Browse LCAC’s Hijos del Sol boutique and you’ll find a wide range of gift items handmade by Indigenous Mayan artisans from Guatemala—handbags, luggage tags, and beaded jewelry, just to name a few. But the artisans who create these items have even more in common than their heritage and a passion for creating new products. They are all clients of Friendship Bridge, a nonprofit organization that gives small loans to low-income women in Guatemala, who typically would not qualify for a loan from a traditional bank. These loans allow them to invest back into and build their creative businesses, which in turn transforms their communities.
When you purchase items in the boutique with the Handmade by Friendship Bridge® label, you’re helping Indigenous women in a country with nearly a 60% poverty rate to keep their kids in school and empower them to change the trajectory of their futures. Through the program, they are learning financial skills, practical production techniques, and creative ways to market their products. Many Friendship Bridge artisans have little formal education, yet have a wealth of knowledge in weaving, embroidery, and other art forms that are deeply embedded in Mayan culture and history. We are excited to introduce you to some of the creators behind Guatemalan gift items at Hijos del Sol.
Artisan of Friendship Bridge Handbags
Micaela, originally from Cantel, Quetzaltenango, is the daughter of a day laborer. She only was allowed to go to school through second grade. After her father died when she was eight, Micaela started working for another family as a maid. It was low-paying work, but she treasured a pair of sandals the family gave her—the first shoes she had owned. Later, she quit her job when she was mistreated by that family and was devastated when her former boss asked that she give back the sandals.
At age 12, a woman offered to teach Micaela how to use a sewing machine at no cost, she’d only need to provide the materials. She began selling aprons door to door. At age 20, she married a man who worked in a shoe factory, and she convinced him that they could start a shoemaking business together. Her husband made the shoes, and Micaela sold them in street markets, carrying the shoes in a basket on her head, along with aprons and blouses she made.
Now, Micaela and her daughter-in-law Erica are in business together, creating one-of-a-kind handbags and other items from repurposed Guatemalan huipiles and textiles. She participates in artisan fairs in Panajachel, Antigua, and Xela, and has appreciated learning from other artisans in the program.
Watch Macaela’s Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sx3hNDu1L-k&t=7s
Artisans of Friendship Bridge wine bags, luggage tags, cosmetic organizers
Jacinta’s parents worked in agriculture; she was fortunate to complete high school and earn a diploma in accounting. As an adult, she and her partner, Eliseo, moved to Guatemala City to make a living, but didn’t stay. The cost of living increased significantly while they lived there, and Jacinta, as an Indigenous Mayan woman, was often discriminated against. At age 29, in the 1980s, Jacinta had to flee her hometown of Tecpán due to civil war in Guatemala. She and Eliseo moved to Chimaltenango, where she has been living ever since.
Through Handmade by Friendship Bridge®, Jacinta has been able to participate in different trainings, learning about topics such as quality control, cost, designs, measurements, and color combinations related to her repurposed textile products. These training sessions have allowed her to understand the process of exporting artisan products and all that is involved, including labeling, packaging, and paperwork for shipments. In 2020, Jacinta won second place in the prestigious Citi Bank Awards for Entrepreneurs in Microcredit.
Thanks to the income from her business, Jacinta has been able to support the education of her five children. She is currently committed to ensuring that her youngest daughter finishes university. She employs seven people in her community (two women, five men) all of whom have families to support.
Learn more about Jacinta’s artisanal life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kn8akXQyvXY&t=1s
Martina Artisan of Friendship Bridge microwave bowl holders and huipil zippered bags
With Martina's first loan through Friendship Bridge, she purchased raw materials like thread and zippers to expand the range of repurposed textile products that she sews by hand, as well as a sewing machine. She goes to the market near her home in Chichicastenango continually, always searching for the best secondhand huipiles (traditional Guatemalan blouses) that she can reuse for a wide range of textile products. In her community, she’s known for paying close attention to hand-sewn details so her customers can be sure they are getting well-made items every time.
In Guatemala, a country ranked as the most gender unequal country in Latin America, Martina and her husband Manuel operate her textile business together. As she worked hard to produce a wider range of repurposed textile products and acquired more and more customers, her husband eventually stopped working for other people and became Martina’s business partner.
Learn More about Martina’s Beautiful Creations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDjv6hXE5u0&t=176s
Artisan of Friendship Bridge reusable market bags
Santos, a resident of Caserio Chuacruz, Sector Cipresales, only had the chance to complete one year of formal education before going to work. She learned to weave at age seven. Together with her grandmother and sisters, Santos made and sold all kinds of colorful traditional textiles. At 18, she married a man who turned out to be abusive. After eight years, she left her abuser and returned home, eager to develop her business. She taught herself to weave using a floor loom, traditionally used by men in her community. Though she lacks the ability to read, write, or speak Spanish, she teamed up with her daughter to help the business thrive.
Today, Santos hand-weaves fabrics for market bags and scarves on a backstrap loom. She hand-dyes fabric using different methods, including dying with cochinilla—small soft-bodied insects similar to roly polies. These insects are dried in the sun, then ground into powder to make vibrant magenta. Four generations—her grandmother, mother, herself, and her daughters—work together in the weaving and dying process. Her business has allowed her children to stay in school, and she employs eight other weavers in her community to fulfill orders.
Learn more about Santos’ handmade creations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKxg4O5xoQE
Artisan of the Frida Kahlo necklace
Mirian grew up in San Jorge la Laguna near Lake Atitlan, in a large family with nine siblings. She attended school through sixth grade, after which time she had to drop out to help support the family. Mirian married at 18 and had her first child at 19 while living with her in-laws. When her father-in-law passed away suddenly a year later, her husband turned to alcohol to cope with the tragedy, and became unable to support his family. Desperate to make a living, Mirian joined Friendship Bridge, and gradually grew her business, though many debts her husband had accrued made this even more challenging.
She has since developed partnerships with different wholesale buyers for her products, and employs five people to help with beading. Her business has allowed her two sons to stay in school. One of her dreams is to get running water in her home so she doesn’t have to go to the communal laundry.
Follow Mirian for a tour of her in-house studio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCWqMU22YHM