Drinking the Local Kool-Aid
My first week in Guatemala has been a whirlwind of amazing experiences. My first few days were spent trying to absorb an enormous amount of information about how our boots are made, who makes them, where we get our textiles, who makes the textiles, where i'll be living, how i'll be living, etc. We worked with our boot-maker Carlos in our new shop that is actually just a small patio at his home. He cleared out some space for us and we built wooden shelves to store our materials and textiles and we got everything organized to make our boot shop as efficient as possible.
The boot process is quite involved, but i'll give a quick rundown here of how it's done. First, we start with each person's unique foot measurements - the length of their foot, and the area around the ball and arch of their foot. With these measurements, we can select a correctly-sized last or foot mold. With this mold as a starting point, we can attach leather to the top or sides to correctly match the size of the boot buyer's foot. After we make the last the correct size, we must choose their leather and mold it around the last. At the same time, we are cutting their textiles and then we send the textiles to be sewn. When the leather and the textiles are sewn together, we can then start building the boot around the mold. Carlos has many helpers, with people coming in at all times of the day to do their part with the boots: sewing, cutting, stitching around the sole of the foot, attaching the sole, sewing the piping - there is much to be done and each person has their specialties and expertise to share. After learning about the process of the boots and seeing ones actually being made, I felt confident moving forward.
Our first weekend, Travis, Tessa, and I made our way to Lake Atitlan where we hoped to find some new amazing textiles. We were not disappointed. Our first full day at the lake, we went to a nearby town, San Juan, where we met some amazing ladies. These ladies were part of a co-op of women that worked in small villages around the lake to produce their unique textiles. They worked on farms to grow the plants and animals and even insects that they use to make their natural dyes for their textiles. They controlled the entire supply chain in this way. They made their dyes, grew their own cotton, spun the cotton, hand wove the cotton into the textiles, and sold the textiles themselves.
When we arrived in their shops, they were so welcoming and happy to show us how they produced their textiles from start-to-finish. They were patient with us as we listened and learned about the dying process and they even offered us a chance to come to their farm and see what they grow that produces such vibrant colors! I was excited about this prospect, and inquired about the possibility of staying on with them for a small time in San Juan and they said that I would be welcome to.
I've always been very passionate about empowering people to realize their dreams, and I felt unbelievably drawn to these powerfully productive women. There are about fifty women in the co-op and they work in teams to complete each textile. This cooperative teamwork is aimed at creating economic viability for these women and their families, and I could sense their resilience through the hard work that they do.
When I told them that I was looking to find a house on the lake so that I could learn more about their culture and their textile work, one woman, Rosario, immediately offered to rent me a house that they had available. I needed help, and she was so quick to offer it to me. I knew that she could use some help showing the world her textiles and the amazing work she is doing on her farm and the look that passed between us was one of mutual respect, openness, kindness and friendship. I knew at that moment that I wanted to stay with these women; to learn how they live, how they work, about their traditions, and what it means to be a Mayan woman in Guatemala.
After my ah-ha moment, Travis and Tessa and I proceeded to scour their shops for our favorite textiles and the women promised to work with us to make the best textiles possible for our boots in the future.
After this amazing experience, our heads were filled with a world of possibilities for the future of Teysha. We could get a farm, we could raise silkworms and every flower we could use for dyes, we could start a community center to help these women achieve their dreams and learn new skills, we could live on Lake Atitlan forever. It was all very exciting and we left the lake with a renewed vigor and zeal for the work we are doing.
Only time will tell where these projects will go and how they will affect the artisans of Guatemala and our supporters around the world. We think that everyone will love the naturally dyed cotton textiles of the women of Lake Atitlan as well as our amazing Chi Chi textiles from around Guatemala. Everywhere we've gone in Guatemala, we've been stopped by the locals and by travelers alike asking us where in the world our boots are from. We've gotten so much positive feedback! One guy stopped us at our hostel at the lake and said that we must be drinking the local kool-aid judging by our wild footwear - and he was right! Pass the Guate juice!
As this week continues, we will be making more and more boots and soon, we will be sending our second generation boots around the world to make people's feet SO happy! Yay for amazing prospects in Guatemala - our dreams are coming true everyday and we appreciate SO MUCH the support that we are getting from everyone. It means a lot to us and the artisans that we work with. Until next time…enjoy Spring while it lasts!