Mari Gray, founder of Kakaw Designs

Mari as a little girl in Guatemala


Hi there, visitor!  I'm Mari, and here's the story about how I started Kakaw Designs back in 2013. Some things have changed since then, but our mission remains the same. I went back to school for my master's in Sustainable Development, hosted between University of Graz (Austria) and University of Utrecht (Netherlands). I defended my thesis just in time for the pandemic, which meant that I could easily refocus my energies and pivot the business as necessary in 2020. We are still learning every step of the way, and adapting to the changing world.

I grew up in many different places, but really my life began here in Guatemala, where I was born. After twenty-something years, I came back to the place that has always been a home for me.

Growing up with my mother, a textile artist, appreciation for the handmade and especially the handwoven world was always part of my life, and a passion. After college, I became a total nomad and started to look for a place in the world for myself - I lived in four different Latin American countries, and along the way became a Scuba Dive Master, an English Teacher, an Organic Farmer, a Montessori Teacher, and even randomly an Underwear Model (shhhh, don't tell anyone).  

But I didn't find what I was looking for, neither the location nor the job. During this time, I worked mostly with non-profit organizations in indigenous areas, and personally encountered ethical dilemmas with this models of "giving" and "doing good."

Guatemala hosts hundreds of NGOs, most of them funded in the US, and while many of them directly affect very needy populations in important ways, I began to wonder if these groups' involvement in the country could be contributing to the general culture of waiting for help rather than seeking meaningful, longer-lasting change from within the country.


When I moved to Guatemala initially as a Montessori teacher, I started designing and producing some goods locally for myself, for fun. And then I started to look around and somehow saw a little niche for myself in ethical design and production. I was excited to be working with local artisans, especially weavers, as I wanted to support this tradition continue. I knew from the beginning I wanted Kakaw Designs to be a social enterprise, with the goal of directly supporting women by paying well for their work, and encouraging creativity in innovative textile designs. Women always know how to best use their money; how to improve the community and their children's lives. 

Kakaw Designs has been up and running since 2013, and it has been a learning experience for me every step of the way. I love working with artisans, and I love that we are raising awareness and appreciation for handmade goods on the consumer side of things. Don't be fooled: this is not a "do-good" charity project. We create beautiful things ethically, paying attention to the artisans and being gentle with our environment. We hope that you like what you see.





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