Volunteering with Mercado Global in Guatemala
I'm helping out my friend, Ruth DeGolia's social enterprise, Mercado Global, and making this Guatemalan town my home this week. I'm very lucky to be here. Torrential rains and landslides made the roads leading to Pana impassable for over 2 weeks, the sun finally decided to come out 2 days before I arrived.
The view is breathtaking! Courtney Hardt, Director of Design and Product Development at Mercado Global, meets me at my hotel in Santa Caterina on Sunday and we have a very productive working, brainstorming session on the veranda overlooking the lake as the misty afternoon fog rolls in.
A "Bienvendos a Mercado Global" embroidered sign welcomes visitors to their office. Stacks of yarn and woven fabrics pile against the walls, glass jars filled with every colored bead imaginable line the shelves while samples and color swatches are scattered about the working tables. Local artisans have come in for the day to work on new beaded accessory prototypes.
My week with Mercado Global consists of researching and sourcing materials and pattern inspiration at local markets, pitching concepts for their private line, and for one of their main clients. On Monday and Tuesday mornings, I perch my laptop on their outdoor balcony and work with the lush green mountains as my backdrop. The sound of roosters cock-a-doodling becomes my soundtrack. Needless to say, the working environment here is vastly different to my corporate design headquarters in NYC.
During the afternoons, I explore the different communities and local markets around Lake Atitlan via boat, and photo document unique weaving techniques, color use in textiles, and other types of inspiration. These lakeside villages are very hilly, luckily I'm from San Francisco, so I'm no stranger to hills, but by the end of the day, my legs are sore from climbing and my arms are tired from carrying our loot. Due to massive storms and flooding, the lake waters have risen 4 meters over the past year and have drastically reduced the coastline. Arriving at the makeshift ports, all that remain are the tops of straw huts and abandoned buildings which have an eerie, ghost town-like feel.
While stopping in Santiago, one of the larger markets known for their distinctive purple-hued fabrics and delicate embroidery, we discover textiles and accessories in vibrant fuschias, reds and black. We continue our journey to San Juan la Laguna excited to uncover more indigenous creations.
San Juan la Laguna
As I disembark from the boat, I instantly fall in love with the vibe of San Juan. More mellow and relaxed than Pana or Santiago, I quickly realize there is a lot of potential for product development here. This village has a knack for natural dyes that are beautiful and understated.
Back in Pana that evening...
After a night out with the girls from Mercado Global, and a harrowing tuk tuk taxi ride, we make it back safely to the hotel.
Early Thursday morning, our packed little bus finally makes it through the winding roads to Chichi.
It's a bustle of activity as I stroll into the Chichi marketplace. Noted for being the largest market in Central America, the explosion of color and patterns hitsme from every direction. It's a candy shop for designers. I am surrounded by stalls filled with intricate embroideries and colorful graphic patterns. Bundles of brightly saturated silk embroidery thread drape the walls. Sparkling geo-patterned beaded bracelets, necklaces, and purses are displayed under the hot mid-day sun. I look up and see miles of ribbon and embroidered grosgrainhanging from the ceilings. Vintage charms, hammocks, blankets, nylon ropes, masks and ceramics round out the assortment of this one-stop, shop-all market. Down another aisle, a line of women are making fresh tortillas while satisfied patrons sit on small plastic chairs eating them with a bean porridge. (I've consumed enough beans, cheese, avocado and tortillas on this trip to last me awhile)
Our last day in Guatemala ends in Antigua, an atmospheric, cobblestoned, colonial town. We visit a local workshop where an artisan hand makes matte porcelain beads for jewelry and coats them with a colorful pearl sheen. Beautiful pieces...I end up picking up a beaded wall hanging for my apartment. We spend the rest of the day roaming the city's markets and boutiques, scavenging for quirky and pretty objects and sample a Mezcal tasting at a local dive bar.
Many thanks to the girls of Mercado Global for hosting me during my stay and showing me a fantastic time!
* This trip is the first of a few I will be making to consult and work with various social enterprises in developing countries. It's part of a larger project I've been working on for the better part of this year, called The Supply Change. The Supply Change connects social enterprises with fashion brands for mutually beneficial and profitable partnerships.