Our aim is to support beautiful handmade traditions in Guatemala through innovative design and collaborative partnerships. We currently work with 8 different artisan groups throughout the country to make our unique designs come to life through the combination of weaving (backstrap and footloom), ikat, natural dyes, hand embroidery, leatherwork and silverwork. These artisan partnerships allow us to create a wide range of products together, from boots and shoes to bags, blouses and accessories.
A little note about me, Mari, and why I started Kakaw Designs in 2013 – I grew up in many different places but really my life began here in Guatemala where I was born. After twenty-something years, I returned back to Guatemala, a home for me even though I did not grow up here. Growing up with my mother, a textile artist, appreciation for the handmade and especially the handwoven world was always part of my life, and a passion. After college, I became a total nomad and started to look for a place in the world for myself – I lived in four different Latin American countries and along the way became a Scuba Dive Master, an English Teacher, an Organic Farmer, a Montessori Teacher, and even randomly an Underwear Model (shhhh, don’t tell anyone). But I didn’t find what I was looking for, neither the location nor the job. During this time, I worked mostly with non-profit organizations in indigenous areas and personally encountered ethical dilemmas with these models of “giving” and “doing good.”
Guatemala literally has hundreds of NGOs, most of them funded in the US, and while many of them directly affect very needy populations in important ways, I began to wonder if these groups’ involvement in the country could be contributing to the general culture of waiting for help rather than seeking meaningful, longer-lasting change from within the country.When I moved to Guatemala initially as a Montessori teacher, I started designing boots for myself, for fun. And then I started to look around and see boots using traditional textiles and found what was there to be lacking in design and ethical standards. I was also frustrated with businesses making empty claims of “empowering” women or artisans in general. Eventually, I thought that maybe there was a little room for me in the world designing and producing handmade boots and bags, always ethically. I was excited to be working with local artisans, especially weavers, as I wanted to support this tradition to continue. I knew from the beginning I wanted Kakaw Designs to be a social enterprise, with the goal of directly supporting women by paying well for their work, and encouraging creativity in innovative textile designs. Women always know how to best use their money, how to improve the community and their children’s lives.
Kakaw Designs has been up and running since 2013, and it has been a learning experience for me every step of the way. I love working with artisans and I love that we are raising awareness and appreciation for handmade goods on the consumer side of things. Don’t be fooled: this is not a “do-good” charity project. We create beautiful things ethically, paying attention to the artisans and being gentle with our environment. We hope that you like what you see.
Images and Videos on that page are © Kakaw Designs