Textiles + Jade

A gorgeous tradition-filled combination here in Guatemala, both crafts supporting heritage and artistry.

Scroll down to enjoy some images taken in the beautiful space that is Xibalba, together with original jewelry design by Laura Spillari. We think they go so nicely together.

 

 

Featured:

Three-panel picbil in beige

Two-panel picbil blouse in white, similar to Blusa 20

Handspun organic cotton throw in natural white

All stunning jewelry by Xibalba

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

What good friends are for…

After a lovely brunch the other day with this beauty Jessie, she let me take a few quick snaps featuring some of our handwoven scarves, naturally-dyed always.  Jess and I have known each other since we were in middle school… oh, how we have changed since those awkward teen years. 😆 She was always a beautiful ballerina, but has really blossomed into this confident woman, and a professional model, too.

Take a look at some of the shots, just taken on my iPhone.

 

Palo de la vida giraffee webQuetzal Wrap palo jess webQuetzal Wrap curcuma jess webQuetzal Wrap palo jess web 2**Doesn’t she make our scarves look gorgeous? You know you want to —-> Shop Scarves**

Thanks, Jess!  You’re the best!

 

Mari

I’m going back to school

I have some exciting news to share:  I’ve decided to get my master’s in Sustainable Development.

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I’m excited and nervous for this next step.  Berry’s mostly just excited for the snow.

These are the two reactions I’ve been getting about the news:

  1. “That’s wonderful!”
  2. “What’s that?”

To all the encouraging people in my life, thank you.  I’ve been nervous about taking this step, but it will give me more tools to be able to work with artisan communities effectively.  After all, Kakaw Designs has always been a development-inspired social business.

And to those of you who have no idea what this Sustainable Development thing is, let me tell you.  It’s the study of development for countries, and how to merge economic, environmental, and social aspects.  How to find a common happy ground, for all three aspects of growth.  Needless to say, I’m interested in focusing on developing countries, as well as artisan communities, indigenous areas, and foreign aid / non-profit models (or rather, how to make these models more efficient).

I’m excited to get back into the academic world and delve into some of these questions that have been circling in my head.

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Sustainable Development for small villages

What does that mean for Kakaw Designs?

Don’t worry, I’m in the process of training people to take over production and logistics in Guatemala.  Some of the artisans will take on additional responsibilities, others will be continued by me online, and I have a great person lined up as the Production Manager.  <<More on that soon!>>  And we’ll continue fulfilling online orders from the US as we have been doing.  We’ll also continue to take custom-orders, which have been really fun.  So really, there’s nothing to worry about.

I’ll be gone for two years, mostly in Europe.  But I will be back in Guatemala for visits, and am working on a smooth transition to keep the business going as usual.  I really contemplated what the best thing to do was – to take a pause and refresh in two years, or try to keep the business steady during my absence.  And in the end, it just seemed like a waste to lose the momentum we’ve gained, and the idea is always to keep production going so that the artisans have work – that’s our mission, after all: supporting talented artisans and their traditions in Guatemala.

Exciting times are ahead!  Thank you for all your support.

XOXO,

Mari


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New: The Duffle Bag!

I’ve been wanting to make a larger bag for a while, mainly because I didn’t have a good one to take on short adventures.  That’s how many of our products have been developed, did you know?  I got a scooter and needed a good backpack, so tada! The Quetzal Backpack.  I bought a new laptop and needed a good sleeve, so tada! The Laptop Sleeve.  And now, our newest baby: the Duffel Bag.

The Duffel Hanging web

The Duffel Bag is made with naturally-dyed and handwoven sturdy footloom textile with two shades of indigo in stripes.  The genuine leather adds even more durability, so you can really take it with you on all your adventures.  It comes with two outer and two inner pockets.  Made from start to finish by hand in Guatemala.

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Some of my travel essentials this summer including our Duffel Bag, Laptop Sleeve, and Quetzal Shoes.

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We’re ready to start making our first batch!  We also have a sale event coming up for newsletter subscribers only… Let me know if you want in at mari@kakawdesigns.com, and I’ll add you to the list 😉

 

XOXO,

Mari

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My Duffel Bag ❤️ Traveling the world together.

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 ⭐️

We’re on Sustainably Chic!

We can’t get over this gorgeous OOTD post by Sustainably Chic, one of the top sustainable and ethical fashion blogs out there.  What an honor to be included in the mix!

 

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Our Macaw Tote is looking so beautiful in this Summer Casual Outfit ❤

 

Make sure to check out the entire original post... there’s a special discount code in there 🙂

 

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Natalie Kay from Sustainably Chic looking beautiful in the sun 🌻

 

Loving the clutch?  Check it out at kakawdesigns.com! Just $75.Macaw Clutch

Great Fundraiser for Animal-Assisted Therapy!

Last month, we had a wonderful fundraiser pop-up for Bocalán Guatemala and Fundación Way-bi here in Antigua.  We had our products for sale with 20-40% of the proceeds going to the two organizations for their animal-assisted therapy programs.  Suburbia Lounge also donated 10% of all food and drink sales, so together we were able to raise a good chunk of money 🙂

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THANK YOU to everyone who stopped by!  Just with Kakaw sales we were able to raise over 1000Q.

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Quentin and Berry, best friends 🐶

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Great mimosas, the best brunch in town!

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It’s fun to be able to sell one-of-a-kind products not found on kakawdesigns.com 🙂

MUCHAS GRACIAS!  It’s always amazing to see all the supporters of Kakaw come out in person.  We really appreciate it!

 

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.

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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.

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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.

Find us at Lilify and Owl N Wood!

After my lovely trip to California, some of the store contacts I made already have our goodies on their shelves.

Here are two of our favorites:

Owl N Wood in Oakland, California:

Among the beauties there includes the Quetzal Tote.  They also have several Corte Wraps, Hummingbird Clutches, and more.

Owl N Wood tote

 

Lilify in Monterey, California:

They’ve already sold out of the Quetzal Totes, but the rest of their order is on the way.  It was great to make this special collection for the lovely store.  Can you tell they love the indigo/navy blue?  So do we.

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Check out all the places where you can currently find our products in-person on our website.