Head to the northwest highlands of Guatemala to a town called Cajolá where an indigenous community of Mam people live, and you will find a women’s weaving cooperative called Tejedores Maya Mam, or “Mayamam Weavers.” Comprised of backstrap weavers, foot loom weavers and seamstresses, Mayamam Weavers create handwoven goods and accessories for modern living inspired by the rich colors and patterns and traditional weaving techniques of Mayan culture.
Founder, Caryn Maxim, met a small group of native Cajolenses while volunteering in her hometown of Morristown, New Jersey. With very few opportunities to earn a living, nearly 40% of the population in Cajolá has had to leave to find work in the U.S. After getting to know them and learning more about their town, Caryn traveled to Guatemala to visit Cajolá in person. She was inspired to help the community explore ways to create jobs to be able to stay where they are, rather than migrate to the U.S. and separate their families.
In 2008, Mayamam Weavers was formally established. Backstrap weaving is a skill traditionally taught by mothers to their daughters at a young age. Foot loom weaving, however, is customarily a man’s job so training was offered to the women. The first products they created included striped towels and a cosmetic bag. Eleven years later, they have grown to a cooperative of 23 women and their product lines now include scarves, aprons, pot holders, toiletry bags, table linens, pillows and beach totes. Many of the products combine design influences from Guatemala with a taste for the U.S. market.
The women of the cooperative are paid a fair wage for their products which has allowed them to make sure their children are well fed, clothed and have medical care. Blanca, a single mother who began to work with Mayamam Weavers washing and ironing products remembers when she started, that she and her daughters suffered from malnutrition. As she started earning money, she was thrilled to be able to buy milk and now the three of them are healthy!
As a cooperative, the women make decisions by consensus. Artisans have a say in their compensation standards, have access to educational and vocational training, and are now largely responsible for running the business. Caryn and the US team design products that are targeted to US consumers and manage sales stateside.
This year, a Sales and Marketing Council was formed to develop new products and marketing strategies for the Guatemalan market. The women are expanding their weaving and sewing skills and recently started to learn the process of dyeing and weaving jaspe (also known as ikat). They have also started a savings circle where they collectively put away money to ensure that they have funds for future emergencies or other needs.
Mayamam Weavers is a member of the Fair Trade Federation selling products from their website as well as to wholesale accounts. For more information, visit www.mayamamweavers.com.