The photos tell the story. The women in them are swathed in warm, rich hues, their blouses and skirts able to fill a pantone book onto itself. That’s because color is at the heart of Guatemala and the Maya people; it’s in their nature, their art, their clothing, and yes, their baskets.
We first discovered Mayan Hands, the fair trade organization and nonprofit that helps sell the products Mayan women weave together, through Penelope Price and Suzanne Johnson of Odyssey Films. They had just returned from documenting the women of the Xeabaj cooperative in Guatemala and sent us a short clip from the film (below). Did we know, they asked, that Mayan women used Rit to create the vibrant colors in their baskets?
Interested in adding the colors that surrounded them into their work, the weavers had experimented with several dyes before deciding on Rit. They liked its ease of use and how the soft brown of the pine needles and raffia in their baskets mellowed and muted into warm shades when dyed. As Michele Hament, the basket artist who taught the women their trade, adds, “Undyed baskets are beautiful, but adding color makes them unique, and uniquely Guatemalan.”
So unique, in fact, that their sales increased as soon as the dyed baskets hit the market. That’s no small thing given that many of the women are illiterate, having never been to school as children since only boys were allowed to go, and selling their baskets provides them with a fair price for their products, good working conditions and a route out of poverty for themselves and their families.
This is the kind of story that makes our day: seeing how color can transform lives. In this case, hundreds of lives as Mayan Hands works with more than 200 weavers in rural areas in Western and Northern Guatemala.
Rit is proud to support Mayan Hands. To learn more about them or to purchase their baskets, visit http://shop.mayanhands.org/.