The craft sector is the second largest employer in the developing world, and yet the majority of artisans are living in poverty. The overall western model of globalized employment both exploits artisan ability to weave quality products while also erasing indigenous traditions of textile design and storytelling.
We Weave, We Design (Tejamos, diseñamos) is a project with Artisan women weavers in Panajachel, Guatemala and their US-based employer, Mercado Global. My team and I began our engagement with the community over a week in Guatemala, using a cultural probe to get to know the women of the community and to better understand their values and wishes for the future of their work. We then critiqued Mercado Global’s current empowerment model, finding that although well-intentioned, there is a significant missed opportunity in not allowing for the artisans’ creativity and agency in the designs they produce. Thus, we proposed an addition to the current model which will include creativity building workshops and result in the production of 50 units as part of a new line, “Piece of the Season”, exclusively designed by different communities around Lake Atitlán. The workshops include historical contextualizing with a hired Guatemalan anthropologist and reflection about lives, values, colors, patterns, and textures present in the dynamic and vibrant culture of Panajachel. The project, We Weave We Design, will pilot in Spring 2019, and hopefully will continue as a fellowship for graduate and undergraduate Parsons students as a yearly opportunity for community engagement and mutual learning experience between artisans and students for years to come.
Roles: participatory researcher, design strategist, workshop curriculum designer, facilitator.
Collaboration with: Tina Qi, Mariana Gonzalez, and Abdul Barbhaya
We are a social innovation initiative, creating partnerships aiming to cultivate creativity among artisans and give them agency over their own culture. In partnership with a social enterprise which aims to alleviate poverty, we worked with their employed indigenous artisans in Guatemala, namely those around Lake Atitlán. The project has been funded and mentored by DEED Research Labs.
We arrived to this 4-part strategy by the following design-led research process which took place over the course of a year and a half.
Our design is a four-part strategy which holistically addresses the situation:
Each year, 2 student fellows will go to Panajachel, Guatemala and work with the non-profit to conduct creativity-building co-design workshops with different communities of Lake Atitlán. The students will then mentor future fellows in the program in the following year.
Community Design Workshops
During the week in Guatemala, the student fellows work with the non-profit to conduct a series of co-design workshops. These workshops are a space that allow artisans to learn about and reflect on their own culture and design according to what is meaningful for them and a space for cultural exchange with the Parsons team. The workshops allow for reflection about lives, values, colors, patterns, and textures present in the dynamic and vibrant culture historically and presently around the Lake Atitlán.
The outcomes of the workshops are comprised of two parts:
Intangible outcome: Co-education pattern design process between Parsons students and artisans which encourages artisans to express their own culture, increases motivation, and increase creativity.
Tangible outcome: Patterns conceived, designed and woven by the artisans will be used for the production of the limited edition product.
“Piece of the Season”
The purpose of the special addition line is to give voice to the artisans and allow them to decide what they want to express about their culture. Also, the sister brand of the non-profit will represent a new source of income for artisans. The non-profit, Parsons, and partner retail websites will feature a link to the Nosotras Tejemos, Nosotras Diseñamos website. Retail stores will feature a small display for sale of the collection with more information about the artisan community, culture, and meaning of the design.
Artisans don’t get personal recognition for their work but are very motivated in knowing that their weavings are purchased globally. A tag that will be attached to the limited edition series which will open communication between customer and artisan. The information of this project and the artisan community is on the card as well as the notes for customers to write their feedback and post it on Instagram with our hashtag.