Soul Woven: From Guatemala to Canada, a True Family Business

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“The path that lead me towards founding Soul Woven was a winding road,” states Claire Levick, the founder of fair trade fashion company Soul Woven. It was her mix of interests, frustrations and desires that led her to take a risk, commit to her values and start a fashion business that stood for ethical and fair practices. Soul Woven is a fair trade fashion collection curating traditional Mayan creativity into innovative, modern design by working directly with a number of different artisan groups in Guatemala.

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Who are the people behind Soul Woven?

“My mom and I are very grateful for the relationship we have with our artisans. We take pride in the friendships we have cultivated over the small amount of time that Soul Woven has existed. A great part of Guatemala’s culture is devoted to family and it is common for the parameters of ‘family’ to stretch beyond. I learnt that from a direct experience a few years ago.

When my mother came to Guatemala for the first time, I introduced her to Esperanza, Marten and their family – the soul of our boot production.  We were invited to come to their workshop to observe their cobbling process. What we believed to be a short business trip, turned into a day I will never forget for the rest of my life.

When my mother came to Guatemala for the first time, I introduced her to Esperanza, Marten and their family – the soul of our boot production.  We were invited to come to their workshop to observe their cobbling process. What we believed to be a short business trip, turned into a day I will never forget for the rest of my life.

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Christopher, Cobbler
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Sitting in complete and utter shock, both my mom and I sat there feeling our hearts about to explode. Half way through the dance, I stumbled to find my camera to capture a part of this magical moment. When the dance ended, we met the girls individually and learnt that they were all nieces of Esperanza and Marten. Next, they proceeded to teach my mother and I the process of how girls in Guatemala learn to make Huipils and the graduating steps it takes to get there. That day, I grew a profound appreciation and understanding for the talent and lifetime dedication that goes into the creation of a Guatemalan huipil. We then went through the process of boot making with the cobblers. From cutting the pattern pieces and leather skins, to constructing the sole and adding the finishing touches, we learnt in great admiration the steps to completing a handmade pair of boots. The afternoon carried on for a number of hours as the house grew more full of family members, all with a role in the business.

 

Thinking our day was coming to an end and that we would return to our room, exhausted and ready for bed, we were told dinner was going to be served. We insisted, as Canadians do, that they did not need to feed us. And as Guatemalans do, they didn’t listen and sat us down in our seats and didn’t let us get up until the meal was over and table cleared. The meal that followed was one of the best meals I have ever had. Handmade tamales started us off as they were passed around the table. The main course was a traditional Guatemalan stew called, Pepian. A beautiful array of coriander, cloves and cinnamon, give flavour to a tomato and chili based chicken broth. We were told after the meal that they had butchered one of their chickens for the meal. I am still at a loss for words when I talk to Esperanza about that night and the symbolism of their gift that day. The evening ended with many hugs and an agreement that our relationship was not only business, not only friendship, but family. I am forever grateful to be able to have begun a business based on these values and I hope to continue to grow Soul Woven in the same way forever.”

Check out Soul Woven at www.soulwoven.ca and follow them on Facebook and Instagram

You can also watch out our interview with Claire below:

Big Village: Supporting Artisans Abroad and Inspiring Global Citizens at Home

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John and Liz Blaauwendraat are on a mission to share their message that “fair business relationships are the best way to effect change towards the challenge of income inequality.”

What was the inspiration that got you into this business?

We had been working with a social entrepreneur on a community development project in Ghana since 2009, and I was able to travel there in 2011 and 2013.  We were involved in fundraising, and had been investing personal resources in the construction of a school in the town of Asamankese.  We were thrilled to see that project completed and classes underway during our visit in ’13, but came to the realization that in order for this to be sustainable, we would have to find a way to use local resources to fund this and other projects.  We could see that there were so many wonderful products being made in Ghana that could be brought to Western markets, and started working on a strategy to use these products to bless projects in that country.

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The family business not only sells handmade products from Ghana, but they also commit to teaching the next generation about fair trade. John and Liz, along with their daughter Avery and son Anders, have developed a series of presentations that they take around to different students in grades 2, 6 and 10. These interactive presentations focus on the fair trade principles and how they tie in to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Along with fueling the next generation of changemakers, they also connect with students creative side by conducting a bracelet making workshop using their recycled glass beads.

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Weaving baskets in Bolgatanga, Ghana

How is Big Village impacting the world?

We use the baskets and beads as practical examples when we introduce topics such as recycling, cultural identity, social justice, and sustainability to our customers and students.  Our partners in Ghana are models of resourcefulness because they use materials that are readily available to them to make the products.  The baskets are constructed from a special type of grass that grows in abundance in Northern Ghana, and is resilient to the effects of climate change.  The glass beads are made from bottles in the community that were broken and unused.   The workers will gather them from the roadside and they are bring them to the factory to be re-formed into our beads.

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The Blaauwendraat family visiting their partners in Bolgatanga, Ghana

Visiting Ghana in June of 2015 they had an opportunity to meet with their partners. Spending time with the artisans allowed John and Liz to see how they live and work and to get to know their families.  Through a translator John had the opportunity to speak to them about how much Big Village customers love the baskets, I spoke about how our relationship with them is like a basket; each of us is like a blade of grass, and through our partnership we have, through the many connections, become woven together into something that’s strong and beautiful.”

 

Big Village, Big News: Big Village has teamed up with the Stephen Lewis Foundation to sell baskets which will support fundraising for the Grandmothers Campaign! The Grandmothers Campaign supports grandmothers and their communities in Africa as they struggle to care for the millions of children orphaned by AIDS.

Check out Big Village at www.bigvillage.ca and like their Facebook Page!

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John at The Fair Trade Show in June 2016 at Heritage Court, Enercare Centre
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Liz and John at The Fair Trade Show in June 2016 at Heritage Court, Enercare Centre