“Guatemala is such a small country, but there is so much beauty,” said Alida Boer. And since 2011, the former Ford model and Miss Guatemala has dedicated her time to bringing her home country’s colorful allure to the attention of a wider audience. As the founder and CEO of MARIAS, a range of artisanal accessories that celebrate Mayan culture, she has adopted a business model that not only showcases the craftsmanship and heritage of the region, but is helping to preserve traditional Guatemalan textiles and techniques as well as empower local women.
Alida was inspired to launch her line after seeing the reaction locally made fabric garnered internationally. Pairing jeans with a blouse made from a traditional huipil design on a trip to London “everyone stopped me asking ‘where did you get this?’” she told WWD. Huipils are unique to each region and are crafted from intricate embroidery depicting geometric shapes, animals, landscapes and flowers, reflecting the close relationship the Mayans have with nature and their respect for the environment. “I thought the best way to portray this is to do bags,” she went on to say.
From working with a small group of women from Pastores, a remote town in Sacatepequez – “I worked with three ladies who happened to all be named Maria, which is how I came up with the name” – the company has now created jobs for over 500 women, through textile cooperatives, by working in MARIAS’ factories or as direct collaborators. Blending craftsmanship with contemporary design, each textile is created by hand using a waist loom and can take up to six months to produce. The art of creating each huipil has been passed down from generation to generation, and each handbag tells a story created with the utmost precision and care. And since its launch the brand has grown, incorporating other techniques into its styles, with beadwork and wood carving now also featuring on the bespoke bags.
In addition to supporting the preservation of local traditions, MARIAS contributes to the development of Guatemalan communities through its work with local women. Workplace equality is an issue in Guatemala, and in remote areas especially women struggle to provide for their families. Women working with MARIAS are able to make a living wage, with many weaving at home while looking after their families. The company also helps to fund a school near La Antigua in Pastores attended by almost 250 students, many of whom are children of the MARIAS’ weavers.
Speaking to Eluxe Magazine about the injustices local women face, Alida explained how through working with the company “they feel more important and develop their creative side; but better yet, their self-esteem has improved”. She has also noticed how the way they talk and how they dress communicates improved security and an improved quality of life. “MARIAS is a dream come true for me,” she said. “I am revealing Guatemala, through artwork and empowering women”.