As the world becomes smaller through increased travel, better transportation systems, and new communication channels, consumers are having a greater opportunity than ever before to be able to own items made by artisans from all around the world. Not only are these items beautiful, but being able to bring a piece of your vacation or another part of the world into your home is something special that many cherish. Although there are many benefits for artisans around the world to be able to sell their handmade goods to foreigners, this opportunity also presents a threat to traditional culture and to the integrity of the production process.
It is hard to know while purchasing a product, even with the best intentions, where it truly originated from and the story behind it. In every part of the world, there are different factors affecting the production and tourism industry that are hard to evaluate unless you can fully assess all sides of the story, something that as visitors can be difficult.
What can we do as consumers to ensure that we are purchasing with integrity, empowering artisans, rather than pushing them downwards into the cycle of inequality and lack of opportunity? One solution is to buy from vendors that are registered as Fair Trade.
The World Fair Trade Organization classifies “Fair Trade” into 10 key principles. Organizations that are Fair Trade certified must continually uphold these ideals and practices.
This month, on May 11th, we will celebrate World Fair Trade Day. To celebrate, we urge and encourage all of our supporters and customers to do research on where you are purchasing your products from and support organizations that follow the 10 principles of Fair Trade.
From their chic accessories to their stylish apparel, Tribe Alive is an ethical brand that is worth your attention. They have grown quickly, combining social impact and design while appearing as a notable brand for companies such as Madewell and J.Crew, since their founding. Tribe Alive´s mission is to empower the lives of women through fashion. They partner with women in Guatemala, India, Honduras, Haiti, and Fort Worth, Texas and we, Maya Traditions, are proud to have them as one of our design partners.
We recently had a chance to chat with Katie, Tribe Alive’s Senior Designer to learn more about her experience designing and collaborating with women artisans worldwide including our Maya Traditions artisan partners to make that perfect, final design.
Katie has had the “design bug” her whole life. Her interest sparked as a kid, from drawing wedding dresses and dream homes to learning how to sew from her grandmother. She later continued to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer through studying Fashion Design and Merchandising at the University of Texas at Austin. She has now been with Tribe Alive for two and a half years and loves her job of creating beautiful things while making a meaningful impact in lives all over the world.
What does supporting Fair Trade and Maya Traditions mean to you?
Empowering the artisans of Maya Traditions and other organizations we partner with to thrive is the “why” behind everything I do. Many of my day-to-day conversations revolve around design, fit, customer feedback, and marketing strategies, but the talented women behind our pieces are the moving force of our work and the motivation to keep working hard when challenges arise – which they often do in this field. Along with empowering women, supporting fair trade is an essential part of this work to me because I believe in helping create a better world. Fair trade recognizes and protects the value of the human beings who make our products by establishing a wage standard that considers minimum wage dramatically inadequate. For far too long, the human factor has been squeezed out of our products to bring prices lower and lower as consumers demand more for less. We, alongside Maya Traditions, are putting our foot down to say enough is enough and to educate customers on the real lives on the other sides of their products that matter and deserve pay that can actually support their needs.
How have you seen Tribe Alive and the sustainable fashion movement grow?
In my few years with Tribe Alive, I have watched the company grow exponentially in our brand vision & market saturation as well as the impact we are able to have with artisan communities around the world. We have grown to produce women’s apparel and to cultivate that collection as our now best-selling category. We have grown to partner with larger brands like Causebox, Jcrew, Madewell, and Box of Style to put ethically made products in thousands of peoples hands and educate them on our brand mission and the importance of artisan-made goods. We have grown from working with four women in Honduras on a small beaded jewelry line to now sustainably employing over 150 artisans from eight different groups in five different countries all for living wages. We have built homes, funded educations, and just this year provided our first microfinance loan to an artisan in Guatemala because we believe in our ability to impact lives in many creative ways through these relationships. At Tribe Alive, we believe in growth that helps lift up the people around us to grow alongside us, and while the last few years have been incredible, I believe the best is only yet to come.
What is your favorite part about designing products that incorporate textiles made by indigenous women artisans?
As a life-long learner, I have so enjoyed designing alongside Maya Traditions because of the education I’ve received on the incredible traditions of back strap weaving, indigo dying, irate textiles, and natural dyes. This partnership fuels my creativity perhaps more than any other as I work to incorporate ancient, traditional practices into modern textile and accessory designs. We have achieved this by looking for inspiration in modern art, geometric shapes, and forecasted color palettes and determining together the best techniques to bring my designs to life. It feels like a true collaboration as we discuss designs, go through intensive sampling, and solve problems together. And it is all the more rewarding when an iconic retailer such as J.Crew chooses to carry two of the products Maya Traditions artisans have woven.
What is it like collaborating with the artisan partners of Maya Traditions to make the final, beautiful end product?
This is my favorite part! Often times, the artisan partners at Maya Traditions have so many amazing ideas and solutions to present throughout the design and sampling process, so that when we arrive at a final product, many voices and hands have made the end piece what it is. The quality of the weaving at Maya Traditions is beyond what I have seen anywhere else in the world. For me to play a small part in creating these beautiful handwoven pieces that our customers wear for years, alongside such inspiring and talented women, is truly a designer’s dream.
What would your advice be to designers that aspire to implement fair trade, ethically made textiles into their products?
Fully immerse yourself in your ‘Why’ and just get started. Fair trade work is often challenging and it does take more time, but you have the potential to change lives and further the vision of a better world with your work, and that is worth everything. Every life in your production line matters equally to your own. From the farmers growing cotton, to the dyers creating magical colors, to the weavers incorporating hundred year old family traditions into every piece they make, these individuals are worthy of inspiring work and fair wages. Partnering with organizations like Maya Traditions ensures that those priorities are being advocated for every day and means creating ‘truly beautiful’ products whose stories are as beautiful as the pieces themselves.
Thank you for chatting with us, Katie! Shop TribeAlive’s products here.
This month we celebrated International Women’s Day, a United Nations holiday celebrated worldwide to acknowledge the accomplishments that women have made and to show the importance of the rights that women deserve within their households, workplaces, and daily lives. Although women worldwide have made significant achievements in the fight for gender equality, there is still much work to be done.
In Guatemala, there are large gender disparities throughout society. For example, a common belief is that the male should be the head of the household making all of the decisions for the family with the woman working in the household taking care of the children, cooking, and cleaning. There is also often a lack of information about women’s rights including reproductive rights, and common problems such as domestic violence.
Fashion. It’s possibly the world’s leading means of self expression and exhibits itself in various forms across the globe. What we wear, how we look – it’s how we show the world who we are. In recent years, big brands have started producing more clothing than ever before as trends continue to rapidly change. It’s never been easier to get the latest looks at the lowest prices. Our wardrobes are bursting at the seams. But what does this mean for the people who make our clothes? And at what cost to the environment?
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
~ Nelson Mandela
This week, school bells across Guatemala will ring once again, welcoming back students and beginning the next step in their academic growth. Compared to statistics presented a decade ago, the World Bank has reported an increase in children participating in primary and secondary education, with the latter doubling in size in Guatemala over the past ten years.
As one of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations has declared the need to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” In the case of Guatemala, the ability for children to obtain an education is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty not only through access to quality jobs, but also by fostering innovation that will create new opportunities for future generations.
In Guatemala many women are denied their rights.The country has a long history of gender disparities and discrimination against women. During the years of the civil war more than 200,000 people died, and most of those people were part of the Maya population. The women were particularly affected, as violence against women and rape were systematically used as weapons of war. Long after the war formally ended in 1996, women in Guatemala continued suffering from gender disparities, as a consequence of the long-standing discrimination against women during the war. As a response to the oppression of women, civil society organizations emerged after the end of the civil war, aiming to spread knowledge about the oppression of women and express their commitment to supporting women’s rights. The organizations have played a significant role in the processes of improving women’s living conditions in postwar Guatemala. Many of these organizations are cooperatives, which are created by people who fight for a common goal and are characterized by the desire to work together for change. The members contribute on a equal basis, and share the control according to the one-vote principle.
In recent decades the world has seen tourism’s effects, both good and bad, on remote villages, beach destinations, and cities around the world. According to theUnited Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in 2017, there were 1.323 billion international tourists arrivals worldwide, with a growth of 6.8% from 2016. In recent decades the desire for greater good, social and environmental sustainability has entered the mainstream with tourists wanting experiences that are authentic, unique and make a positive impact. However, with a rise in sustainable tourism, organizations and regulations are popping up in hopes to protect the environmental integrity, social justice, and economic development. We have also seen new modes of tourism come into popular public conscious. Terms like: responsible, sustainable, eco, ethical, green, volunteer, etc. have become a trend in travel, creating an enlightened sense of responsibility while abroad.
Doris Skelly lived in Guatemala from 1987-1988, working with women and children in the San Miguel and Santa Rita areas of Xela. For years she maintained connections with these families that she came to know and love, and, as she puts it, “I left a part of my heart with them.”
Though she was unable to stay in Guatemala long term, her life had been forever changed by the experience of living and serving there. When she returned to New York City she taught art in a local school with an ethically diverse population and remained there until her retirement. Since then she has dedicated herself to helping students who have difficulties with reading and writing in English.
I learned long ago that I am not at the center of the universe, but Ix Chel, the Mayan Goddess of Weaving and her drop spindle, are. Also the goddess of fertility and procreation, representing female empowerment, Ix Chel is said to have founded the city of Palenque and set the universe in motion, introducing weaving to all her people. Weaving has since been passed down from mother to daughter, each generation passing the baton to the next, helping to keep the spirit and culture of weaving alive. Ix Chel is often pictured in traditional Mayan textiles, still being produced in remote areas of Guatemala today.
Before tuk tuks and motorbikes, there was the traje. Originally put into law by the Spaniards, the traje helped to identify the indigenous peoples communities for tax collection purposes. Today, stories of community, religion, history and identity are written into the clothing with symbolic colors and designs.
The traje is made up of three components: huipil (blouse), corte (skirt), and faja (belt), all of which are made by hand on the backstrap loom using techniques passed down from mother to daughter since the 1520s. To gain a better idea of the intricate patterns and techniques used over the decades, below are just some of the more common methods that have been perfected by our artisan partners.
Hi, my name is Daphne and I’m from the Netherlands. Ever since I was a little girl I have been passionate about traveling. I’ve spent most of my life fighting an incurable case of wanderlust.
I studied ‘International Tourism Management’ for the last four years and currently I am earning a ‘Master of Science in Tourism, Leisure and Environment’ in the Netherlands.
As I prepare to graduate in June 2019, I am fulfilling a Communication and Research Internship at Maya Traditions Foundation where I can pursue my passion of researching responsible tourism development and creating awareness of cultural preservation. As part of my internship here, I work with the communication department with daily tasks and responsibilities, do research on marketing and ethical tourism travel and help with ongoing projects in the social programs. One of the projects I got to help with this month is the bed project in Quiejel.
In recognition of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we want to highlight a few of the many exceptional women we work with at Maya Traditions.
This date recognizes the first meeting in Geneva in 1982 of the UN Group on Indigenous Populations. The annual celebration is held across the world, from the United Nations Headquarters in New York City to places like Kenya, Peru and Guatemala.
Feminine hygiene products are a necessity for women in the United States and internationally, while the low-cost and easy access to these products are taken for granted. In Guatemala, the basic needs for proper feminine hygiene can often be too costly for women and girls forcing them to go without every month. During menstruation, women are left finding household items, like rags, or other unsanitary means to absorb their flows.
In recent years, the terms “fair trade” and “ethically sourced” have been used to market not-so-ethical brands, organizations, and products. There are hundreds of trustworthy organizations around the world that adhere to the principles of fair trade, but some brands and B-corps are incorrectly and casually using these terms to market their products with the hope that their customers will trust the claims. Unfortunately, they are right.
Hello friends and supporters of Maya Traditions, After two wonderful years of working as Executive Director of Maya Traditions, I have decided to leave the Organization to pursue personal goals. I have been honored and humbled by the dedication of our staff and Board, the grace of our artisan partners, and the advocacy of our mission for cultural preservation and gender equality for some of the most marginalized populations in the world. The importance of the work that Maya Traditions does cannot be overstated.
The Maya Traditions 2017 Annual Report is now live! Take a look to read updates on our life-changing programs. 2017 was a great year for us, and we’re so thankful to all of you for making it possible for our organization to grow and thrive.
Fair Trade is at the core of what we do at Maya Traditions. We empower artisans with fair payment and social programs they need to thrive, allowing them to focus on preserving the cultural art of backstrap weaving. On May 12th, we will be celebrating World Fair Trade Day, and there will be some exciting ways for you, our cherished supporters, to get involved. Stay tuned for fun updates on how you can participate!