Craft & Industry Insights



September, 2020

Interior and fashion products made out of used Guatemalan textiles, especially brocade, are becoming a global trend. They are promoted as vintage textiles that are fair and recycled. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. These vintage textiles are sold by Mayan women in times of great necessity. 

A bit of background

In the indigenous Mayan communities of Guatemala traditional textile weaving has been passed on from generation to generation for the past 2,000 years. The Masters of this ancient art of weaving are currently mainly Mayan women. Many girls start at the age of seven to learn basic weaving techniques and by the time they are teenagers they are able to work on more complex textile weavings.

Traditional backstrap brocade weaving is the most complex and time consuming weaving technique and the most famous art form from Guatemala. To this day it has a great cultural and spiritual significance. Brocade weaving is normally used to create the torso section, called Huipil, of Mayan women’s traditional outfit. The process of creating a traditional Huipil can take up to 6 months depending on the design. There are more than 1,000 different textile designs found in traditional Mayan clothing which are specific to a certain region and contain a lot of symbolism. A true designers' Paradise! 


Back to the problem that we would like to address. Vintage garments are usually quite the opposite of fair and the term 'recycled' is not an appropriate description for the practice of reselling them. Here is why:

If a woman is in desperate and urgent need of money (for example if her child is sick or she has unexpected expenses or her husband can’t find work and she needs food for her family), she will sell
any of her Huipils without questioning the low price she is selling it for, even if it is really meaningful to her.

Products made from used Huipiles are often promoted as 'recycled'. But recycling means finding a new use for something that is broken or no longer useful for some other reason. 
But with these garments it is different: the process of reselling is destroying something meaningful rather than giving it a new meaning. The promotion of products made out of vintage textiles from Guatemala leads to a decreased value and appreciation of the work and culture among Maya women. They do not see the worth of their craft which in the long run means the loss of their cultural identity and heritage.

We have come a long way on our journey of becoming social entrepreneurs operating within the Guatemalan craft sector, and we had to learn all this ourselves. The kind of business we are creating is surely not an easy one. The only way we can actively change something when it comes to promoting Guatemalan textiles is not only to 'create work' (a commonly used term), but to also raise the income for Mayan weavers to a degree where they feel truly acknowledged. Cultural Appreciation means valuing the humans behind the craft and the time it takes to create, it means revaluing payments for an unique ancient skill and changing standards for artisans, as well as honoring the ancient cultural knowledge Mayan women managed to keep alive.

For further Research we recommend this documentary:

IT IS An ethical investigation of the use of used huipiles in mass production, and a call to action to preserve the ancient and intricate art of backstrap weaving in the Maya communitIES. 

Co-directed by 

Erin Semine Kökdil & 

Jenn Miller Scarnato