For the past year, I’ve served on the NYC board of Nest, a non-profit organization that provides micro-finance loans to female artisans in developing countries to help them create sustainable entrepreneurial businesses. As repayment for their loans, our loan recipients make their crafts available to Nest, and these items are incorporated into the Nest line of merchandise. Nest also obtains funds by selling unique lines of clothing, accessories and other merchandise created by well-known domestic designers. In this way, Nest draws together artists from across the globe into a cooperative network of women who share a common goal of sustaining art and design based businesses.
When Rebecca Kousky, the Nest founder, invited the board members from all eight cities to go on a trip to Guatemala and visit the women who have benefited from our loans, I immediately jumped on the opportunity.
Our group of five board members, traveling from Chicago, St. Louis and New York, arrived in Guatemala City and met up with our facilitator, Ian. An exporter of Guatemalan crafts, Ian has connected Nest to various artisan communities throughout the country, and we were fortunate enough to visit these communities throughout our trip.
The first community we visited, located in San Antonio Palopos, was run by a man named Andres. We spent hours in Andres’ community, looking through his workshop at the beautiful scarves his community had woven in a collaborative spirit. We met with Andres’ family, as his workshop is also his home. Nest had connected Andres’ community with domestic designers Proud Mary to create a line of tote bags, and while we were there, we choose a few collections of Andres’ hand-woven scarves to sell at our upcoming Kate Spade event in New York.
After saying goodbye to Andres and his family, the group headed to the Morales community, located outside the city of Panachel. The Morales community was a group of inspiring women who had the motivation and desire to work and produce their woven textiles for sale, but didn’t have the means to purchase enough raw materials to make any profit. It was clear that these women and their families lived in extreme poverty. They spoke an ancient Mayan dialect, and we had to have two rounds of translation to communicate with them, from Mayan to Spanish and then Spanish to English. In our brief meeting with them, we explained what Nest was and how we could help by providing them with a loan so they could purchase the raw materials needed to weave more fabrics to sell. We also suggested they take an organic dying class at the weaving school Nest had set up in Antigua, as this technique allows textiles to be sold at a much higher price. Once we had answered all their questions, the group of about 20 women made a democratic decision amongst themselves within minutes, deciding that they would send two representatives to take the class, spending the rest of the loan on the raw materials. Our group was fascinated with the way in which they came to this decision and couldn’t believe how so many women could come to agreement so quickly. As a symbol of their appreciation, they insisted on serving us food, which consisted of cinnamon spiced coffee and delicious jam made from local fruits.