Last year I had the opportunity to visit with Luisa Villavicencio, the owner of Waybill by Algodones Mayas, at her studio in Antigua, Guatemala. I spent the afternoon looking through her gorgeous textiles, eager to learn more about color grown cotton and how it's played such a large role in her family's history.
Algodones Mayas was founded 26 years ago by Luisa's parents with a goal of preserving the Guatemalan culture, the land, it's natural colors and motifs. To do this they grow and cultivate native pre-hispanic colored cotton. The thread derived from their cotton does not go through any dyeing process. They preserve 100% of the plant's natural colors: brown Ixcaco, raw white and jade green.
"By the 1990s most indigenous colored cotton landraces or cultivars grown in Africa, Asia and Central and South America were replaced by all-white, commercial varieties. The natural color comes from pigments found in the cotton and produces shades ranging from tan to green and brown. Naturally pigmented green cotton derives its color from caffeic acid, a derivative of cinnamic acid, found in the suberin (wax) layer which is deposited in alternating layers with cellulose around the outside of the cotton fiber. While green colored cotton comes from wax layers, brown and tan cottons derive their color from tannin vacuoles in the lumen of the fiber cells."
- Naturally Colored Cotton: Resistance to Changes, The Journal of Cotton Science
Naturally colored cotton is still relatively rare because it requires specialized harvesting techniques and facilities, making it more difficult to harvest than conventional cotton. The cotton from Algodones Mayas is grown and harvested on Luisa's family farm, which was previously run by her mother and father Maria Luz Gonzalez and Horacio Villavicencio. Nestled in a small village around Lake Atitlan, they are producing the same color of cotton that was used by the Mayans. Through collaborations with mills such as The New Denim Project, they are exploring new patterns and textures by blending their cotton with up-cycled denim threads.
Algodones Mayas provides work for over 300 Guatemalan weavers. For over two decades, their textiles have been woven by hand using traditional back-strap and foot looms. Luisa is committed to preserving and promoting this tradition from the Mayans, and in turn providing a dignified way of living for these hardworking men and women.
“We do not produce objects for status or vanity, but to meet a purpose from within. Objects do not fill, they fulfill. Our objects carries intention. Intention to preserve and celebrate our culture and our homes."
Needless to say, we fell in love with the process, history and intention behind the creation of these textiles. We are so thrilled to be sharing the story of our collaboration with Algodones Mayas through some very special pieces in our Spring Collection. The Maya Work Jacket, Isla Short, Alva Pant, and Stella Blouse are all created using Luisa's fabric, meaning all of the colors were naturally grown and did not undergo any dye processes! The Chambray fabrication is a special collaboration where the warp (or vertical thread) is the organic cotton from Algodones Mayas and the weft (horizontal thread) is up-cycled denim from The New Denim Project. To us, it's the most magical combination of materials one could ask for. We hope you enjoy wearing and cherishing these garments as much as we enjoyed creating them!
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Over the past seven years it's been such a gift to see how our little brand has grown and evolved. From launching a Kickstarter project back in 2012 to quitting my freelance gigs a few years later to work on Kordal full time and hiring our first team member Jia Yee, we've reached milestones I couldn't have imagined. I'm still pinching myself that on November 30th, 2019 we opened the doors of our very own store.