Featured on The Maker Journal!

Take a look at this beautiful website full of narratives about artisan traditions and slow fashion practices around the world.  I love this online community feel of people who believe in the value of handmade beauties.

Our upcoming Textile Travels was featured!  Take a look at the whole piece here.

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I’ve found myself in a little pickle as the founder of Kakaw Designs, a small artisanmade brand based in Guatemala, and now also a master’s student in Sustainable Development in Europe.  It seems to me that conscious consumers are more and more focused on the environmental side of fashion, pushing for locally-made products and a general reduction in consumption.  While I am a big supporter of these movements and personally believe that More is not always Better, these trends lead me to wonder about the social and economic side effects for the small-scale producers that I’ve worked with for years now in Guatemala.

We are so excited for all the possibilities to come this summer.  Time to explore new creative ideas, together with our artisan partners.  Want to know more?  As always, just email me at: mari@kakawdesigns.com.

XOXO,

Mari

Why We’re Crowdfunding to Grow our Handmade Business

Note: This post was originally published on Eco Warrior Princess.

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By Mari Gray

Many people have asked me how I first got started with my artisan-made business Kakaw Designs. The short answer is this: through a small Kickstarter project for $2000. That was my way of figuring out if people liked the idea of custom-made boots using traditional Guatemalan textiles. The answer was yes, and we’ve grown so much in the three years since inception.

Now, we’re doing another Kickstarter project (until November 20, 2016) and I want to explain why.  Because clearly, ours is an existing business, not a recently launched one.

And it’s been going really well. So why another crowdfunding campaign? There are three main reasons…

We want to shift our business to work more with women artisans.

We started the business using beautiful repurposed textiles here in Guatemala. But the goal has always been to focus on our work with weavers and embroiderers. Because by working together for new textile designs, we are more directly contributing to supporting these dying traditions.

The downside is that this is more costly both in time and money. There is always trial and error involved, and the cost of making even samples is much higher because we need to prepare an entire loom of the commissioned textile. This all makes sense, it’s fair and that is how it should be, but it is an additional challenge that comes with ethical practices.

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We want to balance both direct sales and wholesale.

This has been a challenge. In order to get into different retailers, we’ve had to increase our final price on some products, and develop new products specifically with wholesale in mind.

Related Post: 4 Most Common Dilemmas of an Artisan Made Brand

So in case this is all new to you, this is how it works: Kakaw Designs sells 10 bags to Boutique A, and this is called “wholesale.” Boutique A then sells those 10 bags at a mark-up (they’re a business too, of course) and so the price generally doubles from wholesale to final retail. But in order to keep our final prices aligned both in stores and online, some adjustments had to be made, which means that we’re probably losing some direct sales beacause of the price increase.

This is a tricky balance that we’re still trying to figure out. How much should we dedicate to wholesale, and how much to direct online sales? We don’t have a clear answer yet, but we do realize that we need to have both things going for us – both wholesale and direct sales.

We want to have our products ready-to-go, which means stocking plenty.

All our bags and accessories are ready for quick shipping both in Guatemala and in the US. We have a shipping person in the US so that our delivery time is reduced. She also ships international orders because it’s just not feasible to ship directly from Guatemala to the UK, for example. We also keep stock here in Guatemala to sell within the country at different retailers, and people come to me directly as well. Word of mouth is a powerful thing!

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This is all great, don’t get me wrong. The business is expanding; we are growing. But again, the extra stocking investment is something we can feel as a small business.

Related Post: What Launching an Ethical Fashion Brand Really Looks Like

That’s why Kickstarter.

We’re using this platform to take pre-orders on our newest products focusing on increasing the impact with the women – for weaving and embroidery. The groups of orders are not even that big (ex. 10 Picnic Blankets), but it just means that we can go into production mode without having to invest in stock first, and wait around for a potential sale. By taking pre-orders, those products already have new homes, and that way we can also reduce our prices per product. We’re also not undercutting any wholesale opportunities because this is a one-time only project, limited-time. The prices will increase once the products make their way to our website. We’ve already developed the new products, and now we’re ready to gear up for production.

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I feel like sometimes there’s so much emphasis placed on the growth of a business, it can seem like a linear, positive progression. I think growth is good, but it does come with its own challenges. Kakaw Designs is at a critical point right now, one that I’m sure many small businesses have experienced as well.

It’s a great, exciting step for us in increasing our social impact and staying true to our mission of working with female artisans here in Guatemala. It’s the perfect opportunity to check our work and make sure that we are on the right path. And joining forces and grouping orders allows us to take that next step with ease.

Want to support the Kakaw Designs on Kickstarter? Check out the Kickstarter campaign here.

We’re featured twice this week!

Check it out, we’re so excited that our products have been featured two times in just one week by ethical blogs, both in the UK.  Kakaw is going global!  Take a look at what they’re saying:

#1: Quetzal Wrap on Curiously Conscious:
Large enough to cover my shoulders and head should I want it, and thin enough to wrap traditionally as a scarf, I’ve been throwing this on with my long-sleeve tops to wear in and out of the house. It was especially great when combatting a sore throat I had this month, keeping my neck warm and comfy all day long!

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Big thanks to Besma from Curiously Conscious for taking the time to take these awesome photos and write about our Quetzal Wrap.  The scarf is available in two naturally-dyed colors.  Make sure to see the rest of the product review!

#2:Quetzal Tote on Moral Fibres:

The bag is from Kakaw Designs, and is handmade by traditional Guatemalan artisans using locally sourced materials, both custom made and repurposed.  It’s roomy, practical and gorgeous (but not trend driven), and is pretty much the perfect size for carting round my work paraphernalia.  It’s sturdily made, and something that’s going to be part of my wardrobe for a long long time to come.

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Wendy from Moral Fibres is going back to work after maternity leave, and wanted to highlight her favorite picks for this Fall.  She looks great with our Quetzal Tote, and it sounds like she will get good use out of it so that’s great 🙂  Find out her top Autumn picks here.

It’s always exciting to see our products on other places and hear what people are saying – so grateful for all the support from the ethically-minded community out there 🙌 Helping each other make a difference by living mindfully, and that includes our choices in fashion.  We choose slowing down fashion and supporting ethical practices.

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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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Conversation with Mari on Shatter the Looking Glass

Did you see?  Mari was featured on a series put together by Shatter the Looking Glass!   Take a look at the conversation with questions organized by Kelly from Cardamom Collective.

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One thing I really love about Kakaw is how thoughtful and developed the products are, and how they take the work and situations of the artisans into consideration. What drew you to working in a way that was ethical and sustainable? 

This is such an interesting concept, because to me it’s the most natural thing in the world.  Of course the women prefer to weave and embroider from home – I would, too!  I thought briefly about setting up a workshop for the leathersmiths, to facilitate quality control and supervision… but then realized that it would be so much work to just get the workers to come into one place, and to set hours… artisans in Guatemala don’t work that way.  And as long as they get the work done, why should it matter?  I like to work from home, and just the same, the artisans we work with do, too.

Make sure to check out the full post ⭐️

Mari’s Podcast Interview and Magazine Feature

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Did you see?  Kakaw Designs is featured in August’s edition of the Once Upon a Tea Time Magazine!  Make sure to brew up a nice pot of tea before taking a look at this online publication, complete with a podcast interview with yours truly.

 

Please excuse my whiny voice.  It’s so surprising that my voice continues to shock me every time I hear it in recording…

 

Big thanks to Priya from OUATT for being patient with my rambling thoughts!

 

XOXO,

Mari

Quetzal Backpack feature by Day Job Optional

We’re pretty excited to share these amazing photos of Michelle Christina from Day Job Optional.  I’m clearly a fan of these shots in New York, but I’m also a fan of their website, created to be “a roadmap for creative babes recovering from the 9-5″… YES!  We all need that in our lives.

Make sure to check out MC’s post about our Quetzal Backpack!  We can’t wait to see where she will take the backpack next year… oh, the possibilities.

 

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Kakaw Designs ethically produced accessories with a team of local artisans, weavers, and talented women in Guatemala, where its founder was born. They emphasize traditional Latin American motifs and techniques, using locally sourced materials like leather and hand-woven, hand-dyed textiles. You can read more about their story here.

We snapped these shots of the Quetzal Backpack on the rooftops of Brooklyn to show you how beautiful it really is.”

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Day Job Optional also has a treat for you:  They’re giving away a Macaw Wallet!  Just follow these easy instructions to enter. Hurry, the random winner will be announced on Monday, December 28th.

 

Who will be the lucky winner??

 

Interview by Beyoutiful Hope!

We’re so honored to be featured on the lovely ethical fashion blog Beyoutiful Hope.

Christine first contacted me a while back via Instagram, and we’re so excited for all the beautiful photos of her with our Quetzal Backpack, her review of the product, and her interview of Mari (me)!

Here’s a little glimpse, but make sure to check out the whole post on Beyoutiful Hope.

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“Today, with my completely romantic with a hint of explorer outfit, I am sporting the Kakaw Designs Quetzal Backpack. Sturdily made with leather, thick naturally dyed textiles and two inch wide straps, this actually fits my school binder and books, making it the perfect school pack. There are also two large pockets on the inside to store pencils, your sell phone, and lady things. haha. As far as the outside finish, I absolutely love the texture and finish of the leather. In the interview below, you can learn more about the leather smith that Kakaw Designs partners with, right in Guatemala.”

Thank you, Christine!  And remember to check out the whole post.

We’re featured by Khazana!

We’re so honored to be featured as part of the #textiletuesday series by Khazana Imported Arts and Textiles!  They’re working on a global series on ikat, and asked me to contribute my experience with ikat in Guatemala.

Make sure to see the full post!

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Ikats of the world: third stop, Guatemala!!

Happy #textiletuesday!

This is our third stop in the series of skates around the world and I am really excited to share this post with you. I love researching for these and have enjoyed digging deep into the world of ikat ( though I feel like I have really just begun to scratch the surface) but, I thought this week we would do something a little different. I have followed Kakaw Designs and owner Mari Gray on Instagram for some time, inspire by the world she is doing and beautiful pieces she creates with the weavers and leather workers she collaborates with directly. I realized as ancient as ikat is, it is still evolving in each country differently, and adapting to modern life and consumers in its own unique way in each place. I reached out to Mari to see if she would be willing to give me her perspective on ikat today in Guatemala and she kindly obliged. All photos are hers, and what follows is a glimpse into living and working with ikat artisans in Guatemala. I have also added a post she did on cochineal which I found fascinating. Look for Kakaw designs soon at Khazana!

Thank you for all your hard work putting this together remarry and for inspiring us, we hope to see you in Guatemala soon!

” My Experience with Ikat in Guatemala

I grew up watching my mother weave her giant tapestries, and backpacking all over the world with my parents on vacations.  How they traveled so far with a little girl who always managed to get sick on any moving vehicle, I do not know.  But that’s how I grew up, between Japan, Guatemala, Thailand, even Laos one year, and that’s probably why as a “grown-up” I have lead a pretty nomadic life, until now, settling down in Guatemala.

I never thought I would do anything related to textiles, but here I am now, two years strong with Kakaw Designs, producing handmade boots, bags, and accessories, all with traditional textiles from Guatemala.

There’s so much I love about Guatemalan textiles, and ikat is clearly at the top.  Traditionally, ikat or “jaspe”  in Spanish can be found in cortes, or wrap skirts that the indigenous women wear.  But cortes are woven on a large foot loom by men, and since I choose to work with women using backstrap looms, my experience with jaspe is a little different.

In the village of San Juan la Laguna, natural dyes have made a come back, and combined with unique ikat designs, the result is absolutely stunning.  It has been wonderful to work with a cooperative of weavers from San Juan to produce the textiles we use for our Kakaw products.  I spent a few days going through the process with the weavers to shoot this video.  I’m sure it will explain so much more than my words alone ever could.

After those few days, and even before that, I could say that I understood the process.  I do, in theory.  But how these women have these designs memorized, and can create new designs as I ask for them, is absolutely beyond me. It’s a completely different type of intelligence that I clearly do not possess.  Spatial awareness to the max, combined with muscle memory, I think.

We’re now moving towards double-dyed ikat, and working on intricate designs that are not necessarily strictly traditionally Mayan. That’s another amazing thing about the woven world – so many diferent cultures all of the world use both backstrap and ikat, so sometimes the result can be pretty similar.  They’re techniques that go that far back, and it is fascinating.

The traditional weaving traditions are still alive and continued in Guatemala, and I can’t speak for all weavers, but at least the weavers I work with are very open to new designs and perspectives. They are clearly market-minded, this is a business for them, after all.  In the end, their work needs to be compensated.  It takes a great investment of time and energy to complete these textiles, and it simply would not make sense for them to continue the work if they could not make money from it.  I’m honored to be working with the cooperative, and we’ll keep working on new ikat designs together.”

Find the Khazana blog at https://khazanamsp.squarespace.com