In San Juan La Laguna – a town on the shore of Lago de Atitlán in Guatemala – the 20 or so Maya women who make up Casa Flor Ixcaco, a collective that produces organic fabrics, have seen their work misappropriated on several occasions. Plenty of business owners come into the group’s store, ask for a sample of the work, and promise to return to place a large order. But they never come back.
“What happens normally, and it’s happened to me, [is] people come here and ask for samples and [then they create their own products], but now they use chemical dyes and industrialized thread,” Delfina Par, a member of Casa Flor Ixcaco, tells me on the phone in Spanish. “And they say it’s handmade and made by us, but normally what they do is take the samples as an example, and later they produce large quantities, but with low-quality thread. That’s what has affected us most.”
With a single sample, these “ethical fashion” companies can mass produce a garment or bag that they can pass off as the real thing. While they purport to sell all-natural items produced by Maya artisans that benefit these communities, they’re selling lower-quality, mass-produced clothing that they’re able to manufacture cheaply. The Maya women, however, only receive compensation for the sample, while the companies profit immensely from the original textiles these women make.
This practice not only cheapens Maya weavers’ craft – which is rooted in tradition – it also means the wrong people profit as Maya communities continue to struggle. But now Ethical Fashion Guatemala – a new website that allows buyers to purchase products directly from Maya weavers and is spreading awareness of the injustices these communities face – is taking on some of the biggest offenders by pushing for Etsy, Google, and Shopify to remove products and websites that infringe on the artisans’ copyrights. On Etsy alone, the group found more than 64,000 inauthentic products.
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