, but it also has a meditative effect… My friend Laura loved it, too.  She was actually SO concentrated that she was silent for much of the class.

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That day we didn’t get to finish all the work, but since then we have finished the embroidery at home.  They will soon be turned into little pouches, and we can’t wait!  We’ll have to reserve the pouches for something very special.

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Thank you, Claribel, Tomasita, and Luqui for all your help and patience!  Also… notice my dress?  Tomasita embroidered it 🙂

What should we embroider next?  Laura has gotten inspired and already finished a flamingo and a whale, on two different shirts.  They’re adorable!  I’m thinking little animals, too, in pouch form as gifts to my fellow pet-loving friends.  How cute would THAT be?  🙂

XOXO,

Mari

 

Textile Travels

One of the best things about having Kakaw Designs is the ability to meet and form relationships with artisans, all over Guatemala.  I love to travel – and I love that there is now purpose in my travel: for the best textiles.

Last month, I went on another textile adventure – to some new, and others familiar, places.  I was able to buy directly from women producers and cooperatives of weavers many new textile pieces for our boots, bags, and accessories.  And, of course, I met with Francisca from our partner cooperative at Lake Atitlán as we work on developing new designs.   Take a look!

Cobán Loom

Backstrap loom in the outskirts of Cobán

Weavers Chajul

Weavers at a cooperative in Chajul, Nebaj.

Chajul Reds

Bright reds characterize this small village high up in the mountains. Chajul.

San Juan Cotzal Weaving

Master weaver at a cooperative in San Juan Cotzal. Beautiful colors from natural dyes!

Salon San Juan Laguna

A local beauty salon in San Juan la Laguna, with sign written in the local Tzutujil language. It feels so out of place!

Francisca Green

Francisca shows how to get different shades of green from natural dyes.

Francisca Soup

Francisca made the most delicious soup! Thank you!

Atitlan Book

Gotta put in some relax time in there – can’t let the beauty of Lake Atitlán go to waste!

We’re now well-stocked with beautiful textiles!  We look forward to forming meaningful relationships with these and other talented weavers around Guatemala.