After travelling for 5 months through Central & South America, I decided to take a break and become a volunteer for almost two months at Trama Textiles’s. As a sustainable fashion & ethical travel blogger, I really wanted to learn more about ancestral knowledge and discover artisans from this beautiful country I totally fell in love with !
Regarding the human experience…Well, I couldn’t find anything better for my first volunteer position ! I was lucky enough to build my own projects and to work close to the weavers, visit their homes and create strong links with them. Thus, I could understand how an ethical association works and what there daily challenges are.
Who is Trama Textiles?
After some research on the Workaway website, I fond the anouncement of Trama Textiles.
At the root of the association, there is a weaver called Amparo. But to understand Trama’s history, you have to go back 30 years to when Guatemala was suffering from a long and terrible civil war. This led to the creation of several women’s associations, willing to help each other and work together after the loss of their husbands, sons or brothers.
This is how Amparo and her fellow weavers created Trama Textiles which after 30 years, it has become a cooperative of 400 hundred weavers from 5 different regions of Guatemala working together. With the help of the weaver Oralia, the vice-president of Trama, Amparo decided to create a headquater including the local shop in the second biggest city of Guatemala called Quetzaltenango; which is where I did my volunteer work.
Many weavers need to stay at home taking care of their children, so they sell their products through a middleman for a trifle. In contrast to that, buying a product at Trama Textiles insures you to buy ethically, a handmade product made with love, respecting the working conditions of the weavers and allowing them to gain a fair wage for their art. The women are not only weavers but also leaders of their projects learning everyday how to improve and to work as a team ! The weavers can work at home and Oralia or Amparo receive the final product at the headquater. There is also one weaver representing each village, making the communication easier.
Each product is handmade and woven for days or even weeks according to the ancestral Mayan technique of backstrap-loom weaving. Every region has their own knowledges, symbols, designs, colors and stories which creates a large variety of products ! Each product is high quality and some weavers have the unique ability of creating natural dyes of the yarn.
To know more about the values of the association, click here: http://tramatextiles.org/trama/what-we-do/
Most of the weavers don’t speak Spanish but their own local language. Amparo & Oralia act as a central element and manage all the orders from international retailers or their own online shop. However, they don’t have skills regarding computers, marketing, communication strategies, social media management and they don’t speak English. So volunteers are a crucial help for them !
Missions as a Volunteer
- Meeting the weavers…
As a volunteer, I helped on several missions as the daily management of the social media, the online shop on Etsy https://www.etsy.com/shop/TramaTextiles and I also wrote several articles for the blog.
But only after a few days, I had the chance to go with Oralia & Janina (the coordinator of Trama Textiles) to the village called Cotzal for 2 days & 1 night. Oralia needed to develop new designs for cushions with the weavers. We enjoyed the time with them and used it to take pictures and interview them about their work with the association to create content for our social media. It was also really interesting to see them working together, how they organize themselves and communicate with each other, observing the difference of their work culture and the Western mentality.
The next day, we went to the local market of Cotzal to find new inspiration. So this trip really was a great first experience to begin my voluntership !
- Creation of an ethical tour with Trama Textiles’s weavers…
After meeting the weavers and sharing such beautiful moments, I told myself that it was a shame that people couldn’t enjoy getting to know them…just because the villages are far away or no famous tourist sights…As a traveler, I love to travel off the beaten track, meet local people and share their daily life & culture. I had the opportunity to live with a family in Peru that I met in a local market, so I already had this kind of experience where you can share their daily lifes, work in the fields with them, learn about the work of weaving, learning to cook their typical meals & share their traditions… Such an amazing experience I wish everyone could have the chance to live one day.
If you want to read my articles about what I learnt about the weaving in Peru thanks to this family, click here http://cottonandtravel.com/en/category/textiles-of-the-world/perou-textiles-of-the-world/
That’s why, I had the idea to create this kind of ethical travel tour with the weavers of TramabTextiles. It would allow tourists to stay with a local and be part of the family. Ecotourism is on a roll and during my travels, I found several agencies offerig this kind of tours. Nevertheless, the prices were so expensive that I was questionning about the authenticity of it. Also, I wasn’t really delighted by the idea of being on such a tour with tens of tourists.
Every week, I visited several of the weavers’s villages to find out who would be interested in hosting tourists and to explain them in detail how a project like that works. It is important when building such a social project that the host family clearly understand the advantages as well as the challenges. Also, to be a true ethical tour, the host family needs to feel responsible and get involved, as for example, in the choice of the activities or also the prices of the tour that we will offer. Indeed, in this kind of ethical tour, a main part of tour the price goes directly to the family in order to support them and we needed to be completly transparent about that to the tourists.
Moreover, the cultural differences may be the main barrier, which is why it is necessary that the host family who is not used to be in contact with other cultures, understands these differences as we don’t want them to feel offended by some choices or refusal from tourists. The main goal of this kind of ethical tour is sharing with and learning from the other.
It will be surely my most rewarding experience during my travels. To receive daily happiness and smiles from the weavers, having personal conversations about our lives, sharing at the begining with hesitance and step by step gaining trust and finally seing each other embrace other cultures…I grew up so much thanks to this unique experience. Here are some photographies of my meeting with the weavers and their families…
To know more about the different tours & prices offered, click here: http://tramatextiles.org/meet-our-weavers/
- Design Project: Creation of unisex Sweater & a summer aqua Skirt/ Top
My last project was to create new designs for Trama Textiles. The association likes to collaborate with brands or designers to develop designs, mixing traditions and modernity. In collaboration with my friend and designer Priscilla Jolivet, we decided to create two designs: one for the mid-season: a sweater that could fit both men & women as a men’s collection needed to be developed; and one for the summer season: a pretty aqua skirt with its top. We chose to keep for each of them a Mayan pattern, often representated in Guatemalan traditional clothing. However, we modernized them by choosing colors rather used in Western clothing. By changing the original position of the patterns we finally created a modern cut, more appropriate for Western fashion. Actually, Trama doesn’t offer so much clothes apart from some traditional tops but sells mainly accessories & homeware. It was a long-term endeavour as weavers worked for several weeks on these new designs which then needed to be assembled by a seamstress of the city of Quetzaltenango.
We offer you the chance to support the association by pre-ordering these clothes, handmade by the weavers and in limited edition. For more info, please contact me.
Read also the amazing homestay experience of Priscilla with the weavers of Trama Textiles: http://cottonandtravel.com/en/priscillas-interview-her-amazing-homestay-in-lake-atitlan-with-the-weavers-from-trama-textiles/
The maya pattern of this sweater represents the Guatemalan mountains. Nature is a recurrent theme in the Mayan civilisation as they had a close relation to it, respecting all kinds of animals, rocks, plants, etc, and practising so many believes and traditions to honour them.
Regarding the skirt & the top, the lines represent the fields of the Guatemalan agricultors and the triangles symbolise the seeds, in other words, the Mayan’s richness. It is the most represented pattern (with different variations) in Huipil, the traditional tops of Guatemalan women. The agriculture of the earth is also a central element in the Mayan civilisation.
Please, feel free to comment this article to let me know what you think about my voluntership and I would also be pleased to answer to any questions !
To finish, here are some pictures of a photoshoot I made for Trama with its beautiful handmade Huipiles !
I would like to thank warmly Trama Textiles:
*Amparo & Oralia for their wonderful welcome as I really felt part of this big family once I arrived. I am grateful for allowing me to lead my own projects, trusting me and giving me all the means to sucess. Thank you so much for giving me the chance to come with you and know the weavers of the association.
*Janina for a kindness, patience and passion about the work she does at Trama. I couldn’t have been more supported and accompanied while leading my own daily projects.
*Georgina, my fellow volunteer, for her great energy and for being in such a good mood everyday. Thanks for these great shared moments, we really were a great team during each of the different projects.
*Priscilla, for this beautiful design collaboration with the weavers. Even far away, she succeeded to give her time to lead this project and give new designs to the weavers.
Photo Credit: every picture included in this article was taken by Cotton & Travel as part of my volunteer position for the association Trama Textiles.