I headed down to South Africa to shoot this campaign, a collaboration between Banana Republic and Piece & Co., and to capture the artisans behind the sun dyed fabrics that make up the summer collection. We started early in the morning when the dew was still resting on the flowers. The women arrived and lead us to their farm (I guess you’d call it a farm?) which I discovered was just a wild space down a dirt road tucked between vineyards where they keep supplies in an old barn. The artisans ascended, plucking flowers and leaves, picking up things I’d never even seen before, finding lilies in the pond and savoring their scent. These are the native objects they use to create the patterns on the fabrics which are sun dyed right here on this piece of earth.
They were proud and happy. The land was beautiful and loved. I like to think all this energy and joy is transferred into fabrics that now are cut into beautiful dresses and men’s shirts and one can feel this when they put it on. At least I hope these photographs can help share their story and shed light on conscience fashion.
Final portraits of the artisans are shot on back and white film in the barn they work at using a spool of burlap we found lying around as a backdrop. Color portrait of the American woman is Piece & Co.’s founder Kathleen Wright.
When Mercado Global emailed to see if I would be interested in visiting the communities of their local artisans in Guatemala, I knew it would allow me to gain a greater knowledge as to what goes into their products. Opening yourself up to experiences like these means the world around you changes. Your association with products is affected by sentimental value but goes beyond sales and trends when you understand the craftsmanship that goes into a product: like when I watched how they painstakingly make CHANEL couture or viewed the tiny delicate details of Chopard’s high jewelry making. Once you peek at the process behind the curtain, you understand how important craftsmanship and expertise is.
These women are experts in the traditional Mayan weaving process, an age-old tradition passed down through generations. What Mercado Global helps them achieve is not only preservation of an ancient artistry, but a partnership that empowers women to break the cycle of poverty by helping them run their own independent business. This opportunity creates sustainable livelihoods for their families and can help turn around entire communities.
One woman I spoke with said her husband was in an accident and was unable to work. Being the only source of income, she had to find a way to support her family. Though the business model set up by Mercado Global, she was able to buy a loom and begin producing fabrics such as the ones you see here which are then purchased by Mercado Global. The artisans do not work exclusively with Mercado Global; once they own the loom they can sell their designs to a newly available international market they once had no access to. On her single income, this woman we spoke to was able to pay for all seven of her children to go to school. On average, these Mayan artisans make three times the national average wage of Guatemalans. These women are changing the culture by being business owners and major contributors to their local community, which gives them the power and tools to fight against major issues like female violence, malnutrition, and illiteracy. Mercado Global not only sets these women up for a viable future but also goes into the communities with programs to educate them on financial management, heath and wellness, and nutrition.
There is now a network of over 400 women artisans in over 40 cooperatives throughout the rural highlands of Guatemala. Below are images from the small town of Comolapa we visited, watching as the artisans worked in a weaving cooperative on floor looms, making fabric by hand that would ultimately become the perfect market tote or evening clutch… but this time, with a story of change. I love carrying mine around the city, feeling the fabric under my fingers and the spirit of these women inspiring me to take control of life while being an expert in my artistry.
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