INTERVIEW: ARCHIVE NEW YORK (AMIRA MARION)

Vintage Guatemalan textiles

Vintage Guatemalan textiles

Archive New York's focus is on reviving the techniques and patterns that create the colorful, traditional Guatemalan tops, called huipiles.  Owner/designer Amira Marion is an extremely focused, purist super passionate about making sure these textiles aren't lost forever.  She works, mostly with backstrap weavers, all over Guatemala to re-create some of her favorite textiles ensuring these weaving styles don't die and that the weavers creating the pieces are given fair wages for their work.  There is an unfortunate practice of "recycling" huipiles in Guatemala which is devaluing Guatemalan handicrafts and confusing the consumer as to what the true cost of the beautiful explosion of color that is Guatemalan textiles.  I think it's a really important issue and happy to have Amira chime in on it below.

Why do you choose to work with global artisans/global handcrafts?
To preserve the beautiful weaving techniques that are dying out

What sort of impact do you wish to achieve by working in the artisan sector?
Continue and revive lost technique for posterity 

Weaving on a backstrap loom

Weaving on a backstrap loom

What do you think is the biggest challenge affecting the artisan sector (i.e., artisan training, market access, global instability)?
Artisan training- there are millions of artisans in the world, but many can be difficult to work with as they don't have experience working. 

Rank by importance...job creation, craft preservation, and design/aesthetics.
For my company, design/aesthetics, craft preservation, job creation. This is because the products will not be taken seriously if the aesthetic is not there. 

Amira and weavers on backstrap looms

Amira and weavers on backstrap looms

Name a few brands working in collaboration with global artisans that you admire and why.
Osei Duro (using local techniques and artisans in Africa), Maiyet (for marketing artisan products as luxury, which is seldom done as people believe that they should be cheaper), Ace & Jig (for making each collection fresh while using one specific fabric technique from India, season after season). 

What is your favorite product and why?
I currently only produce in Guatemala and a little in Mexico. I can't get out of Guatemala, because the quantity of techniques are incredible! Have to focus!

Market in Chichicastenango

Market in Chichicastenango

Where has been your favorite place to travel and where are you dying to go? (because let's be honest we do this in part so we can see the world!)
Obviously, I love Guatemala, but I'm dying to explore Mexico and their beautiful pottery. My grandma bought some in the 1940s and I'm trying to find some artisans that can replicate it. I also would love to explore knitting in Northern Europe, visit some French fabric mills still using old techniques, and see some boro in Japan!

There has been some controversy lately with the idea of "recycling huipiles". Guatemalan women are being encouraged to sell their huipiles, which are often their most prized possessions, at very low prices to middle men who then resell in local markets in Guatemala. The consumer is being told that this is a good practice when in fact it puts the women in a bad situation taking from them something they value dearly at a low, low cost and not providing these women with jobs to create new goods.

What are your thoughts on this?
I feel that there is literally no good reason to "recycle" a huipil. The Guatemalan vintage and antique textiles that use to be plentiful are becoming more and more scarce Due to the companies (Guatemalan, American, European etc.) using them in their products (usually handbags and shoes).Because the used huipils are so cheap and plentiful they buy them in bulk for next to nothing. Then they sell their products for much cheaper than it would have been if they had made the fabric from scratch. This ultimately lowers the value of Guatemalan weaving. The company could pay $10 for a used textile that would originally take 1-2 months to make and would cost them $200 if made new. Why would any company want to pay a weaver $200 when they could go to the market and buy one for $10? I personally do as I see weaving as a valuable art form that is dying away. There as so few companies employing artisans to actually weave new items, and even fewer who is preserving the variety of indigenous weaving techniques (each Guatemalan village has their own). I am happy to pay a fair price for the work and sell it as a luxury item as the price point is so high. But that is difficult when consumers are seeing versions so much cheaper all around them that use the "recycled huipils". 
On another note, I find it incredible that one could cut a huipil. Once you've seen the weavers in Guatemala work, and the process, cutting a huipil feels like you're taking scissors to a beautiful painting.

How do you know the huipiles you find in local markets were bought at a fair price (or do you)?
You absolutely do not know. I tend to visit the same vendors that seem to have their personal collection and it feels right to me but in reality you never know. I have to buy textiles as my reference samples, as I base all of my designs on antique styles pieces I find in the market, so it's a catch-22.

What can a consumer do? 
Simply, do not buy products from companies that use recycled cut up pieces in their products! Look for products that have employed artisan weavers. Often these companies will claim to be helping artisans as they employ local seamstresses or leather cobblers, but that shouldn't make up for the usage of recycled huipils. If you own any beautiful Guatemalan huipils, hold on to them tightly as the source will soon be dried out.