Mayan Hands now partners with approximately 200 weavers, organized in groups of 10 to 30 women, living in different communities around the western and northern highlands of Guatemala. Mayan Hands has two bases of operation. In Guatemala, we work closely with the weavers and acquire the beautiful products we send to the US. In Albany NY, we warehouse and distribute the goods, mostly through the fair trade network.
In the United States, our legal name is Mayan Hands Foundation, and we are a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. In Guatemala, our legal name is Asociación Tejedoras Unidas (Komon Ajkem), which means Association of Weavers United, in both Spanish and K’akchikel; we have non-profit status in Guatemala as well.
While the official Guatemalan office is in Guatemala City, the real work of Mayan Hands takes place in rural areas. Mayan Hands has one or more fieldworkers who work directly with the women in their communities, speaking Spanish or one of four Mayan languages: K’akchikel, K’iche, Tz’utujil, or Achí. Much of the success of Mayan Hands is due to the attentiveness of our fieldworkers. We are not simply buying products, but have a long term commitment to, and relationship with all of the groups.
Many Mayan weavers weave beautiful cloth for their own personal use . We design our products using the same techniques of the women’s blouses (called huipiles), which vary from village to village. At the same time, designs and products are based on U.S. market trends. Thus, we combine the traditional and the modern. The women have stated clearly that although they have a commitment to weave their own clothes and other home textiles within the traditional framework of their community, they will gladly weave cloth with different colors or designs that will more easily sell in the international market.
To price the product we always ask the women how much they charge for their work, taking into account creation time and difficulty. Whenever possible, we pay the women the asking price. In some cases, when we think the asking price is too high, we let the women know that we might have difficulty selling it. Then we begin a process of negotiation, coming to a price both sides can live with. If the product takes too long to weave and we cannot sell it for a price that will give the weavers a reasonable return, we will not produce it or we may redesign the product. It happens sometimes that after the weavers have been weaving a product for a while, they come back and say that it takes longer or is more difficult than they had initially assessed. We then review the prices, raising them whenever possible, and if that just won’t work we discontinue the item; at the same time we look for alternative products so the women will still have work. On occasion, the women give us an initial price that we think is too low. In these cases we counter their offer with a higher one, which they happily accept.
Mayan Hands has strict quality standards. Traditionally, a weaver’s clothes flaunt her talents as a weaver to the entire community (a very important aspect of her identity). Mayan weavers, thus, have high quality standards for themselves, and because they earn a fair return on their work from Mayan Hands, they weave their pieces carefully. That respect and desire for quality gives us a good base to build on, as we teach the women standards and definitions of quality for the international market.
Shipments are sent to Albany NY approximately every six weeks. There they are received, organized, and shipped out to retailers all over the U.S. We also sell through generous and dedicated individuals who sell Mayan Hands goods on consignment at their churches, schools, offices, weavers’ guilds, peace and justice groups, outdoor fairs and festivals, in their homes, and anywhere else they can find an interested audience. Thank you if you are one of those wonderful people!