Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cooperative Xuaan Chi Ya

Last Friday, I returned to San Juan for a meeting with Elmy Hernandez, director of the Xuaan Chi Ya cooperative to continue on some Nest outreach that Kate, another Nest Fellow, began earlier in the summer. You can read about Kate’s visit to Xuaan Chi Ya here, on her blog: http://theweschnest.blogspot.com/2011/05/san-pedro.html

My goal with this follow-up meeting was to continue learning about the skills and capacity of the artisans from the 8 associations that make up Xuaan Chi Ya, and to help determine if this would be a good group for Nest to expand to. Before the meeting, I received a list of questions from Nest: how many women are working with the cooperative, how much demand the cooperative has right now, how many looms/sewing machines the women have, how the fabric is priced, etc. If Nest does choose to work with Xuaan Chi Ya, they would also like to bring in an outside designer to work with the artisans and develop a line of products exclusively for Nest, and I was hoping to look into this possibility as well.

Overall, the meeting went great, despite my less-than perfect Spanish. We had a pretty late start – on “Guatemalan time,” meetings tend to start an hour or two later than they’re scheduled – but I used the time to explore the many products in the store and speak with the store manager and product designers working there at the time. As Kate found in her previous visit, the products are all very beautiful – great colors (both natural dyes and chemical dyes), excellent quality, and a lot of unique and innovative designs.

In our meeting, Elmy explained that Xuaan Chi Ya works with a total of 187 artisans in 8 different cooperatives, though at this point, only 20 women work at a high enough quality for exportation. However, they’re working on improving the quality of work of the other artisans to improve their capacity for exportation. Like all of the other cooperatives that Darcy and I have visited this summer, Xuaan Chi Ya doesn’t have a lot of demand right now for their products – so there’s definitely room for expansion to other outlets like Nest. Elmy also mentioned that if there ever was TOO much demand for her artisans to meet, there are plenty of other artisans with whom she could work with, as even just in San Juan, there are 27 legal cooperatives and over 500 women artisans looking for work.

Regarding the artisans’ capabilities and capacities, in general, the artisans in the cooperatives are making only the fabric itself – they are not putting together finalized products like bags, makeup bags, wallets, etc. (though scarves, shawls, napkins, and other flat weaving products don’t require a sewing machine and can simply be sold as they are). Only a few of the women know how to use sewing machines, and while many of them would like to learn, the biggest challenge is buying the machines themselves (which the women can’t afford on their own). So instead, the finished fabric is brought to the store, where Panchito – a young Guatemalan man – does all of the sewing machine construction.

Elmy seemed really open to the idea of bringing in an outside designer to design some products with Xuaan Chi Ya specifically for Nest. Xuaan Chi Ya already produces their “Los Zumos” line, a innovative line of scarves, laptop cases, and wallets designed by a Norwegian designer, and has also worked with an outside designer to create a line of scarves and shawls to be sold in New York, so Elmy already has a lot of experience working with outside designers in this capacity. Overall, it was a very productive meeting and I’m looking forward to seeing how Nest chooses to proceed.

After the meeting, I wasn’t able to find a direct lancha back across the lake to Pana, so I took a short tuk tuk ride to San Pedro where boats are more constant. It was a beautiful day so I decided to treat myself to a delicious lunch at one of my favorite San Pedro restaurants, Café La Puerta. After four days in Rabinal eating mostly corn tortillas and soup, my tropical salad – a huge salad with fresh lettuce, red peppers, grilled chicken, sunflower seeds, pineapple, coconut, and homemade citrus dressing, along with two freshly baked slices of three-seed bread – literally tasted like heaven.

With my flight home looming ahead only a few days away, it’s really starting to feel like the home stretch. This afternoon, my parents arrive for a short visit, and I’m so excited to be able to show them around Pana, introduce them to the women I work with, and explain to them in person how much I’ve learned and gained from this experience. I still have plenty of work to do – preparations for OB’s Celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, coming up this Saturday, are in full swing, and I’m in charge of coordinating and running the food sales and setting up a wall with information about OB’s mission, vision, and activities. It should be a great event and I’m so glad that I was able to extend my trip to stay for it!

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