The Cojolya Association from Guatemala
The traditional Mayan art of backstrap loom weaving is alive and well on the shores of Lake Atitlan in the highlands of Guatemala, thanks to the women weavers of the Cojolya Association.
Steeped in folklore, Lake Atitlan was home to the legendary city of Cojolya -- a magical place of transformation. It was here, according to legend, that Mayan artists and sculptors bought their creations to life. Backstrap weaving is a sacred local tradition, believed by the ancients to have been invented by Ixchel, the goddess of childbearing and medicine. Indeed, the items produced in this way emanate with something of the divine.
Mayan Antonio Ramirez Sosof and American designer Candis E. Krummel founded the Cojolya Association in 1983 to preserve this venerable craft and to provide better economic opportunity for local weavers. Cojolya currently employs sixty member workers, thirty of whom are women, and provides them with living wages. This is important in an area where 75% of people live in poverty. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, and healthcare and education are largely unavailable in rural areas such as Lake Atitlan.
In addition to fair wages, Cojolya provides social programs to improve the health of its artisans, including a project that provides stoves to families who historically cooked with open flames inside their homes, vastly reducing the incidence of respiratory illness.
Combining the finest eco-conscious materials and innovative textile designs inspired by nature and art, Cojolya creates woven designer accessories, showcasing the structure and diversity of the Mayan backstrap loom. International designer Krummel creates innovative and spectacular designer accessories and home furnishings, and each hang tag proudly bears the name of the weaver who made the product.
Cojolya's textiles have won critical acclaim, and its client list includes Takashimaya New York, ABC Carpets, Michael Graves Design, Simon Pearce, The Textile Museum of Washington, D.C., Chicago Art Institute, The Gardener in Berkeley, California, The Seattle Art Museum, McKinnon Furniture in Seattle, and numerous interior designers who commission special-order textiles.
Cojolya is a member of the Fair Trade Federation and is in the process of joining the World Fair Trade Organization.