above photo credit: Caroline Lindsell
This year, Yabal began a new relationship with the artisan cooperative in Chichicastenango, called Utz Batz. They are a group of 10-15 women weavers that have worked together since 2008 as a fair trade artisan cooperative in order to create jobs for themselves. The town of Chichicastenango is famous with tourists for their weekly textile market. This market is full of used huipiles from Mayan communities all over the country. Unfortunately, the majority of these textiles are used or mistakenly labelled “recycled”, in a practice considered exploitative and unethical. Read more about this topic of “recycled” huipiles on Mayan Hands’ blog. But even more so, there are no actual artisans that are able to sell their own products in the market, only middle men. So, in a town famous as a textile hub, the actual artisans and weavers have a very difficult time making a living from weaving.
A lot of younger women no longer weave but I always tell them that weaving is really important to our culture. You need to know to weave in order to make your own huipil. In the Chichicastenango market it is really hard for us artisans and weavers to sell. All of the stands are reserved and paid for by re-sellers. There are no artisans that actually sell at this market. We (at Utz Batz) have talked with the municipality to try and get a space for us to sell our weavings but they can’t help us. All the sellers at the Chichicastenango textile market are re-sellers. They either sell used huipiles or pay the artisans very little for our weavings and then sell them to the final customer and tourist for much higher. It is very hard for us to make a living as weavers.
-Lucia Xiloj, Coordinator of Utz Batz
Unlike our other women’s weaving cooperatives, Utz Batz is in the middle of the biggest textile market in Guatemala. Before talking to them, one would think that they, more than other rural artisans, would have an easier time selling their products, especially to the many tourists that visit their town. But they struggle even more ironically- surrounded by water but dying of thirst.
Often visitors to our Fair Trade textile store in Quetzaltenango will ask us why fair trade is important in Guatemala as there seem to be many opportunities to buy direct from artisans. While it is definitely important to buy direct from actual artisans, unfortunately, most of the textile and artisan sellers in the tourist centers in Guatemala are not the actual weavers (although many of them say they are) but rather middlemen/women. In this type of scenario, it’s hard to know where the money is going and how much the artisan is actually receiving from your purchase. It’s probably not much…
For us lovers of Maya textile art, it’s a sad reality to see. When one has had the opportunity to witness this amazing art of backstrap loom weaving in person, you can’t help but be in awe of the amount of time, skill, and creativity that goes into the creation of each piece. The Mayan artisans that continue weaving today are building upon over 5,000 years of indigenous spirituality and tradition woven into each design. These women are artists that deserve fair pay and respect for their work.
The type of exploitation and devaluation of artisan work, described by Lucia above, is why Yabal is a Fair Trade organization. Yabal focuses on connecting our artisans to local and international markets where they will receive a fair price for their work and where their craft and artisan tradition is respected, and not exploited. As members of both the WFTO and FTF, Yabal assures that our artisans receive above market wages, job skills training, transparency in business dealings, and other benefits from the sale of their products. In addition, as a social enterprise, all profits support our non-profit social programs assuring the multi-faceted success of each woman and family in our partner communities.