Ethical Fashion Guatemala Helping Guatemalan Artisans Share Their Work In The Global Market

Artisans of Guatemala

Many of us are familiar with the work of artisans in Guatemala, as their work and culture has made its way around the globe. But there are many instances where large fashion chains and fast fashion brands have ripped off these cultural patterns and aesthetics, satisfying certain market trends. Think of those headdresses and bags you see in social media about Coachella, for instance.

This is not only problematic but also serves to devalue the work of the artisans who are often using native Guatemalan creative processes that have been passed down from generation. The local artisans also lose out on deserved financial opportunities when it becomes difficult to ship their work into the global market, which became apparent in 2016 when the Guatemalan postal system collapsed.

Because of this event, Weavers and other Artisans of the country’s $68 million handicraft export market seemed destined to economic ruin. Guatemalan Artisans were forced to use private shipping companies, many of whom had responded to the demise of the country’s postal services with giant price increases. Today, it costs $167.00 for most to send a letter out of Guatemala by an Express Carrier.

An organization called Ethical Fashion Guatemala, who advocate for local Artisans in Guatemala and share important news relating to the importance of protecting their creative work on their website, have developed Express Shipping Services for the 600,000 Mayan Artisan families living around Lake Atitlan Guatemala. They ship locally designed and created products directly to customers in Australia, Europe, Canada, and the U.S.

“Guatemalan Artisans have access to global markets,” states James Dillon, the technical advisor for Ethical Fashion Guatemala.

Carlos Tuk Providing Training | Ethical Fashion Guatemala

Women are the ones mostly affected by the artwork being appropriated, which affects their daughters’ futures and incomes, which is why EFG only work with women. The family owned co-ops were started by mothers during the civil war in Guatemala, as is the same in other countries. Today the daughters run the co-ops. They resourceful and self-taught in the English language. The mothers mostly do not know how to read and write because during the time they should have been going to school they were supporting the Guerillas, who were fighting against the Guatemala Government and its CIA supported military.

In a 2017 article in Fashionista, Ethical Fashion Guatemala detailed its plans to provide Guatemalan Artisan copyright protection services. Guatemalan Artisans had been unable to meet the challenge of a growing number of Entrepreneurs with U.S. based e-commerce sites who were selling Guatemalan Artisan-produced products, keeping most of the profits without giving credit to Artisans.

Providing cost effective shipping rates has changed the Economics for Guatemalan Artisans. Delfina Par is the daughter of the founder of one of the oldest weaving co-operatives in the village of San Juan La LaLaguna, on Lake Atitlan.

“Today, our family-owned Co-Operative ships $1,500 a week, on average, in new product sales, delivered worldwide through the shipping services provided by Ethical Fashion Guatemala,” she said, according to a press release.

EFG surveyed hundreds of websites selling Artisan products and asked a single question: what percentage of the retail selling price is paid to the weavers? Turns out the number was less then 20%. Many want to buy a handmade leather bag for $45 and sell it for $350. These numbers came as a result of the Fashionista article. Many of the overseas sites have credit card processing and shipping, which the Artisans in Guatemala never had. Their lack of education and access to technology has allowed them to be taken advantage of. With new access to technology, wow they can start to compete and take back ownership of their designs.

The image below is an example of how shipping information used to be processed by the weavers – via a handwritten note. With technological advancement, they can process payment, set up centralized systems, and ship easily an affordably around the world.

Ethical Fashion Guatemala

Silvia Anthea Pannella is an Italian lawyer with a Master’s degree in Intellectual Property Law and a research thesis on the protection of indigenous communities’ textiles. She has a lot of knowledge about the legal and financial effects of the Guatemalan Artisans’ work being appropriated or stolen, and sees the incredible progress for them with the help of Ethical Fashion Guatemala.

“EFG combines the needs of the represented cooperatives with the benefits of technology, without surpassing the freedom of choice of artisans. Teaching, commerce and protection are just some of their services, with the common aspect of being carried forward under the key world ‘respect’,” she said.

She says the demand for the Mayan textile designs by consumers and the cheaper price as well as widely available product from larger international fashion chains have compounded the problem, along with ignorance from these chains as to the origins of the designs. So the new shipping methods will become an important barrier in the fight against the Artisans’ designs being stolen from fashion franchises.

“In the end, granting affordable shipping to artisans will allow them to both be known in the worldwide marketplace and consequently avoid events of theft by strong companies, and reach the consumers, eventually educating buyers about the value, importance, difference in quality, of textiles and their utility to sustain the communities of provenance,” said Silvia.

Silvia also draws a direct line between better copyright protections for the Artisans, and their ability to sustain financial independence. Without any prior knowledge as to how they can protect their work, these local Artisans have suffered great financial loss, as well as lack of awareness about how a larger company stealing their designs hurts the larger Indigenous communities.

Delfina Par Preparing Shipments | Ethical Fashion Guatemala

“If textile were protected, there would be no incentive for stronger, richer, fashion companies (or from local institutions) to copy them. To the contrary, companies would think twice because of the fear of an unlawful behavior. Therefore, consumers willing to obtain traditional garments would be “forced” to buy the protected ones. Money of sales would then flow to indigenous communities,” said Silvia.

As mentioned earlier, the women, especially younger generations, are the group most affected when their work is not respected and they are not compensated.

“In Guatemala, huipiles are mostly worn by women and girls.They also are the material creator of these loom-made garments, and they are the ones who feel the most the connection between the designs and the beliefs about spiritual and ethical sphere. So, from a purely material point of view, women are the ones that work more, without their hours of labor being respected, rewarded and legally recognized. In respect to huipiles, they have an history strictly related to civil wars, in which Mayan women were recognized as such because of their clothing and they were persecuted. Textiles and the right to wear them therefore become the symbol of identity and pride, independence,” explained Silvia about the cultural significance of the designs.

The poor women and girls are more likely to take up weaving as a trade, as the likelihood of obtaining and education is low. Additionally, another sad impact of this problem is seeing less and less younger women wanting to take up their elders’ tradition the more they see it is not necessarily going to become a viable form of financial stability as larger companies continue to steal designs. This underscores why access to technology and affordable shipping is a major win for the Indigenous women looking to gain independence and continue their business.

Artisan Delfina Par | Ethical Fashion Guatemala

Visiting the homepage of Ethical Fashion Guatemala will give you a clearer idea of just how unjust the problem of copyright violation and appropriation of indigenous work really is, especially for the financial independence of the local Artisans.

It is not just the recent collapse of the postal system, or the uptick in U.S-based e-commerce sites not properly compensating the Artisans. Technology is often a major barrier, and although Internet access exists, for most Artisans the cost has been prohibitive.

Additionally, the indigenous people in Guatemala are most affected by poverty. The indigenous population also suffers from discrimination and exclusion in Guatemalan society, which makes it difficult for them to rise out of poverty.

In 2018, Ethical Fashion Guatemala will add five additional regions for Shipping of Guatemalan Artisan Products to its network, including the large communities of Chichicastenango, Quetzaltenango (Xela), and Antigua. Major Silicon Valley tech companies are pushing to devise novel new ways of expanding access to the Internet for Artisans in order to help get their products to the remotest corners of the world.

San Juan Lake Atitlan Artist Francisco Vásquez Mendoza | Ethical Fashion Guatemala

Google’s Project Loon envisions a network of Internet-beaming balloons. Facebook’s Internet.org looks toward a solar-powered Internet plane. For these Tech Giants, reaching 4.4 billion other people on this planet who have never been online, offers them Global Market Economic Change.

On a smaller Global Scale, Ethical Fashion Guatemala plans are in process of expanding into 9 other countries. Peru will be the next country through partnerships.

The news is a positive step forward in allowing the Artisans of Guatemala get the recognition, accessibility and financial compensation they deserve for their designs which are known the world over. So what can the average person to do be an ally in this movement? Support the work of Artisans by asking questions about the products you buy.

Visiting the Ethical Fashion Guatemala website is a great resource to help you know about the ongoing fight and how to know whether your purchase is authentic. With a large number of Artisans being women, it is more important than ever to empower this community to financially stable.

Artisans of Guatemala

 

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