Hi, there! I’m Mari Gray, founder of artisan-made brand Kakaw Designs, based in Guatemala. After studying International Relations and Spanish at UC Davis and then working for several non-profits in Latin America, I became disillusioned and decided to focus on sustainable development through a social enterprise, partnering with talented artisan communities in Guatemala.
I feel incredibly fortunate to work with different artisan groups in Guatemala through Kakaw Designs (pronounced <kekao> like the cacao tree), an artisan-made brand I started about four years ago. We currently work with several different artisan groups: two weaving, one embroidery, two teams of leathersmiths, and one silversmith; all to make our designs come to life. But it was for a good reason that we started with the weaving cooperative Corazón del Lago in San Juan la Laguna, at Lake Atitlán.
We would never have been able to launch Kakaw Designs without this group of forward-thinking, professional weavers from this small Maya village. The community itself is exceptional, with sustainability clearly a focus through:
- Use of natural dyes in textile production, also using local traditional techniques such as backstrap weaving and ikat designs <<Learn more by watching our video>>
- Organization of weavers in cooperatives or associations, where women work together and can therefore take larger orders and offer quality control
- Up-and-coming development of community ecotourism, especially birding
Walk through this small lake-front pueblo, and you’ll be welcomed by local cooperatives to take a look at their products, but not hassled. You’ll be invited to taste locally-produced and processed coffee, served to you in a handmade ceramic cup from a neighboring village. You can also walk into an ecotourism office (also community-operated), and book a birding tour through local coffee fields or up a volcano. It is a wonderfully refreshing community, with a slower pace of life and the determination to move forward.
“Forward” so often means modernization in the developing world, with new generations moving to the big cities and traditional ways of life abandoned. But in San Juan la Laguna, everyone still speaks Tzutujil, the Maya language of the area, and women continue to wear their traditional dress. Daughters still learn to weave from their mothers and grandmothers, because it is an appreciated craft and a proven source of income.
This is the kind of community we want to support as Kakaw Designs. We’re not interested in convincing people of the importance for sustainable ways of thinking – we don’t want to impose this on anyone. The weavers clearly understand the tricky dilemma “moving forward” poses, and haven chosen the path of preserving traditional crafts and ways of life. I’m so fortunate to be working with such a strong and hard-working group of women in this exceptional community.
If you find yourself in Guatemala, please do pay San Juan la Laguna a visit. You won’t regret it.