Milvian Aspuac, Economic Development Program Coordinator of the Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez (AFEDES), visited San Francisco in May 2007 to participate in the International Funders for Indigenous People (IFIP) Conference. This year, the IFIP Conference’s theme was “Weaving a New Path in Philanthropy.” Milvian was invited to speak at a panel session, facilitated by IDEX. Milvian’s presentation was on the TUPUEDES clothing store and the positive impact the store has provided to local indigenous women weavers. Milvian demonstrated that the clothing store has prospered by providing affordable, raw materials to the same weavers who then sell their finished products to the TUPUEDES store for a fair price. The store has allowed AFEDES to expand their programs and services to better empower Guatemalan indigenous women. In one year, AFEDES has increased its membership from 700 to 1,000 women.
Milvian also made valuable connections with Bay Area businesses on behalf of the women of AFEDES. These contacts will ensure even more employment opportunities to indigenous weavers and provide more skill development training opportunities as Milvian learned about the different designs and styles that the US market demands.
AFEDES organized a series of training workshops for women who did not previously know how to weave. The excitement of the TUPUEDES Store and its benefits to indigenous women had spread quickly throughout the local communities, and many women were expressing a high-level of desire to join this clothing business but lacked the necessary weaving skills. AFEDES did not want these enthusiastic women to miss out on an entrepreneurial opportunity. This was also a good opportunity to involve the daughters of AFEDES’ members in the project. Passing the weaving skill to the next generation ensures the preservation of the Mayan culture in traditional clothing and indigenous textiles.
The ongoing weaving workshops started in June 2006, and are led by six of AFEDES’ members who have extensive experience in weaving. Once they master basic weaving skills, participants are given the task of creating a sample of the different designs that are used in traditional blouses (güipiles). The participants’ final homework is to make a small güipil or a piece of clothing of their choice. This way, these new weavers can begin creating their own designs. Those who display a sufficient level of skill are invited to join the TUPUEDES project.
At least 20 women from Santiago Sacatepéquez and Santa Maria Cauqué have graduated from these workshops, and 20 more are on their way. Participants have been very enthusiastic about learning how to weave, to the point where they have even arranged to meet outside of the training series to practice weaving together.
AFEDES coordinated 14 training workshops on how to adapt traditional patterns of blouses, skirts and handbags into new styles that are more marketable to the modern indigenous women and for the international export market. A total of 32 women, including weavers, seamstresses and embroiderers, participated in these workshop sessions.
AFEDES also organized a series of training workshops for women who did not previously know how to weave. These grew out of the fact that women in Santiago Sacatepéquez expressed a high level of desire to join. However, these women lacked weaving skills. AFEDES did not want these enthusiastic women to miss out on an entrepreneurial opportunity, and therefore organized and facilitated a series of training workshops to teach the women to weave. At least 20 women from Santiago Sacatepéquez and Santa María Cauqué have graduated from these workshops, and 20 more are on their way. Participants have been very enthusiastic!
The following testimonies are a couple of examples of what the women thought of this project:
Ana Eduviges: "I am very happy with the training workshops that are being carried out at AFEDES, because we are learning to combine our colors better. This training has helped improved my work because I designed several güipiles last year; but they are now out of fashion. Now, I am happy because I have learned to combine colors in an easier way. There are going to be more work opportunities for me now."
María Catalina Lopez Marin: "I went to 4 training workshops on creating new product designs at AFEDES and I enjoyed them very much. I like the textile products that I am doing now because they are easier to make. I am going to tell my fellow peers in my community to come to these workshops because you learn new designs and how to improve your products. At the same time, we are not losing our tradition of backstrap weaving."
At the completion of its first year, AFEDES has achieved great progress with the “TUPUEDES” store, which intends to make traditional weaving more feasible. AFEDES shares its experiences in this progress report, which can be listed as follows:
(1) AFEDES members are improving their weaving skills through training workshops focused on traditional and new product designs, encouraging their participation and access to new work opportunities.
(2) AFEDES members have had access to workshops on cultural identity to enhance their recognition of the value of their work and of their indigenous community.
(3) With the help of monthly reports, AFEDES has recognized the seasons in which weavers are purchasing raw materials to better strategize their sales.
(4) To improve their management of the store, AFEDES has documented the obstacles and challenges encountered throughout the process as a step to address them and take them into consideration for future planning.
(5) AFEDES value the importance of project evaluation and have consulted with staff, loan officers and Board of Directors to look at the store’s progress and create follow-up plans.
AFEDES has made tremendous progress in less than one year towards its goal of making traditional weaving more viable. In summary, the key outcomes of this project this far are as follows:
(1) Local weavers have access to affordable, high quality thread through the TUPUEDES store. This lowers the cost of production and therefore increases the profit margin, while improving product quality.
(2) Through the traditional clothing sales at the TUPUEDES store, young indigenous women have access to a variety of handwoven Mayan textiles, including new, more affordable local designs produced by AFEDES members. This helps preserve indigenous identity and culture in a market flooded by mass-produced, non-traditional clothing.
(3) AFEDES members are improving their income-generating skills through receiving training in the production of new textiles. This includes new styles of indigenous clothing aimed at the local market, and new products for the international market.
(4) AFEDES members are improving their income by producing a new clothing line for the TUPUEDES store.
(5) AFEDES is expanding its sales to the international market through its relationship with Mercado Global. The members are poised to diversify their income in this area through the production of new designs and through IDEX-promoted linkages to other international textile distributors.
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IDEX Latin America Program Director