Designer Spotlight: Tribe Alive

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.

Katie, pictured with Tribe Alive products

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.

If you are interested in learning more about being a design partner with Maya Traditions, contact [email protected]. Additionally, check out our wholesale catalog.

Women’s Empowerment: Gender Workshops

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.

Read moreWomen’s Empowerment: Gender Workshops

In depth with the backstrap weaving cooperatives in Guatemala

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.

Read moreIn depth with the backstrap weaving cooperatives in Guatemala

The ugly side of tourism and how you can make the difference.

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.

Read moreThe ugly side of tourism and how you can make the difference.

Doris Skelly is Making The Difference

Doris Skelly is Making The Difference

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.”

Doris Skelly with Erin Kökdil, former Executive Director, Maya Traditions Foundation 2013-2016

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.

Read moreDoris Skelly is Making The Difference

The Goddess Ix Chel, Weaving Techniques and Saving Tradition. Read all the way to the end, it gets better!

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.

Read moreThe Goddess Ix Chel, Weaving Techniques and Saving Tradition. Read all the way to the end, it gets better!