After falling in love with Guatemalan craftsmanship during our collaboration with Tucker Robbins, the DARA team was eager to explore additional opportunities to connect with the country’s artisan community.
Our Director of Sourcing & Operations, Leigh Millard, arranged an official sourcing trip to Guatemala’s beautiful Colonial city of Antigua this past September. Her first stop was Colibri, a local textile shop that is world-renowned for selling some of Guatemala’s finest handmade pieces. Connecticut transplant Vey Smithers founded the store in 1984 when a group of widows from Solola approached her with handmade garments for sale. All of their husbands had been “disappeared” or killed during Guatemala’s violent civil war, so they were desperate to find a source of income to support themselves. Having grown up visiting her mother’s house in the area, Vey was familiar with Guatemalan craftsmanship and was immediately impressed with the quality of the women’s work. Vey wanted to help them, but she knew it would be difficult to successfully market traditional Guatemalan garments to a contemporary, international audience. She offered to collaborate with them, using their amazing technical knowledge and artistic skills to design textiles she knew would sell.
Over the past twenty years, Colibri has expanded from its original group of 12 weavers in the Solola area to more than 500 Mayan women in 25 small villages throughout Guatemala. Vey now employs a staff of 6 assistants to monitor quality control and make sure the weavers have all the necessary materials to complete their work, including the best locally-grown yarns.
Leigh was captivated by the shop’s distinctive product offering. “Colibri’s products represent Guatemala’s highest caliber of traditional weaving while also reflecting Vey’s sharp eye for modern style trends,” she effused. “Vey strikes a great balance between giving input and knowing when to step back and simply let the artisans create. She has enormous respect for the weavers’ innate talent and gives them a lot of freedom to exercise creative expression. The artisans come up with new ideas every season based on what local patterns, colors, and shapes are inspiring them at the moment, so it never gets boring for them.”
Leigh ended up spending the entire afternoon with Vey, asking her questions about the area and its rich tradition of handmade craftsmanship. As the day came to an end, Vey suggested they continue talking over glasses of wine at a little Italian restaurant around the corner—one of her favorite local haunts. Before parting ways, Vey invited Leigh to pay another visit to Colibri the next morning so she could observe more of their daily operations.
“I was thrilled to have another chance to visit the shop,” said Leigh. “I arrived early the following day and was able to watch the husbands of Colibri’s weavers bringing huge packages of new pieces down from the highlands of Guatemala. It takes them almost an entire day to travel to the city from their villages. They were carrying the enormous bundles of textiles on their backs, with a thick strap across their foreheads to help support the weight.”
Leigh sourced a selection of beautiful pieces from Colibri’s latest collection, including hand-woven placemats, tablecloths, and napkins. DARA Artisans will be the exclusive retailer for these pieces in the United States.
Leigh said, “I was so pleased with how the trip turned out. It was very productive in terms of building relationships with artisans and discussing ideas for future collaborations, and everything I saw really reinforced that Guatemala is an epicenter for exquisite artisan work. The fact that DARA Artisans can play a part in giving Guatemalan craftsmanship the international platform and recognition it deserves is so exciting. I can’t wait to go back!”