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.

footloom

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

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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

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!

 

Susstainably Chic 4 Square

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

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.

Cochinilla

I first learned about the natural dye cochinilla when I visited Oaxaca, Mexico, many many years ago.  Since my mom is a textile artist and lover of all things woven and dyed, of course we visited many places working with natural dyes while traveling together.

Cochinilla insects on a cactus plant

Cochinilla insects on a cactus plant

Turns out, the beautiful reddish pink color comes from the cochinilla insect  (“cochineal” in English).  Now, you might think this is a bit gross; I think it is fascinating.  These beetles eat the red cactus fruits, and retain the color in their bodies.  The insects are harvested, dried, and crushed to create what is called the cochineal extract.

Here’s a short video focusing more on the use of these beetles for food coloring:

As for textiles, cochinilla is one of the strongest dyes found in nature, only second to indigo.  So it’s only natural that it can be found in many art forms all over the world:

Ground-up cochinilla and the resulting reds from the dye, woven. From the Andes.

Shibori-dyed with cochinilla.

Beautiful cochinilla hues.

 

Believe it or not, these vibrant colors are long-lasting, so you’re sure to enjoy the bright color in our Hummingbird Collection for years to come.

Hummingbird Collection in Cochinilla

Hummingbird Collection in Cochinilla

 

And hey, if you haven’t yet seen the video about the process of naturally-dying and backstrap weaving, check it out now!

 

 

XOXO,

 

Mari

Sweet Thursday: Sweet Apple

 Woohoo we’re back with our Sweet Thursday series!  This week meet this absolute sweetheart: Apple!  Or as we liked to call her when she was in Guatemala, Manzanita 🙂

You may recognize her big smile and stunning curls from our website – she was one of our models last year during her visit in Guatemala, and we LOVE the shots we got of her.  Take a look at our website to spot more of Apple!

Apple at the Lake

Beautiful Apple lounging at Lake Atitlán

1. What?  You’re named after a fruit?  What’s the story there?
Well, to make a long story short, my mother was expecting a son and therefore prepared herself with the perfect boy’s name, clothing, etc. When I was born, she realized she didn’t have a backup girl’s name. Luckily, that’s when my dad came into the delivery room with a large basket of apples – my mom’s favorite fruit. Voila, creativity at it’s best (at the last minute!)
2. You’re an international child.  How do you think your experiences with different cultures and countries have shaped you?
I am very grateful for my international background as it has helped me understand various foundations of knowledge, decode seemingly odd behaviors, and truly appreciate the variety of people around me. I am almost as equally grateful for the superhuman stomach that it has equipped me with.
Apple with Hummingbird Scarf

Apple with Hummingbird Scarf

 
3. What was it like to model for Kakaw Designs?  (We know you’re a professional model, you did great, of course!)
Modeling for Kakaw Designs was fun! Not so much because I thought I was unleashing some untapped talent, but because we had to shoot in one of the most gorgeous locations in Guatemala. It was a great experience with a good group of people and I would love to do it again, wherever in the world Kakaw Designs decides to go next. (*hint, hint*)
We love you, Apple!

We love you, Apple!

Apple, we love you, and yes, we’ll keep you in mind for more photos in the future! XOXO

Great visit to our partner cooperative!

Lake Atitlán, aka The Belly-Button of the World

Lake Atitlán, aka The Belly-Button of the World

Lake Atilán is always beautiful, and always a lovely and relaxing place to visit.  But I have even more to look forward to with each visit to this magical lake surrounded by volcanoes… I get to see how our textile designs have come to life!  It’s an exciting thing to see the colors and patterns you’ve chosen become real woven pieces.  And then it’s only one more step for the textile to become part of the final product – whether boots, bags, or accessories.

This trip, I had the pleasure of seeing Candelaria weave a prototype cotton wrap scarf in her home.  She was so sweet, and started cleaning frantically when I asked if I could take photos of her (don’t tell her I said that!).  She looks great, and so does her work!

And as always, it was great to see Francisca.  She loves our new tote made with the cooperative’s naturally-dyed and handwoven textiles!  It’s good to be able to go back with the finished product, for the weavers to see themselves.

Some more photos: