All About Maya Bags

Barneys loves to shine a light on our designers that are not only providing the world with on trend and high quality fashion, but also those who are helping to make it a better place with their sustainable production and charitable efforts.  MayaBags accomplishes both. Made entirely in Belize by native Maya women, MayaBags is a business inspired by the Maya culture. Judy Bergsma, MayaBags founder and designer, was on an environmental mission when she became enthused by a Maya woman. The rest, as they say, is history. Learn about all that MayaBags has to offer as Judy explains the success of her business in her own words.

“My work with The Nature Conservancy introduced me to the beauty and biodiversity of Belize. It was through my work to help save the Port of Honduras from over-fishing that led me to the Mayas and a recognition of their impoverished condition.  A UNDP phrase “You can’t save the environment unless you reduce poverty and you cannot reduce poverty unless you save the environment” sums up my outlook as an environmentalist and as a designer/business woman.

Over 10 years ago, a Maya woman named Jovita Sho opened my eyes to the hand skills Maya women had carried forward for many generations in Belize.  Although not recognized at that point as a highly skilled, artisanal crafts group, I saw the potential and a way to help relieve poverty among the Mayas.

Since that time, my journey to help Maya women has been deeply satisfying and I truly feel blessed by the time I have had to get to know and become close friends with the Mayas of Southern Belize. The inner rewards have been abundant and the joys at what we have accomplished make me want to dance every day.”

 

 

“In just 10 years, we have built a small, custom sewing workshop in Punta Gorda, the largest town in Southern Belize.  We have trained sewers and surgers in quality detailing and stitching, and, while we have a small full-time staff, our workshop is always filled with the women we have trained.  As well, from six initial embroiderers, we now work with over 90 embroiders, basket coilers and textile weavers scattered over 9 Maya villages located near or in the Maya Mountains.”

“In each of these villages, the training we have done along with our high quality standards have markedly improved the quality of the women’s embroidery, weaving, or basketry.  Perhaps of even more importance, the women now value their hand skills and take pride in their work because they are earning good and fairly consistent money for their quality work. This has raised their self-esteem and given them far more independence than they have ever had.”

“In each of these villages, the training we have done along with our high quality standards have markedly improved the quality of the women’s embroidery, weaving, or basketry.  Perhaps of even more importance, the women now value their hand skills and take pride in their work because they are earning good and fairly consistent money for their quality work. This has raised their self-esteem and given them far more independence than they have ever had.”

“Each of our products is produced following Fair Trade Guidelines.  Providing modern and efficient production tools to the women, not working with any one below the age of 18, paying above minimum wage for each hour of work incurred to produce a product, and treating the women with respect and kindness are the hallmarks of the way we do business.

Finally, I always tell the Maya children to ‘start their own lemonade stands’ and give them an example of a child who did it in the US and raised lots of money for a cancer charity.  Our business is demonstrating how Mayas can be entrepreneurial on their own, creating businesses to serve local needs.  As well, our model demonstrates alternatives to slash and burn (milpa) farming, an environmental damaging practice, to make a living.”

“On the Barney’s exclusive Maya Bag, we call the handles Maya Earring Handles, as they reflect the typical shape of the traditional earring Maya women in Belize wear.  While the earrings are executed in gold or silver, we duplicated the impression of the earrings by working with our Maya basketry artisans who hand-coiled and stitched each handle.  The fabric body of the purse was hand loomed on a back-strap loom….a delicate process requiring a high level of weaving skill and also representing the traditional way Mayas have always woven textiles.”

“Among the Mayas the fabric is called cuxtal fabric, as for centuries it has been used to make the bags men carry into the fields and use to hold their corn seedlings when they plant.  Each of the Barneys Maya Bags is truly one-of-a-kind and carries a label inside with both the woman’s name who made the pair of handles and the name of the woman who did the weaving. The production of this bag for Barneys employed 39 artisans for two months.”

 

2 Comments

  1. Nancy Beha
    Posted 02.02.11 at 8:57 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I own several Maya bags and love and appreciate the skills that go into making them. I Am always complemented on the bags when I carry them.

  2. valerie hoffman maine dave hoffman maine
    Posted 02.03.11 at 7:05 am | Permalink | Reply

    valerie hoffman maine
    Val is wearing this on her Valentine’s show-its going to be great! We love you Val!! Your herbs are the BEST! Congrats on your award too!!

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