A Travel Opportunity that Honors Artisans and Fuels Creative Exchange

Last year, Mari Gray of Kakaw Designs shared out about an awesome travel exchange opportunity that she created just for makers. I’m happy to report that the program is back for a second year. Interested? I am, so I asked Mari to give us the lowdown on what participants can expect from this year’s exchange.

Travel exchange Guatemala

Can you tell us about your vision for the program and what sparked the idea in the first place?

Sure, let me explain the inspiration for this venture. After a number of years working with artisans in Guatemala as Kakaw Designs (pronounced “cacao” like the chocolate tree), I struggled with our role as a brand taking pride in unique design and high quality craftsmanship. While I love designing and working with artisan groups, I feel uncomfortable having to ask them to keep our designs exclusively for us. This is an awkward position to be in, because our partner artisan groups also have rural storefronts on their own, and sell to other stores in larger cities in Guatemala. And so if what we create together is beautiful, practical, desirable - then, it would be beneficial for the artisans to replicate these designs and sell however possible. But if we take this approach, we would be voluntarily giving up our unique edge on design. It’s a dilemma that artisan-made businesses face all over, and a big push for us to start our Textile Travels.

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How great would it be if we could come together and share our textile experiences and practices together, further strengthening bonds and supporting rural artisans to pursue innovative designs on their own?

Another aspect I came to appreciate is that Guatemala is a destination for many creative-types from all over, because of the country’s vibrant traditions and crafts. And while there are many opportunities out there for hands-on learning experiences of traditional Maya crafts, I felt like there was big potential for visitors to also share their ideas to rural artisans, and this was not being realized. How great would it be if we could come together and share our textile experiences and practices together, further strengthening bonds and supporting rural artisans to pursue innovative designs on their own?

Well, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.

Travel Exchange Guatemala

How did last year’s textile travel exchange go, and what did the itinerary look like?

Last year, we hosted our first creative textile exchange in Guatemala. I was excited and nervous to venture out to new territories through our Textile Travel concept, but in the end all our textile workshops, travels to rural villages in Guatemala, and basically everything concerning the two itineraries we offered went smoothly. We were so fortunate to have wonderful and inspiring participants, and keeping the groups small was probably key to our success.

We facilitated a one-on-one backstrap weaving day, an in-depth textile lecture with beautiful vintage samples from all over the country, a hand-embroidery day where we could work on our own projects (think jeans and jackets), and a series of workshops at Lake Atitlán with our partner weavers there, including local plant dyes, indigo dyeing, ikat warp, and more. In our second itinerary, we included visits to rural villages that are truly off the beaten path and rather difficult to reach for “normal” tourists. We visited our partner weavers in these areas also, and they welcomed us with home-cooked regional specialties, and one group even had live music in our honor. What a treat!

Travel exchange Guatemala
Travel Exchange Guatemala - Kakaw Designs

What can travelers expect this year? Any changes to the program?

This August, we’re going to slow down a little bit, taking conscious down-time, because phew, it’s a lot to take in with all the colors, patterns, flavors, and new friendships. And since our primary goal is to create a space for idea exchange and mutual benefit among rural artisans and international participants, I do think it’s important to include a little bit of daydreaming time so that we can get those creative juices flowing. In this regard, we’ve added a couple of extra days, and low-key activities like tassel and pompom making. We will have a bit more time to wander on our own also, and shop directly from artisan cooperative groups.

If you’re interested in hearing more, please shoot me an email at mari@kakawdesigns.com.