The Painted Man: Carlitos

A typical scene at TRAMA Textiles is Amparo and Oralia working alongside students, as they meticulously weave their first scarf and a few volunteers discussing the difficulties of injecting the printer cartridge with a syringe.  However, there is a regular face that can be seen in TRAMA’s office.  He is usually confronting his easel in clothes splattered with paint, but Juan Carlos Cardena Lopez is just as standard of a TRAMA fixture as a hupil from Sacatetepequez,  Known around TRAMA as Carlitos, Carlitos is a Guatemalan artist whose budding work is a sight to see.

Carlitos was born in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala and at the age of two was placed up for adoption.  He spent his childhood growing up in local orphanages and sparked an early interest in fine arts.  “I was seven years old when I started falling in love with art.  I remember being amazed by everything around me – paintings, museums, posters, music, graffiti – everything. I was so inspired,” says Carlitos. Unfortunately, the orphanages had limited resources, which left funding towards art supplies out of the question.  He began sketching with any materials he could get his hands on.  Whether it was drawing on a piece of cardboard or scrap paper, Carlitos knew it was only the beginning to an extended relationship with the art world.

1377127_665754843456901_1635077773_nAt fifteen years old, Carlitos had the opportunity to study fine arts at La Escuela de Artes in Quetzaltenango.  The school introduced an excited Carlitos to the works of international artists and helped him find inspiration in the talents of Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Guatemalan artist, Efraín Recinos. It was also at this school, where Carlitos met with his most forcible instrument – his paintbrush.

1525279_749858535046531_1061674523_nOnce Carlitos began painting, he could not stop.  He decided on a personalized name to sign his art with, ¨Jukar¨- a mix of letters from his full name. His paintings frequently featured the curvaceous lines of the female body and the mysterious nymphs of the sea. “I was in complete awe of the female form.  I find my inspiration from their bodies, their faces, their expressions and their lives. They drive me crazy,” he jokes.

Carlitos is especially enamored with mermaids. “I love mermaids because it is the only form I can imagine my mother as.  I don’t remember any of the time we had together or even what she looks like.  But, I see her in the same reoccurring dream.  She is a mermaid and she is holding me in her arms.”


TRAMA´s President Amparo, Carlitos, and Vice-President Oralia

He met Amparo and Oralia when he was teaching Spanish at the school that used to be in the same building as TRAMA Textiles.  “They took me under their wings.  They both believe in me and support my art.  They are definitely motherly figures in my life,” he says.


Carlitos with interviewer, Jillian Szacki

Carlitos dreams about a future working in the arts.  He would like to open a fine arts school for the marginalized youth in Guatemala.  Carlitos also dreams of traveling abroad to study art and connect with more artists.  “Today I can’t leave Guatemala, but tomorrow, yes, maybe tomorrow I can.”

Carlitos´s art can be found here.

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On the second weekend of every May, people from all around the world honour the women in their lives and celebrate Mother´s Day. The day applauds the maternal bonds we have with not only our mamas, but the relationships we have with our grandmothers, aunts, sisters and the women who surround our everyday lives as well. The powerful influence of maternal figures is sometimes eclipsed by our patriarchal culture that tends to confine a mother´s role to the domestic sphere. Today we recognize the women who held us in their arms as we took our first breaths. The women who continue to cheer us on through every milestone.  The women who spend countless hours worrying about us (sorry mum). The women who gave us life. Today, it is all about our mothers.

I sat down with TRAMA Textile´s president, Amparo de Leon de Rubio, and vice-president, Oralia Chopen to have a conversation about motherhood. Both Amparo and Oralia have three children; however, the two women are maternal figures to many of the workers and volunteers at TRAMA Textiles. They are a giving life source to TRAMA´s four hundred weavers and embrace the role of women in Guatemalan culture.



TRAMA Textile´s President, Amparo

What feelings did you have when you gave birth to your firstborn?

Amparo:  I was very nervous because I didn´t have access to a hospital. I had to give birth in my house and was scared because I was sick the entire pregnancy. I was in labor for six days and when I gave birth to my daughter, she was only four pounds.  I remember being so happy when I held her for the first time. She was from me and she was a part of me. She was mine and I felt so much love for her. I was scared because she was so small, but my daughter is all grown up now.  She isn´t tiny, she´s rather big now.

Oralia: I was so excited to have my first baby. I always wanted to have children and when I was young I would dream about my future babies. I knew I wanted to be a mother. I was nervous, but when I held my first son in my arms, I couldn´t stop crying with happiness. I remember the first Mother´s Day card he gave me – I cried a lot then too.


Oralia with her daughter, Carlita

What did your mother teach you about motherhood?

Amparo: My mother taught me how to appreciate my beautiful babies. She taught me how to breastfeed and how to wash my baby.  She taught me so much. My father died when I was eleven and from then on, it was me working next to my mother. She taught me how to be a strong woman. I was her only daughter and I miss her so much. (Ampara´s mother died ten years ago)

Oralia: My mother taught me everything. I was twenty-three when I had my first baby, but my mother was only twelve. She had to grow up very fast. She taught me how to cook for the children and what to do when they were sick. The relationship between a mother and daughter is different than the relationship between a mother and son. We understand each other more because we have the same struggles.  My mother taught me how to weave and that´s my life now.  I am teaching my daughter to weave and one day she will be a part of TRAMA.

What moments are the most difficult in motherhood?

Amparo: I was always scared when my babies were sick. It is hard when you live in a village and there aren´t any hospitals or doctors. Whenever my children were sick, I would pray that they wouldn´t die in the night.

Oralia: It is the most difficult when your children are sick and you don´t know what to do. There isn´t extra money for medicine and sometimes it can be serious. It is also hard for me when I can´t give my children all the attention they need.  I have to work to provide for my children, but I miss out on some things.



The daughters of TRAMA Textiles

What moments are the most rewarding?

Amparo: I love celebrating my children´s and grandchildren´s birthdays. I throw a big party and we have all our family and friends over to my house. It is so nice to celebrate their lives and watch them grow up. They are so excited on their birthdays and it makes me happy.

Oralia: I like talking with my children. When they come home from school and they are doing well, it makes me very happy.  I am just happy when they are happy.

What do you wish for your children´s futures?

Amparo: I want them to work hard and to be happy. I want them to find time to enjoy their family. I want them to help each other and love each other.

Oralia: I want good luck for my children. I don´t want them to suffer like I did when I was young. I want my children to help those who need it – there are a lot of people suffering in Guatemala and they need help. I want my children to be good people. And I really want my children to give me grandchildren.



The grandmothers, mothers, and sisters of TRAMA Textiles

What advice do you have for new mothers?

Amparo: I want mothers to have their babies with a doctor or midwife. It was terrifying for me to have my first baby without one. It is important to respect your children as individuals and to let them make their own decisions. I want to tell future mothers to wait between having children. I waited four years between each child and it was nice to give each baby special attention.

Oralia: Babies are so beautiful – you have to love them a lot. You also need to let them have their own space. I want mothers to make sure the fathers of their babies are good men. Children need good parents. In the villages, the fathers sometimes only give attention to their sons and forget about their daughters.  You can´t give priority – you have to love equally.

Amparo and Oralia have created a community of mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters. TRAMA Textiles embraces the female spirit by empowering women through weaving.  The weavers of TRAMA are a family of incredibly strong women. This Mother´s Day, we salute the women of TRAMA Textiles and celebrate the dedication from all the hardworking women in the world.  This Mother´s Day, we pray for the safe return of the 276 missing daughters from Nigeria. We are all in this together.

Interviewed By: Jillian Szacki

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A New Breed of Conscious Consumers: The Fashionarians

 Guest Blogger: Jillian Szacki

Over the last few years, I have supported many of my friends as they made the carefully-articulated decision to become vegetarians or vegans. These decisions were frequently made after watching an investigative documentary on factory farming or after a Google search on the health benefits of ending a relationship with meat. Then, there was my one existential friend who told me, “Animals die in fear and pain. Why would I want to ingest all that negativity and absorb it into my life?” I nodded my head in agreement, but found my mind wandering onto another thought. We have gained such an interest in where our food comes from and whether the practices are ethical, humane and sustainable. But why have many, myself included, turned a blind eye to the practices of where our clothes come from? How have I managed to overlook the very human hands that make the clothes I wear every day?

 I looked down at my Levi’s shorts and Forever21 blouse, gulping down my naiveté; I imagined where these pieces of cotton were constructed. I questioned whether or not the people who made these clothes were treated with respect, paid an equal wage, or had the luxury of typing any spontaneous thought into an ever-so-infinite Google toolbar. What does the small print “Made in Mexico” and “Made in China” really mean? How do they relate to each other? How do they relate to me? Asking these sorts of questions has been on a lot of minds lately as the one year Rana Plaza catastrophe passed last week.

On April 24, 2013, thousands of workers went to work at the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The plaza housed a number of production factories, many of them popular apparel manufacturers. At approximately 8:57 a.m. the poorly-constructed eight-storey building began to collapse. The collapse leveled the entire complex and claimed over 1,133 lives – most of them women. Leaving thousands more injured, the Rana Plaza tragedy was a crucial wakeup call to the Western world’s consumers and begged the question, “At what cost do the clothes we wear have to come with?”

The devastating Rana Plaza collapse sparked the global movement, Fashion Revolution Day, which demands transparency within the fashion production supply chain.  One year later, Fashion Revolution Day commemorated those affected by Rana Plaza by urging consumers to ask the crucial question, “Who made my clothes?”  The organization’s mission is to “bring together those who want to see change within the industry” and “to keep the most unheard in the supply chain in the public eye” (1). On April 24, 2014, the hashtags #insideout and #whomadeyourclothes were trending across all social media.  The popularized hashtags were captions to photos of people from all around the world wearing their clothes inside out with the tags proudly identifying the garment’s origin.   Fashion Revolution Day was a step in the right direction towards creating transparency within the industry. This relationship is frequently distorted and it is time to build exchanges on respect and honesty.

Workers from the British clothing brand, ASOS, participating in Fashion Revolution Day.

TRAMA Textiles is a leader in textile production for developing countries.  Who makes TRAMA’s clothes?  TRAMA is compromised of over 400 women, who span across 18 different villages.  Our supply chain is not a labyrinth of indoctrinated workers, but an honourable relationship between workers and enterprise.  Each village has a representative, who comes to TRAMA once a month to receive textile orders from TRAMA’s president and vice-president, Amparo de Leon de Rubio and Oralia Chopen.  The representative then distributes the work amongst the women in her village and they are able to weave in the comforts of their homes.  Once the work is completed and brought into TRAMA’s headquarters, the work is paid for on spot, whether the textile is sold or not.  The weaving work from TRAMA offers the indigenous women of Guatemala the opportunity to earn an income, in an honorable way to support her family, which was left fractured by the loss of wage earning men during the Civil War.


The workers of TRAMA Textiles

April 24 will always be a day to reflect and remember the lives lost at the cost of production.  Using a hashtag isn’t enough to solve the impeding problems within the manufacturing industries; however, becoming a daily conscious consumer is a fabulous start.  I urge you to get involved – research some of your favorite brands.  Is production information available? If not, write letters and demand to know where their products come from.

Our purchases tell a story, they become a part of our identities. Let us be proud to share the stories of our clothing.  Let us become educated consumers and care about where our food, clothing, electronics and all products we consume come from.  Let us only engage with companies who respect their workers and only use ethical practices.  Let us become fashionarians.

More Fashion for Thought:

Handprint – a thought-provoking short film from director, Mary Nighy. Handprint aims to raise awareness of the challenges faced by garment workers and jewellery producers around the world.

Jillian Szacki is a new volunteer at TRAMA Textiles.  She is a creative writer, innovative thinker, sustainable liver and lover of all cultura de américa latina. 

[1] Fashion Revolution:

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A Day in The Life as a TRAMA Textiles Weaver


Isabel (above) is one of TRAMA Textiles Tejadoras (weavers).

The day begins early for forty-year-old Isabel in her small town of Chirijox in the Nahualá highlands. Isabel rises at dawn and cooks a simple breakfast of eggs and beans for her husband and six-year-old son. Once her husband is off to work as a farmhand and her son off to school, it is time for Isabel to pursue one of her greatest passions, weaving.

Isabel, like many other indigenous women in Guatemala, learned her weaving craft as a young girl. At only eight-years-old, Isabel’s mother and grandmother began teaching her how to make an array of handmade textiles, from colourful dresses to opulent tablecloths.

Today, Isabel is the leader of a twenty-women weaving cooperative in Chirijox, which is part of TRAMA’s even larger four-hundred person collective of weavers. TRAMA’s weavers span across seventeen different villages in Guatemala. By weaving for TRAMA and its international customers, the women of Chirijox are able to support their families with an artisan craft that holds hundreds of years of tradition.

“This is a part of our culture,” Isabel tells a recent group of visitors. “I learned this as a girl and I want to pass it on to other young people”.

Isabel’s primary role is to serve as a go-between for TRAMA and the weavers in her village. She collects orders from TRAMA’s headquarters in Quetzaltenango and then distributes the work to her colleagues. With Isabel’s former experience as a nurse and as an NGO worker, she is well-suited for this role. She is also one of the few women in her town who can speak Spanish, in addition to the local indigenous language.

“Being a TRAMA weaver isn’t easy,” Isabel says. Given the time it takes to create high quality items – sometimes up to a month or more – an infinite degree of patience and an exacting nature are indispensable. Isabel’s work as a master weaver also sets a level of excellence for other women learning and improving their craft. A deep enjoyment for weaving is vital to the process and that is something Isabel definitely has.


Isabel in her home in Chirijox, Nahualá, Guatemala.

On most days, in between doing her household chores and administrative work, she can be found in her village working on her latest projects.  She has been carefully creating a blouse over the last few weeks. Isabel often incorporates Guatemalan symbols into her work, like the quetzal, the national bird, or the colour red. “Red is important because it represents the blood we have inside of us. This is our life force,” Isabel explains.

Isabel draws a comparison with TRAMA as a similar life-giving force. The organization is able to empower women to become community leaders by providing weaving work in an area where the unemployment rate is high.

Isabel looks forward to what the future with TRAMA holds, “I dream of even more orders to fulfil and even more success”.


Isabel (right) with a fellow TRAMA Textile weaver, Julia, (left) in their village Chirijox, Guatemala.

This is part of a pilot project depicting the women of TRAMA, their successes and dreams, in individual profiles.

– Moises Mendoza

– Photo credit: ThexCuriousxWanderer

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What’s New in 2014

There has been a lot of movement, change, and advancements since our last entry back in November of 2013!

TRAMA’s machine has been properly greased, thanks to the Alterna Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship! TRAMA has not only been in the works of creating new lines of products, but our store has had a complete overhaul due to the involvement of Alterna.  Through bringing together a team of experienced and excellent entrepreneurs, market specialists, designers, community organizers and developers, Alterna has aided TRAMA in developing a system of inventory for our store to create a more successful impact, higher level of outreach, and a more cohesive and relevant system of comprehension for our workers and shoppers.All of our products have been entered into an extensive system of inventory and are ready to be identified, sold, shipped, and treasured.

Along with this development, TRAMA has also received an exciting grant from Entremundos. Entremundos is a grassroots organization based here in Queztaltenango that dedicates itself to enhancing local projects and organizations by creating a network for the international and local community to find volunteer opportunities, and also to raise awareness around the relevant social, political, and cultural issues of Guatemala. We intend to use the grant money to invest in the plans outlined with Alterna, to make our office more efficient and comprehensive for our volunteers, President and Vice President here at our Quetzaltenango headquarters.

This past March TRAMA received an exciting visit from two excellent online markets focusing on empowering women artisans around the world. American television star and fashion designer Lauren Conrad, and a representative from The Global Goods Partnership. Conrad, with her online store The Little Market, travels worldwide meeting and collecting products from small artisan collectives comprised solely of women all over the globe. TRAMA’s work and mission fall in line with the kind of artisan product Lauren Conrad works to share with a wide market through her online shop. Through The Little Market, Conrad is creating a support network for women all over the world and creating an opportunity for people to support and acknowledge the work of women internationally. The Global Goods Partnership connects disempowered women artisans from Asia, Africa, and South America with a world wide market and works directly with the Little Market. Publicity from this visit has increased  sales and awareness of TRAMA and the women’s excellent work here.

LCBetween Alterna, Entremundos, the energetic volunteers, and the President and Vice President here at TRAMA, we have undergone much in terms of development and growth.  2014 has been wonderful and exciting as we move forward and continue on in supporting all the women weavers of TRAMA.

UPCOMING ENTRY!  A look into the lives of the Tejedoras here at TRAMA Textiles!

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TRAMA and The Root Collective

TRAMA has been very fortunate to work with so many wonderful people. One of these clients is a woman named Bethany. Bethany is behind The Root Collective, where she partners with non-profits in different countries, Guatemala being one of them. Products being sold via Bethany’s store profit the people of La Limonada, the largest urban slum in Guatemala. She also works with a non-profit in Kenya to help provide clean water wells and education, among many other things.

Showing the women of Solola the products their fabric makes was an amazing opportunity. The women typically don’t get to see their finished products, and all of them just loved seeing the shoes their fabric helps make. There were smiles all around

Bethany’s online store launched recently, and luckily for all of us, she is offering 10% off this Friday through Tuesday for Black Friday! Check out the store here:  and be sure to click on “Shoes” and “Accessories” to see TRAMA fabric in a fun and new way!

The Root Collective was also recently mentioned on a blog called, “The Art of Simple” ( The blogger put together an ethical shopping guide : in anticipation of all the holiday shopping soon to happen!

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Exciting News-Buenas Noticias

Exciting news: The volunteers are about to travel to the tejedoras’ communities to get a better understanding of the weaving process and the histories of the trajes (traditional dresses) in the TRAMA museum. Keep up with the blog for more information!

Buenas noticias: Los voluntarios están a punto de viajar a unas comunidades de las tejedoras para obtener mejor conocimiento del proceso de tejer. También van a entrevisar las mujeres sobre las historias de los trajes tradicionales en el museo TRAMA. Continuen de leer el blog para más información!

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