Livia Firth in Guatemala

Livia Firth visits Guatemala alongside Donna Karan, Carmen Busquets and the Pacunam Foundation to uncover more about why the future of fashion is artisanal. 

This week, Livia Firth, Donna Karan and Carmen Busquets travelled to Guatemala with the Pacunam Foundation to launch GuateMaya – an initiative to unlock the potential of one of the world’s richest network of artisans and fashion producers – and visit some of Guatemala’s artisanal communities.

Guatemala’s artisan traditions are rooted in three millennia of history – a heritage of the Ancient Maya civilisation. The country is home to nearly one million artisans who produce handmade textiles, accessories, homewares and artworks and are preserving the unique Mayan cultural traditions that would otherwise be at risk of being replaced by lower quality, machine-made products. Today, artisanal craft sustains the livelihoods of 60% of Guatemala’s indigenous, non-Spanish speaking population. This week’s GuateMaya summit recognised the past, the present and the future by building resilience through balanced strategies and networks. 

GuateMaya builds on the success of Omina, the June 2018 summit focused on sustainable development and artisanship held in Costa Rica.  It is the brainchild of Marianne Hernandez, chairman of The Pacunam Foundation – which was founded in 2006 to help save and conserve Guatemala’s cultural and natural heritage for the benefit of future generations – with serial fashion-entrepreneur, WWF National Council Member and CoutureLab Coalition founder Carmen Busquets, in partnership with Livia Firth.  

“What we are building at GuateMaya is the diametric opposite to the fast fashion industry,” says Livia. “In that model brands run around the world on the hunt for low wage production, destroying artisanal production and destabilizing the fashion economy. By contrast GuateMaya unlocks potential in a cohesive, balanced way to build resilience and underpin livelihoods for the future. It serves as a showcase for how design can and must change the world.”

Preservation of culture is key to Guatemala’s sustainable development,” adds Marianne Hernandez “Artisan GuateMaya is a natural extension of Pacunam’s decade-long efforts in conservation of Maya archaeological heritage. The Maya, as one of the most advanced civilizations of antiquity, remain a living, culture with one million artisans out of a population of 17 million. Artisanal craftsmanship represents one of our key assets, and an incredible development opportunity, not only for female empowerment, but also for the creation of small businesses, two development priorities for Guatemala. Artisan GuateMaya will help unlock this opportunity.”

From January 7th-9th, over 50 artisans, international guests and the general public had the opportunity to participate and exchange as part of the summit, which took place at the UFM in Guatemala City.

A few days before the summit took place, a group of international designers and researchers engaged in field trips in order to visit some of Guatemala’s artisanal communities, with their findings shared on stage alongside artisans from all over Guatemala. Amongst them were Donna Karan, Neelam Khan, Carmen Busquets alongside Steven Kolb (President of the Council of Fashion Design of America- CFDA), Chynthia Lawson, Cecilia Duque and Lucia Cuba ( Parsons,  School of Design – New York). 

“Soul to soul. Connecting the dots between past, present, and future creating a community and communicating change while preserving the cultures, putting care in healthcare and educating through mind, body, and spirit is the core of what we do at Urban Zen,” says Donna Karan. “Being here with the Guatemalan artisans learning and sharing creative ideas is how we bring this vision to life around the world. The Guatemalan artisan community is full of creativity, culture and inspiration. It is a model that can be transformed to cultures around the world.”

“Empowering people is at the heart of what I do, so it is great to see international leaders in the world of fashion come together to help mentor artisans in Latin America,” says Carmen Busquets, who has actively supported artisans and positive disruption for over 30 years within luxury fashion.  “It was an honour to join the board of Pacunam, as I feel that our CoutureLab Coalition co-founders, and their incredible contacts, could create strategic partnerships for Guatemala that drive transformational social impact through artisanal fashion.”

Follow Livia on Instagram for live updates from the trip and check back here soon for a very special film. 

In the meantime, watch as Livia Firth visits the Tasmanian wool growers.