“Weaving modern opportunities through traditional techniques”.

Fundación Tradicionales Maya (Maya Traditions Foundation) was founded in 1996 to help skilled indigenous female artisans access a Fair Trade global marketplace. Over the years, the foundation has grown to include social programs in youth education, community health, and artisan development. Maya Traditons currently works with eight artisans’ co-operatives in the western highlands of Guatemala.

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I took a tuctuc ride across the river to speak to the coordinator of sales and marketing at the Foundation offices and showroom at Casa del Arbol in Panajachel.

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Jane Mintz, who founded Maya Traditions, was a graduate of the Columbia School of Social Work (MSW) in the United States. She became a tapestry weaver and teacher after she retired, which took her to Lake Atitlán in the 1980s, where she fell in love with the country and the people.

Maya Traditions

Jane Mintz observed that the women’s traditional skill of backstrap weaving was a chance for them to earn a more stable income for their families. This would enable them to work from home so they would still be able to provide care for their children. Fair trade federation logo Maya Traditions Foundation was recognized as one of the first organizations following a Fair Trade model, and member of the Fair Trade Federation (FTF).

There are nine Fair Trade Federation Principles, intended to

  • Create Opportunities for Economically and Socially Marginalized Producers
  • Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships
  • Build Capacity
  • Promote Fair Trade globally
  • Pay Promptly and Fairly
  • Support Safe and Empowering Working Conditions
  • Ensure the Rights of Children
  • Cultivate Environmental Stewardship
  • Respect Cultural Identity

Comunidad K’em Ajachel

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I had read about K’em Ajachel on their website, and they have presence on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. The tag line on the Kem Ajachel business card reads “Weaving Modern Opportunities Through Traditional Techniques.” The showroom is situated at the bottom of the main tourist street in Panajachel, as in the photograph below.

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There are seventy women in this handweaving co-op, and they use natural dyes only. It is not just natural dyes: there is also an emphasis on natural fibres like cotton, rayon, bamboo, and silk. Only cotton is traditionally hand woven in this area, although silk does have a long tradition of high status use in Spanish central and south America.

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Although the scarves and shawls are all woven using traditional weaving techniques, there is room for the weavers to experiment by trying new natural fibres, and new colour combinations that are not traditional at all. This combination of traditional techniques combined with new materials and colours is a common theme for the weaving co-operatives.

The weavers work at home, and bring in their products for sale into the showroom in Panajachel. Most of the weavers who work with Kem Ajachel have no schooling, and many of them participate in Microcredit Education programs with Friendship Bridge. Their handout emphasizes that the weavers’ work is paid for through fair trade.

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