Working with artisans – is having a brand the best way?

To tell you the truth, I struggle with this concept of working with artisans as a brand.  Maybe I didn’t think it through when I started the business (and by maybe, I mean definitely). I chose to start a brand because I love designing things, working with artisans, and I thought that I could add something special through new ideas and high-quality details.

< Read: 4 Most Common Dilemmas of an Artisan Made Brand >

 

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I definitely don’t regret it, because it has been an amazing experience and I have been able to build relationships with local artisan groups, textile lovers all over the world, boutique stores focused on quality, and similarly-minded designers. And I have learned so much. Also, I just don’t think I would’ve known any other way, these thoughts are the result of years of experience, and seeing some loopholes in the logic of artisanmade brands.

And maybe it’s because I am away now, in Europe studying Sustainable Development, and this distance of course makes it challenging to work with rural artisans even more. We’re only able to manage this because of our wonderful Production Manager back in Antigua, Evelyn.

But it’s got me thinking for other ways to support the talented artisans we work with. This was the root of our Textile Travels this past August, inspired by idea-exchange through textile workshops, to benefit both international participants and local artisans alike. This way, I thought, the artisans could get new ideas, maybe some feedback on existing products, and continue to improve on their own. Sometimes that’s all it takes, a spark of a new idea, encouragement from other textile lovers.

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Now, we’re trying out another way to increase impact.  I’m so excited to share a different brand with you: Kaleido Collection actually works with the same talented weavers specializing in natural dyes and ikat patterns at Lake Atitlán. The founder is Emmy, a good friend from our time in Antigua, Guatemala. She’s been able to create gorgeous cushion covers together with the partner weavers and a talented seamstress she’s known for years. I can tell you from experience that one of the hardest parts about production in Guatemala is the actual sewing, especially when zippers are involved. But Elvia is truly a pro! These cushion covers are so beautiful, and I’m so impressed by Emmy’s sincere way of writing and story-telling. It took me a lot longer to understand how important the sharing of stories really is.

Read the blog post by Emmy about her thoughts behind Kaleido Collection >

 

We invite you to take a look at the limited-time listing. Our goal is to increase impact for these talented rural artisans we work with, and it’s always a good thing for the artisans to diversify and work with other brands and try out different designs.

XOXO,

Mari

 

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Kaleido Collection: Beautiful forms in a beautiful country

<I’m super psyched to announce something brand new for us. I shared a little bit about the difficulties being away from artisans, and the idea for Kakaw Designs has always been to support talented artisans in Guatemala. With that in mind, we’re excited to be adding gorgeous handwoven cushion covers by Kaleido Collection onto our website this Fall. Emmy shares her honest story about the how and why behind her new brand, take a look! -Mari>

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Emmy practicing her backstrap weaving skills during Textile Travels – she joined us for a workshop 🙂

I first came to know and live in the beautiful country of Guatemala through working at an NGO focused on coffee communities. Working in a small town primarily made up of small-scale agriculture, I worked alongside coffee producers and got to know the skilled work and art of coffee. Along the way, I met several artisans, some who have generations of craft experience and others who are newfound makers. What started as purchases and custom-made requests for myself turned into a desire to share these beautiful forms with others while supporting talented artisans.

Let’s start at the beginning. It’s hard not to notice the colorful and intricate textiles found throughout Guatemala. Sadly, many people, both visitors and chapines, don’t know the hours of meticulous work and faces behind these woven pieces. I was one of those people that admired woven and embroidered textiles but didn’t truly understand all that went into producing a piece. Not to mention that there are a multitude of different processes and techniques. That’s part of what makes Guatemalan textiles so amazing.

Picking up the textiles with Francisca

Picking up textiles with Francisca

<I interrupt to give a virtual high-five for anyone who can spot a custom Kakaw textile in this shot 😉 -Mari>

My first visit with the Corazon del Lago weaving cooperative was a trip to San Juan la Laguna at Lake Atitlan with my sister. Like many visitors, we came for an afternoon to check out the little shops that line the main road up from the dock. Little did I know at the time that my first scarf purchase from one of those little shops would grow into something more. A year later, I found out that it’s the same cooperative that Kakaw Designs works with. Through Mari I was introduced to Francisca, the co-op president, and I set up a natural dyes demonstration to get a glimpse of the process behind botanical-based dyes. My inner environmentalist was intrigued by the amazing, vibrant colors that plants can produce.

In talking with Francisca, it’s clear that the co-op has benefited many women in the community but like many businesses in Guatemala, it’s not easy to grow in an economy that is often reliant on the ebbs and flows of tourism. Through my work with community tourism in coffee communities, economic markets tied to tourism and agriculture harvest seasons are stories that aren’t uncommon to hear. Diversification is essential.

Over time I began to learn more and more about the world of Guatemalan textiles and the skilled people that make it happen. It also meant that I was acquiring more woven pieces ranging from huipiles from one of the textile shops in Antigua and learning where they are from to requesting custom sewing orders from Elvia, an expert seamstress who I’ve worked with through the coffee organization. One of my favorite personal pieces I have worked with Elvia on has been pillow covers, of which there have been several iterations with the most recent being the collaboration with the weaving cooperative!

In Elvia's home studio - Lavender Love is her favorite

In Elvia’s home sewing studio – Lavender Love is her favorite

Throughout all this, I had never really thought about starting a business. After getting to know several brands that collaborate with artisans like Kakaw Designs, I realized that it wasn’t such a far-fetched idea. So begun the idea of not just buying pieces for myself, but to contribute to other market avenues for artisans, albeit small. I still have a lot to learn, but I figured that the worst failure would be never trying.

The word Kaleido means beautiful form in Greek. I found it fitting, as there are so many beautiful things in Guatemala – the breathtaking landscapes, detailed craftsmanship and especially the gracious and hospitable people.

Artisan relationships are the heart of Kaleido Collection. Valuing artisans’ work and time is unfortunately not the norm for many of the things we consume and buy. Kaleido Collection hopes to be a small part of that change along with many other like-minded organizations and brands that seek to make just and dignified work the only acceptable practice.

I hope you enjoy these pillows as much as I have enjoyed the journey in producing them!

 

<see more of the beautiful cushion covers online>

 

Textiles

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. 

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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

SCARFSEASON celebrate with 20% off!

It’s getting chilly these days… are you feeling the beautiful autumn breeze, too?

This is one of my favorite seasons, one that I’ve missed in Guatemala since it’s always spring there (really, that’s not a complaint – I love spring, too!).  This year, I’m in Austria working on my master’s in Sustainable Development, and I’m so glad I brought along a few scarves.  I’m a little worried for winter, I’m sure it will be the coldest in my life yet.  I will definitely be carrying around my handwoven + naturally-dyed scarves with me, all the time 🙂

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Are you feeling chilly, too? Take 20% off all scarves with code SCARFSEASON until Sunday, October 22nd.  Order two and we’ll include a handmade Luggage Tag as a gift 😉

Some of my favorites this season:

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Rebozo del Lago, a wide and cozy shawl dyed with plants.  Handwoven + intricate ikat designs. (Retail $200)

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Naturally-dyed footloom scarves in Indigo and Plum. (Retail $75)

<<See more of our ethical scarves>>

 

I hope you’re enjoying the beautiful change of seasons, the trees changing colors, losing leaves, the fresh breeze but still some warm sunshine peeking through, too.

XOXO,

Mari

New! The Duffel is back in a new color for fall 🍂

The first batch of our Duffel was in Indigo, and the bags went so quickly – now it’s back in these fall hues we’re calling Chocolate.  It’s time we have some colors named after our cacao roots, don’t you think?

Chocolate Duffel alone 1 square web

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We’re so excited to share these fall colors with you 🍂 🍂 🍂  We love our plant-dyed and handwoven Duffel!  See what others are saying by reading customer reviews online.

<<Shop now>>

Photo credit: Leander Khil

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We’re featured as a top ethical scarf producer ❤️

Big thanks to The Good Trade  for featuring us on their list “15 Handmade & Fair Trade Scarves to Add to Your Wishlist”!

We’re honored to be featured by such a respected go-to resource for all things dedicated to social good.  We especially love their focus on social entrepreneurship.

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Here’s what they said about us:

KAKAW DESIGNS

Based In | Guatemala
Ethics | Fair Trade, Women’s Empowerment
Best For | Natural Dyes, Vibrant Colors
Price Range |$35 (Scarf) – $90 (Wrap)

Mari started Kakaw Designs in 2013 after returning to her homeland of Guatemala. After meeting artisans who were let down by local NGOs, Mari then decided that Kakaw Designs would create beautiful products ethically, while also being gentle to the environment and empowering women artisans. Their line of leather products has now expanded to scarves and wraps as well, 100% handmade with gorgeous natural dyes.

Choose your favorite scarf from our wide selection of handwoven and hand-embroidered scarves.  And hey, our Hummingbird Wraps in Palo de la Vida are on sale right now for only $70 🙌

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New! Zero Waste Coasters and Tea Towels

Kakaw Designs is definitely a step by step process… and while expanding with new designs and increased production has been amazing, it’s also been a challenge to keep up with the textile and leather scraps from the production.  Ideally, we would have NO waste… but the truth is, there are always pieces leftover.  As part of our commitment to reduce waste and employ local artisans (in this case, both dyers of cotton using natural dyes and embroiders) we’re proud to present our Coasters and Tea Towels!

Find them for sale at cardamomcollective.com!

Mix and match Coasters set of 4 for $26, Tea Towels $20/each.

Coasters by Kakaw Designs

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Perfect coasters for tea/coffee time ❤️ Or… even wine time?

Tea towels

Tea towels to spruce up your kitchen!

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Choose your favorite naturally-dyed color.

These items look great in the Cardamom Collective shop.  Make sure to take a look!

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