Reflections of a trip to Guatemala
By Alexandra Sassoon
“A’ Cha Pe! Jani?” “Cuánto para el bordado?”
Colorfully dressed women in traditional huipils called out of their small stalls stacked high with embroideries and hand dyed textiles. The scene unfolding before me was an allusion of colors, sounds and smells as I walked down the worn cobblestone streets of Chichicastanengo; a mountain town known for it’s overwhelming Sunday markets.
As I wandered down the narrow passageways of this never-ending labyrinth of shops, vendors, and peddlers, the beauty of Guatemala unfolded before me. It was shown in every hand-stitched thread of the multicolored bordados, or embroideries I walked past. Each bolt of cloth, I soon learned, represented a different group of people in Guatemala, and told a story…right down to the handmade textiles that paneled the Teysha boots I was wearing.
I had arrived in the land of artisans.
The reasoning behind my trip to Guatemala was a combination of things: my love for adventure, my passion for textiles, my interest in social enterprise and economic empowerment, and Teysha. Earlier this year, I walked by Teysha’s pop up in the Chelsea Market in New York and was immediately taken by the beauty and individuality of the shoes lining their small shop. I knew there was something special about every pair by the care and quality of each shoe, something a New Yorker rarely found amongst a sea of black, fast-fashion wear. Little did I know at the time how much each textile sold and each pair of shoes produced directly benefited and empowered communities of artisans and weavers back in Guatemala. After getting to know co-founders Sophie and Travis more and learning more about Teysha, I was so inspired by their sustainable business model that I wanted to, in any capacity, help tell their amazing story. Several months later, I had a ticket booked to Guatemala City to visit their workshop and meet with some of the Teysha team.
I had found it difficult, for some odd reason, to write down what I experienced in my week traveling through Guatemala. Perhaps I am still overwhelmed the by compassion and kindness I experienced from strangers who, despite my limited Spanish language skills, did all they could to help me get on the right bus to my next destination. Or the pride and ownership I felt from Daniel, the operations manager in Teysha’s bright and beautiful workshop in Pastores, as he explained to me the business skills he has learned from leading Teysha’s boot operations. It may have been the sadness I felt when my K’iche Maya home stay mother, Patricia, explained to me in her home workshop how her beautiful handmade textiles were driven down to Kmart prices due to the lack of economic support she received as an individual artisan, and her struggle to support her children as a female weaver.
But what struck me the most was seeing these same beautiful shoes that I fell in love with on a cloudy New York day transforming the lives of the boot-making and weaving community in Guatemala. That a pair of boots that I’ve worn to music festivals, to work, and maybe even to my friend’s Colorado wedding this summer has directly benefitted a woman curating her textiles in a market in Antigua and Teysha’s talented team in Pastores, who are given fair wages and business skills and can support their families.
I believe in sustainable fashion and the model of social enterprises more than ever after visiting Teysha in Guatemala. Being a conscious consumer and reevaluating how our money is spent could sustain and empower community hundreds of miles away from our own, and can keep beautiful and ancient traditions such as textile weaving alive for generations to come.
Thank you, Ali for coming to visit!!! We love having visitors come and experience the magic of Guatemala! If you are interested in joining, email us and let's chat!