Mujeres de Maíz

In this post, we’re excited to introduce you to local collective Mujeres de Maíz from Santiago Atitlán! This small group of makers is creating some unique and gorgeous designs, some of which are going live this Sunday on our Artisan Direct page to help provide a digital platform for them, since they do not have an online sales channel at the moment. We’ve got dresses, jackets, earrings, sandals, and more to share with the digital world soon, thanks to the hard work from this collective!

Read below a short Q&A with Mari Liberali, designer behind the collective. (And hey, nice name right? 😉 )
XOXO,
Mari

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1. What does “Mujeres de Maíz” mean and what was the inspiration for that name?

The Name “Mujeres de Maíz” is based on the sacred book of the ancient Maya called Popol Vuh, which tells us that the Mayan people were created by the gods with maize. Maize (corn) is the sacred food for many populations in Central America, including Guatemala. And there are a lot of Mujeres de Maíz in Guatemala, there are many strong women here, who can teach us so many things! But, in our project, we choose to share the special work of a small group of women. 

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2. Could you tell us a little bit about your personal background and how you came to be involved with this group?

I am Mari Liberali, artist and fashion designer from Italy, and in 2017 I left the conventional fashion job to work with indigenous people and their handicrafts. I was looking for a job with purpose, I was very tired of the injustice that fashion normally promotes. So I arrived at Cojolya Association, in Guatemala, to work with the backstrap loom, in Santiago Atitlán. It was there that I learned everything about this new world, from collaboration, NGOs, and handmade textiles. I spent a year and a half as a textile and accessories designer and decided to continue my work outside the Association with different artisans, and we ended up founding the collective Mujeres de Maíz in 2018, based on original embroidery from Santiago.

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3. Who are the members of Mujeres de Maíz, where do they live, and what kind of handmade traditions do they practice? How is the group organized?

We are a group of 5 women. I am the designer and co- founder of the project along with Loida Sisay, and soon after we incorporated other artisans.
Loida is a co-founder, embroiderer, and master of embroidery. She teaches visitors traditional embroidery techniques. Chonita is an embroiderer and she coordinates and communicates with the other members. Isabel is also embroiderer and is still developing her products, with a new mixed embroidery technique that we are developing. And Maria has a community shop in original fabrics, we buy textiles from Maria and we also represent Maria by selling her unique products. The artisans all live in the community of Santiago Atitlán, on Lake Atitlán. Santiago is well known for the embroidery of birds and flowers, always represented in traditional huipiles. Our goal is to help preserve and encourage women to create their own designs and develop new forms of creation with original embroidery. Each of the women has her own style of embroidery and has started to develop unique designs for the project.

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4. How has COVID-19 affected Mujeres de Maíz, and what do you think are the next steps for the group?

Our project has practically stopped because our focus is on local sales and we depend directly on tourism. Fortunately, larger groups like Cojolya are supporting us and selling our products online. And now, we found new support in Kakaw Designs, so thank you! In the future, when we are be a little stronger and bigger, we hope to be able to send abroad through our own website and we hope that our network of artisans will also grow. There are many talented women, very good at embroidery art who have come to offer their skills, but we still cannot absorb them all. Soon, after all this over, we hope that more and more people could be interested in our market, valuing the handmade process and also the people who do this work. I think this is the future, and it is already coming. 

 

 

To learn more about this collective, please follow their journey on Instagram.

And stay tuned – this Sunday, June 29th, 2020, the products from this collective will be live on our site on our Artisan Direct page.

The evolution of Juan Carlos’ masks

When COVID-19 reached us in Guatemala and the artisan’s market where Juan Carlos has a stall suddenly closed, he started making cloth masks with materials he already had at hand. Clean used cotton corte on the outside, and a new cotton fabric on the inside. Pretty simple construction, and he started with just one size.

//Side note: From the beginning, I knew I didn’t want to be profiting off of an international health crisis. So as Kakaw Designs, we are not making money on these mask sales – the $35 per 10 masks covers our costs.//

Even from the first batch, the masks were beautiful and practical, but we realized that people had different face (head?) sizes. So we then went to making two different mask sizes – Small and Large. And we learned that people were most interested in cheerful colors, so we decided to go with more vibrant cortes, and started using a variety of colorful inner lining fabric, too. So many little improvements along the way.

And then Juan Carlos figured out how to put a little wire in there for a more comfortable fit around the nose. I’ll share a little trade secret with you – it’s just crafty pipe cleaner! It does the trick.

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And then after that, we received some requests for a filter insert, and we figured out how to do that, too. I scheduled a meeting with a local now filter-expert, and we got the scoop on what material to buy, and where in town.

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That leads us to where we are now: offering two-layer cloth masks in Small and Large with a nose wire and insert opening for optional filters. We’re selling filters online too, as an optional add-on, because not everyone likes to wear them, and we just think that’s a personal choice. The masks come in bundles of 10 units – five Small and five Large each, but if you’d like something different, just let us know in the comments at check-out 🙂

<buy a bundle here>

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Production for these masks has gained so much momentum that Juan Carlos is now working with three more families to make them. This is all thanks to all the support online — we truly appreciate it! During this challenging time with limited income sources, being able to work from home making these masks means a lot to us.

Why Ceramics?

Maybe you’ve noticed. We started working with a new cooperative, new medium, not too long ago: hand-turned and hand-painted stoneware ceramics.

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Our Ikat Donburi Bowl and Ikat Tumbler on display at Xilabla Joyas

At first it was for completely selfish reasons. To be honest, this is how most of the product designs come about. For entirely selfish reasons – because I got a new computer, and want a laptop sleeve. Or I got a scooter, and want a new backpack (it’s too hard with a shoulder bag). Or it’s getting chilly, and I want a thick and cozy shawl. The list goes on and on.

For our ceramics, I felt this desire for a new product when I was working on my master’s in Europe. I was getting pretty used to the coffee (espresso) culture in Austria, but I still missed having cozy and large vessels for tea. That’s how I grew up in Japan, after all – tea all day. (Side note: I remember the first day of class in Austria, where education was surprisingly traditional, the professor said that there would be one break, or sometimes no break at all, for a 3-hour meeting. But then he added something like, “Unless you need a coffee – in that case, feel free to leave and take a coffee break whenever you need.” They sure love their coffee.)

And at the time, I was sad to not be able to work in-person with our artisan partners while away. I felt like I wasn’t being as creative as I usually was. And I just wasn’t feeling all that cozy, living in a sterile apartment with all white walls, everything electric, no garden, and for me, no character.

So even though I was thousands of miles away from Guatemala, and months away from spending summer here, I did the most reasonable thing in order for me to obtain some ceramic pieces I wanted in Europe. I designed them to be made in Guatemala. 🤷🏻‍♀️

It took several tries to get each design right. We now have four different ceramic items we are making in partnership with a cooperative at Lake Atitlán. They have been received well in the Antigua community, and have been selling well at the stores here. It has been a very interesting process to work with the new medium.

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Prototype Cappuccino Sets in the making at Lake Atitlán

One thing I love about working with ceramics is the ability to incorporate textile designs in a non-textile way. Something about this departure is freeing. With woven designs, I find myself worrying about using traditional Maya patterns, or even the opposite – introducing designs that are somehow inspired by all the different traditions from around the world that I have been exposed to. My conclusion is that above all, I believe it’s important for our artisan partners to make a living. Traditions will only continue now if they can be a source of income for rural families. But still, there are other ethical concerns whirling in the back of my head. And with ceramics, we’re actually working entirely with non-indigenous techniques to begin with, and so I see no conflict with trying something new. New shapes. New sizes. New patterns. New colors.

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Our Cappuccino Set features simple and calming running stitches in an indigo shade

With that said, I do try to stay away from designs that are strictly Maya. I don’t want to copy village patterns. So you won’t see any of the beautiful brocade patterns found here on the stoneware. What I wanted to show was more of a global common thread of textile traditions. Thus, the simple ikat patterns in indigo, and the simple running stitches, also in indigo. We tried other colors, but settled on my favorite, the calming navy blue. What’s more fitting than the magical indigo hue, the strongest of the natural dyes, found all over the world in textile traditions?

Anyway, thank you for reading. If you’d like, here are the links to take a look at our ceramic bundles online:

Ceramic Bundle with Tumblers

Ceramic Bundle with Cappuccino Sets

XOXO,

Mari

 

Just Leather Shoes

Ever since we started Kakaw Designs with custom-made boots, we’ve gotten requests from people wanting simple designs with just leather, no textile. I’ve been resisting against this for some time, just because I’ve always wanted our focus to be textile over leather.

But… you know what? I was wrong. I love these Quetzal Shoes in Just Leather, and it’s always a pleasure to support Don Julio’s cobbler business. And through these sales, we can also invest more in textile prototypes and pursue new designs. So really, it’s win-win.

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I’m sorry I was narrow-minded and it took me so long to incorporate Just Leather shoes. But now, they’re here. I hope you like them too, I’m loving mine.

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Available online for $185. Choose “Just Leather” option under “Textiles”.

 

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Thank you, Don Julio!

 

mindful morning bundle

December can be a pretty crazy month, full of activities, and maybe added stress. It’s a lovely season, but we understand the hectic nature of modern-day holiday celebrations.

We can relate. We’re makers and sellers, but also teachers, students, wives, friends, sisters… There’s a lot happening in our lives, too.

And by we, I mean: Kelly from Cardamom Collective, Ehren from Hecho, and me (Mari) from Kakaw Designs. This is why we wanted to share with you some of our favorite things, the items that remind us to relax, to take a deep breath, to brew and enjoy a cup of tea. If you think this might be beneficial for you, or if you’d like to gift it to someone you know, just email me at mari@kakawdesigns. We’d be happy to send you a bundle or two.

Mindful Morning One includes:

1 Mini mortar and pestle from Hecho (choose from pink marble and white onyx)

1 Indigo ikat pouch from Cardamom Collective

2 Hand-embroidered coasters from Kakaw Designs

Some kakaw (aka cacao) and cardamom to add to your favorite morning drink

$65 plus shipping, ready in the US.

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Mindful Morning two includes:

1 Mini mortar and pestle from Hecho (choose from pink marble and white onyx)

1 Indigo ikat pouch from Cardamom Collective

2 Hand-embroidered tea towels from Kakaw Designs

Some kakaw (aka cacao) and cardamom to add to your favorite morning drink

$85 plus shipping, ready in the US.

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El Chucho Feliz – what is that?

We’ve come together with El Chucho Feliz this season to bring you a holiday bundle for your furry friend and human. Learn more about the bundle here. Below is a lovely post by Lea, who is working on the beautiful collars for El Chucho Feliz in Guatemala. I can vouch for how much Mayo is loved by all the dogs in Guatemala – she’s one of Berry’s favorite humans for sure. -Mari

Who doesn’t love dogs? We’re proud to say we are 100% dog people!  Here in Guatemala, just like in North America, there are slang words for our doggie friends. Here’s your Spanish lesson of the day –

CHUCHO – (pronounced chew-cho) Guatemalan slang for dog.

You’ll find that hardly anyone calls dogs perros (proper Spanish) – here in Guatemala. If you aren’t familiar with the term ‘chucho, you are not alone. But it makes sense when you understand that it’s the same as the way people in North America say ‘Pup’ for example. So, El Chucho Feliz = The Happy Dog! How cute is that?

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El Chucho Feliz was founded by our designer Marjolaine Perrault. Marjolaine (aka: Mayo) is a certified veterinary technician from Montreal. She is also a dog trainer, and spent years working with veterinarians without borders in Guatemala where she fell in love with the country. The exotic atmosphere, fresh fruits and flowers, incredible erupting volcanoes and lush green jungles finally led to her moving to Guatemala in 2011. Seriously – whats not to love about this country? If you have been to Guatemala – you know what we are talking about!

Soon after moving here she started El Chucho Feliz, offering dog training services that quickly expanded to doggie play dates and then boarding. Over the years she has successfully become a second Mom to hundreds of happy dogs!

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Canela, the lucky “chucho” who is now happy with Lea 💗

 

Mayo also has a slight obsession with Guatemalan textiles and decided to try combining her love for them with her love for dogs. She began working with artisans to create leather dog collars using beautiful up-cycled Guatemalan textiles.  She is constantly on the hunt in the local markets, searching for gently used, quality textiles from local women. She collaborates with these local artisans to bring these hand made products to our customers and their happy pups! Focusing on high standards in order to create unique hand made items, built to last.

Since Mayo is seriously busy with business constantly growing,  that’s where I come in! My name is Lea and I was raised in Los Angeles by Guatemalan & American parents. I studied Visual Communications and Design at FIDM in LA. I moved to Guatemala 4 years ago and Mayo and I met because she is second dog mom to our beautiful street ‘chucho’ – Canela- and the rest is history! I am here to make sure things run smoothly! We never created a job title – but that is typical here. And it works for us!

 
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“Gimme my treat, human!” psssst that collar looks nice on Canela!

Find us:

Etsy – TheMayanDog 

Instagam – @chuchofeliz 

Facebook – El Chucho Feliz

Email – themayandog@gmail.com

Not to be confusing- but in a few places we are called The Mayan Dog- easier at first glance than explaining what a ‘chucho’ is! We are delighted to be working with Kakaw on this collaboration. We hope you’ll love the work we created together as much as we loved doing it for you! 

25% Holiday Code is live

Just a note that our 25% off sale is going on! Use code HOLIDAYS2018 for 25% off all orders over $50 until December 31st.

We took a different approach this year. Usually we try to avoid selling out of products, but this year that’s already proven difficult. Some of our newest items are now sold out, but still plenty of other items are in stock for shipping both from US and Guatemala, so don’t worry.

Shop at kakawdesigns.com

 

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Announcing: Spring Capsule Collaboration

While we were able to restructure ourselves and have for the most part figured out how to keep the business going while I work on my master’s in Sustainable Development in Europe, there are certain aspects that have been difficult to keep up from so far away.  Product design is one of these things.

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Mari with partner weavers at Lake Atitlán

So when Elena wrote to me when she happened to be traveling through Austria last year, I was missing Guatemala so much – the colors, the weather, the people – and I was delighted by the surprise connection made through Instagram, and the opportunity to feel connected to Guatemala again, even for just an afternoon.

We got to talking, and it was clear that Elena and I had some common passions and concerns about the textile tradition and weavers in Guatemala.  We talked about the role of private brands and designers; the pros and cons associated with western influence.  At this point, she was just exploring the idea of being an Artisan Liaison, someone who would connect textile artisans in the Ixil region to different buyers, including designers.  I told her I thought that was a great idea, especially since I had been away from Guatemala for the first time since starting the business, and was feeling first-hand the importance of being on the ground, next to artisans, in order to develop new products.

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Elena in traditional handwoven outfit from Nebaj, Ixil region in Guatemala

Well, we are excited to be teaming up for a small spring capsule jewelry collection featuring handwoven textiles from San Juan Cotzal, in the Ixil region of Guatemala.  This is a very rural area, and while I had admired their brocade designs for years, had not seriously considered working with the group due the geographic distance.  It’s hard to communicate new designs, and to make sure the designs come out the way they should. In the almost 5 years of Kakaw Designs, we have never developed a perfect product on the first try.  Trial and error are just part of the process, tweaking the details to make things better.  There is also plenty of room for misunderstandings when working with real people, and things just take a bit longer in the handmade world.  That’s why I wasn’t willing to take on that risk with a group so far away… until now, and that’s because we’re really counting on Elena.  Without an Artisan Liaison, we would not be able to work with such a remote group.

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Santos works on a prototype.  Photo by Elena Laswick

We’re so excited to be sharing more with you, SOON.

The capsule jewelry collection will be released along with spring/summer blouses, cardigans, and bags.  All in happy tones – because this has been such a cold winter in Europe, I just need more color in my life!

<Want to learn about other collaborations? Find some here.>

<Interested in the complex reality of ethical dilemmas working with artisans? Find it published on Eco Warrior Princess.>

XOXO,

Mari

We love custom collaborations 💗

Did you know?  We LOOOOVE to work on custom orders!

We’ve made custom scarves, pouches, pendants, napkins, belts, and more as custom orders.  It’s a fun process to be involved in making beautiful designs become reality. And it’s also great fun to see different customer preferences; we’ve learned a lot from each experience.  We all have our favorite colors and styles, so this is a great way for our partner artisans to branch out and try new things.  We can help through the process.

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Our custom orders start from 6 / 12 units, depending on the item.  Let us know if you have something in mind – we’d love to work with you.  💗

Email me at mari@kakawdesigns.com with your ideas!

 

XOXO,

Mari

Textile Sisterhood Giveaway is LIVE!

Textile Sisterhood Giveaway

I love the color pink because it is so joyful and simply put, it brightens up my day.  I loving having bright pink accents around my house and as part of my outfits… because just seeing this color makes me happy.  In this chilly weather especially, it’s a warmth that I appreciate greatly.

What do YOU like about pink?

We’ve teamed up with 8 other ethical women makers and founders to bring you a pink bundle of joy giveaway, and we want to know what YOU think about this color. Tell us on IG and enter  to win 9 separate prizes – that’s a lot of beauty 🌸🌸🌸

Join in on the fun via Instagram @kakawdesigns!

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For this giveaway, we’ve partnered with (left to right):

Cardamom Collective 

Hecho

Kakaw Designs (that’s us!)

PresentlyIn

Toj

Kari by Kriti

Global Elective

Liya Mira

Cielo Collective

 

Good luck!!

 

XOXO,

Mari