|A few of my Guatemalan colleagues, 2006|
For this blog post, I reached out to a few other designers that work in Guatemala. The companies these women are affiliated with are all members of Fair Trade Federation. I know these women have all worked tirelessly to build a market for Guatemalan artisans. Each has their own story. I asked them if they'd be willing to share a story about their journey with me. Lucky for us, they all said yes. I asked them a series of loose questions. And then it was left up to them, how they wanted to answer my inquiries. Keep reading. First I'll share my questions. And then you can learn more about these amazing fair traders. And, yes, lastly, I'll share a story from my Dunitz & Company experiences.
NANCY: Please respond to whichever question or part of my inquiry gives you joy or might be interesting to those that read my blog post. How did you get involved with designing and collaborating with artisans in Guatemala? Do you have a favorite design? Can you tell me about it? Or one that has a fun story behind it? Definitely tell me about an item where I can share the link for purchase.
ANNE KELLY from Mayan Hands: Thank you so much for asking about design, because it's such an important and fun part of our work. Mayan Hands has been partnering with Mayan women artists for more than 30 years. The design process has always been collaborative, and supporting the women in preserving the culture they cherish, especially as expressed in their textile traditions, is part of our mission. The gorgeous textile techniques and the colors that Guatemala is known for makes the process exciting. For me, the very best part is when we are able to work alongside one another. We are often working with many layers of language (English to Spanish to Kaqchikel or Tz'utijil or K'iche or A'chi), but it's the common language of handwork that forges deeper connections. As we sit together, we talk about our lives, our families, our hopes and dreams - and yes, the designs as well.
|Mayan Hands Artist, Cecilia|
|Allison with Santa & Paulina|
I didn't start off designing products for Yabal but the nature of the work led me to try my hand at product design. There is so much local competition for artisan goods in Guatemala that unique designs and quality crafts(woman)ship are one of the only ways to set yourself apart and continue providing for work for our weavers. I have a background in studio art, but product design was overwhelming for me. Yabal's weavers have the ability to create hundreds of incredible pattern and color combinations. It's almost impossible to limit the design possibilities into just one "collection." I usually have an impulse to include every design and every color option in our collection because they're all gorgeous. It's just not possible.
When creating Yabal designs, we always use one of the women's own weavings as a base and jumping-off point. A lot of times, it's really about choosing a certain color palette and paring down the number of color combinations used so that the design is more attractive to trends in a foreign market. We seek to maintain the identity of the weaving designs and of the communities where they come from while adding a bit Western design influence. Usually the process is a very collaborative effort and we take our design lead from the incredible master artisans we partner with.
|Maya Coin Purse in Blue|
That was fun and informative for me to read these stories, and to see how these women interpreted my questions. And I supposed you might want to hear some tales from me now :).
NANCY DUNITZ from Dunitz & Company - I launched my business in 1989 after traveling to Guatemala to explore the possibilities of working with and collaborating with artisans there. There were a number of foreign nationals living in Guatemala at the time, all willing to introduce me to the members of their community and various Mayan artisans they knew. At the time, one of the only ways to get around Guatemala was by public bus. I fortunately was able to hire a private driver who took me to many remote villages where I was able to meet many artisans and see their work first-hand. I was also told about an American woman living in Guatemala who was working with and showing Mayan woman how to create bead-work. (Beading is not indigenous to Guatemala.) Initially, and unsuccessfully I had tried to connect with her on one of my trips to Lake Atitlan.
|Nancy & Suri|
You can only imagine the voluminous number of designs and color combinations we've created together over our tenure. There was a time when we'd introduce 60 or more new designs twice a year. And each season everything would be created in 12 new color combinations. As the women who created our beaded jewelry became more proficient and confident, they'd often present to us designs that they had thought up. Often these became part of the Dunitz & Company beaded collection. Those early days were crazy. We had created a huge demand for bead-work, we had our clandestine workshop, and we hadn't yet been copied. I used to exhibit at 16 wholesale trade shows each year. Can you imagine?
|Dunitz Coral Jewelry|
So, where did it all begin? Our beaded Coral Necklaces and Coral Earrings were first introduced nearly 30 years ago. And they still sell well. They say emulation is the sincerest form of flattery. That's a tough one for me to swallow. If my ego got in the way on this one, I would have retired this design a long time ago. Many other companies have created their version of what we do. Thankfully, over the years our wholesale customers seem to appreciate our quality and color combinations. Our coral jewelry always feels soft and flows easily. This design has actually been featured on multiple mail-order catalog covers!
Coming up with ideas for blog posts is often challenging. And as many of you know, I often like to support my fair trade colleagues by sharing what they are doing and/or writing. This post is no different. I wanted to take my hat off to Anne Kelly, Caryn Maxim, Jennifer Webster and Allison Havens who are doing an amazing job of creating opportunity for artisans in Guatemala. We all work endlessly and being recognized for a job well done can go a long way. So, you go girls! And when you need a beautifully made, fair trade gift, please consider one of our designs. Their links are above. And of course, Dunitz & Company's fair trade jewelry is also only a click away. -ND