By Alana Marsili
Woven: Technology, Mayans, and FashionBy: Alana Marsili It was almost two years ago that I wandered through the colorful textiles of Casa Flor Ixcaco’s shop in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala, looking for Christmas presents for my family. In 2015, I was on a detail assignment in Guatemala, working for the U.S. Agency for International Development, supporting cable writing and their democracy and governance programming. After graduating Georgetown University with a Master’s in Political Economy, I was given a scholarship and a few opportunities supported by Harvard Business School and Georgetown University to explore where the future lie between public policy and technology in Peru. I spent a year meeting with stakeholders and working on my publication, and 2 more years in the federal government working on open data. All the while, subconsciously I was yearning for an opportunity to implement the passion project I was building. In 2015 I would find that opportunity in Guatemala.
The OpportunityI was awestruck by the workmanship of the scarves at Casa Flor Ixcaco. Each of the scarves and textiles were dynamic and unique. The process of handweaving with a backstrap loom took the women anywhere from two-weeks to a month, depending on level of skill. The colors were vibrant, striking, and unfamiliar; it was the first time I was seeing earth-born colors on textiles that were not altered by chemicals. The story of the scarves made the textiles all the more compelling. Five living generations of Mayan women maintained the enterprise, which has become a cooperative-style store that supports over 100 members of the community in San Pedro, directly and indirectly. Everything these people did was about environmental preservation, patience, quality, and family. I couldn’t believe for the first time in my life I was holding a piece of fashion, dyed with culture and woven with values. In that moment I knew that I needed to connect them with everyone I knew. I hadn’t just stumbled upon fashionable scarves; I was for the first time standing in the presence of millennia old practices, an art struggling to not only survive, but searching for the opportunity to grow. I approached the cooperatives’ young and business saavy, Delfina Par Cutoc. I asked her about the cooperatives relationship with technology, data, and websites. How were they using data to understand their client base? How were they utilizing the internet to connect to new markets? She smiled inquisitively with excitement for the opportunity, and replied, “Teach us how.” In that moment our partnership was born.
The partnership: Technology, data, and development in GuatemalaCasa Flor Ixcaco, like many small enterprises, lacks access to the tools and resources required to effectively connect itself to markets within Guatemala and abroad.
Tourism and social media have opened the door to create unlikely inroads and opportunities, if leveraged appropriately.My company, Enlace International, has a phased approach that seeks to integrate technology and data into operations, sales, and marketing for the women.
The goal is that we work ourselves out of a job with Casa Flor Ixcaco, and can go on to assist other cooperative such as theirs. I still tell Delfina, my goal is to visit you for fun as a friend, not because you need our technological assistance.For phase one, Enlace International built them a mobile application using Dimagi’s CommCare platform.
The application is used at point of sale and is meant to capture information about tourists, so they can better utilize information about trends available on the internet, as well as analytics from their mobile application. Additionally analytics from their website, Facebook, and Instagram can be used to create a holistic picture and understanding of their consumer base.
During this phase we also undertook a branding initiative, and renamed them Woven so that they would be easily recognizable and could benefit from word of mouth. During the next phase we did a business needs analysis and decided that a photographer and fashion trends coordinator would help to elevate their access of marketing materials, and production direction. During our third phase we will focus on creating a marketing strategy to be easily implemented on Instagram and Facebook that will target Guatemala City and markets abroad, based on tourism information.We are seeking to position Casa Flor Ixcaco in a market where it can maximize earnings from foot traffic and create a virtual network of support and curated market opportunities based on data analytics and utilization of the internet. We want the women to move from sustainability to profitability, whereby, they are more active market players in their industry.This project is a community-led initiative. We don’t receive funding, so the cost of operation comes directly from sale of the scarves. Our current model allows us to be flexible, patient, and true to a development approach that is in line with economic and market realities.
You can follow the story as it is unfolding and support the women by visiting our website: www.ixurban.com and you can support our project at: