By Kathleen Nicholson Webber
Originally posted in HAND/EYE Magazine on November 25, 2016.
Eight years ago Giovanna Mantilla quit her corporate job in telecommunications and began to travel. She had plans to volunteer in Argentina but stopped in Guatemala first. Born in Mexico to Peruvian parents, the pit-stop proved life changing. “That was it, “she says. “I felt like I stepped back in time.” She met artisans who not only made jewelry but hand and loom-made embroidery for clothing and accessories. “The weaving and the looms were magical. I stayed in Guatemala for four months admiring the strength of the women I met, their culture, their family values and what they made.”
Mantilla spent all of her money buying up all of the artisan made things she could and brought them to California to sell at the State fair. She shared the story of the merchandise with buyers and the reaction was overwhelming. She decided to open Lumily, a company that partners with artisans to create handcrafted accessories, home décor, and apparel that would help preserve cultural traditions and craft making techniques passed on from generations.
Her company has grown from employing eight women to 150 in three countries (Guatemala, Mexico and Thailand) making 400 products with the purpose of providing economic opportunities in poor and destitute areas and follows Fair Trade Federation guidelines. “With fair trade pricing, we follow the guidelines and pay promptly and fairly. Fair Trade empowers artisans to set prices within the framework of the true costs of labor, time, materials, sustainable growth, and related factors. Lumily exceeds local Fair Trade Minimum standards for our employees and producers. We seek to ensure that income is distributed equitably at all times, particularly equal pay for equal work by women. We ensure prompt payment to all of our artisan partners. Artisans are offered access to interest-free advance payment for handmade goods,” said Mantilla.
The lion’s share of her accessories come from the highlands region of Guatemala where Mayan women have learned to embroider for hundreds of years from their mothers. Hand and loom embroidering techniques and pattern making is passed down from mother to daughter.
Mantilla had the idea of making upcycled bags and accessories made from traditional, embroidered blouses (huipiles) made from the Mayan women who take their used hand or loom embroidered clothes to the market to re-sell. The company buys them at the market and has them made into totes, wallets, clutches and backpacks. Other accessories are original, colorful embroidered designs made by the women. Mantilla feels the repurposed textiles bring an energy from their previous life. “Women there still dress the way they did hundreds of years ago. Their wardrobe staples are the huipil or traditional shirt, the corte wrap skirt and a faja belt. Every village wears their own colors and designs on the clothing. “They are masterpieces,” says Mantilla. “Mostly hand embroidered, their designs tell the story of their education, the number of children they have, the dialect they speak, and the village they are from.” Women will wear the shirts for 2-4 yrs. The corte (skirt), made on a foot-powered treadle loom, is much wider, longer, and thinner than that of a huipil. The wrap-around skirt consists of a cut of cloth joined to form a tube which the woman steps into. Because no two of these items are alike, Lumily accessories are one of a kind.
In the home mothers teach daughter how to embroider and use the looms. “When you ask about patterns, it’s all in their head. These patterns come from ancient times and they are mathematical,” Mantilla explains.
Mantilla travels there 2-3 times a year to work with her production manager and meet with the artisans. The company now sells to 1200 stores around the world.
The impact has been huge. She started working with one family and now it is 100.” To see the changes economically from what they are eating, where they are living — dirt floors and metal walls to a home with rooms and a garden is huge.” Last year, the company even sent 17 children to school. “I know these women and their children. I share photos of the trade show booths and of the stores to the artisans. It means a lot to them.”
Mantilla credits the success and popularity of the product on a changing consumer who want to support artisan made with one-of-a-kind purchases. “There’s been a real shift in buying power in the past 3-4 years. People ask more questions—was it fairly made. It’s a shift of consciousness knowing where an item is made and its’ story it brings.”
To learn more visit www.lumily.co.