Fairly traded handwoven jewelry supporting young indigenous
women in Guatemala


If you're looking for that perfect gift and would like to support a group of Indigenous women in Guatemala we've got the solution.

Lily Jacobs, a vivacious adorable red head, moved to Santa Cruz, a small remote rustic village of a few thousand people on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala 12 years ago. Santa Cruz is populated by a colorful Mayan people who still wear costumes to signify which village they are from. The traditional color of Santa Cruz is red huipils and black corte (the name of their skirts.) They wear brightly colored scarves in their hair and all their clothes are woven by hand. Guatemala is famous for its weaving traditions but now this tradition is expanding to include weaving beads, which fit into the Mayan Culture as the Mayans feel that we are all connected by a huge woven web.

Lily Jacobs volunteered as a loan officer to help women receive a loan through Friendship Bridge based in Colorado. As her first job in Guatemala she became involved with this Micro/Credit program which offers small loans to women so they can start their own business. Women apply for a loan in order to buy a refrigerator so they can operate a small convenience store, or they buy corn for their corn mills, or thread for weaving, or chickens and pigs for food production or a sewing machine so they can make alterations. The rate of failure is so infinitesimal on this type loans world wide that it would make the CEO of Citibank weep.

One day Lily was approached by a group of women that felt they needed more products for their small stores around the lake. Lily, appalled by the poverty on her shores, agreed that they needed a market for their goods but their beautiful shawls were not saleable since weaving one shawl could take weeks and weeks of time. And if she was going to change their colors and designs she was not doing their traditions any favor.

She came up with another idea.

Lily, who came from a high powered position in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as director of Carole LaRoche Gallery on Canyon Road knew a thing or two about marketing. She decided to steer these talented industrious women into a new field. She suggested they learn to weave beads and make jewelry.

Beaded jewelry was becoming very popular and women could become involved at different skill levels. She founded a bead class and enlisted the help of a girl who spoke Mayan as many women did not speak Spanish. She worked with them for a few years and together out of this small seed came the fruit, Lilybead.

Lilybead is an organization which makes cleverly designed beaded jewelry on the shores of the most beautiful lake in the world. Each year more and more women become involved in creating these colorful beaded bracelets by combining semi precious stones and

Japanese seed beads.
Lily who is very knowledgeable about the fashion market keeps their color schemes up to the latest minute from Paris and New York.

When I look at their designs I am reminded of visiting an orphanage in Burma a few years ago, when a French girl from Paris was having her designs interpreted and sold in the orphanage craft store. I bought about fifty pairs of exotic earrings from her and unfortunately that was the end of that. You had to be in Burma to continue ordering. The only difference is that Lily is making sure that Lilybead reaches a much wider market.

At present Lily works with over 50 women who now possess a valuable skill that helps support their families, and as their education process continues, it is hoped that many more women will become involved in this craft. Lilybead is committed to strictly adhering to "fair trade principles, respecting cultural differences, creating a cooperative working atmosphere and paying an appropriate wage." When designing and creating an item, the time, effort and skill level of the women is taken into consideration, as well as the cost of materials. No piece of jewelry will be put into production, though it may sell well, if it means exploiting the women.

This is a labor of love for Lily and a great avenue of support for many families around Lake Atitlan without destroying their weaving tradition. The entire Lilybead collection just arrived from Guatemala. Enjoy the wonderful colors of Atitlan!

Written by Mary Sue Morris - Antigua, Guatemala.