Today we meet guamayu, an ethical brand striving for social change in Guatemala.
We catch up with founders Ruben and Elliot, who tell us why they started guamayu and their hopes for their future.
Hello! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and the brand you run?
Hi, guamayu is run by the queer couple Elliot and Ruben. We started guamayu in spring 2022 in Berlin, but the roots of the brand are reaching far back.
Elliot grew up in challenging conditions in Guatemala but had the luck of receiving a fellowship for a private school. This way he was able to receive a good education and could move to Germany to study product design. Once he started a new life in Germany, he had the wish to give back to people in need in Guatemala. That was the starting point for the brand guamayu.
Since his parents are working in the garment industry in Guatemala, a clothing brand was the perfect choice. His parents are managing the production process in Guatemala making sure the products are made under fair conditions.
Guamayu is built on the concept of solidarity: We are donating 10% of every purchase to NPOs in Guatemala. For our solidarity intro collection we chose the NPO MAIA Impact, since they are running the first female and indigenous led secondary school in Central America and are helping indigenous girls receive a good education – like Elliot was able to receive through his scholarship.
The second principle guamayu is built on is playfulness: we want to create cheerful pieces to counterbalance the severe topics in Guatemala we are talking about. This is done through collaborations with artists, creating playful illustrations and fun products. Ruben helps Elliot support his vision for guamayu by providing money and workforce for the start.
What was your inspiration behind starting Guamayu?
Our main inspiration were the challenging conditions in Guatemala.
The society is far back compared to developed countries, especially in respect to equality. Gender, race, sexuality and identity are main reasons for major discrimination within the country.
We want to change this with our brand guamayu by educating about these problems through our products and illustrations and by providing resources to NPOs working in this field.
For our first collection we focused on gender and race inequality by helping indigenous girls in rural areas which are affected by huge amount of discrimination within the Guatemalan society.
What were the main challenges and learnings you had when you first started?
We planned on starting a brand using the hand woven traditional fabrics often used in Guatemalan culture.
But after trying to build a supply chain built on these informal run weaving collectives was quite challenging. Their homes are in rural areas in Guatemala without major infrastructure we are used to.
The COVID pandemic combined with the strict curfew in Guatemala made communication mostly impossible. We learned that we can’t rely on a supply chain being that vulnerable, especially from far away in Germany. So we started with easier accessible products using the network of Elliot’s parents.
What elements of your brand are important to you which illustrate your brand values and culture?
The most important values of our brand are:
These values are represented by our donation principle to NPOs, the playful illustrations made in collaboration with artists, using models showing different skin colours, gender and gender identity (in the future) and being transparent about our production and supply chain.
Can you tell us about how Guamayu helps to support social projects in Guatemala?
For the beginning we selected NPOs in Guatemala to achieve our goal. We carefully looked into different candidates and paid attention to transparency and being open and available for exchange. We visited the NPOs in Guatemala and built up a strong connection. We also make sure that it is a small organisation being able to transfer most of the donated money to the project itself.
For our first collection, we collaborated with MAIA, a non-profit organisation founded in 2017 in Guatemala. MAIA was created with a focus on the younger generation of women born into a combination of four different levels of discrimination: poverty, gender, race and habitat. Their core mission is to lift women out of these limiting factors. Through their MAIA Impact School, family engagement, systemic change and a COVID-response plan, MAIA’s impact has reached more than 450 young women in the rural areas of Sololá, Guatemala.
Looking further into the future, we plan on founding our one charity starting social projects in Guatemala.
Your products feature unique designs, can you tell us the design process behind your products?
We focus on a co-creative design process in collaboration with illustrators and artists. Our collaborative process starts with the design of each collection that is initially limited to one challenging topic in Guatemala. In participation with the illustrators, the topic is explained, critically analysed and illustrated in visual form.
For our first collection we collaborated with studio nunc, a Berlin based design studio (where Elliot is also a partner and designer).
The illustrations of our introductory collection were mainly created by Jonas and Max. Jonas is passionate about shapes and colours, creating expressive illustrations that combine inclusivity and diversity. Max is very detail oriented, brings a lot of fun to his illustrations and is socially committed to the core.
Do you have any advice for people looking to be more sustainable in their consumption habits and lifestyle?
My major advice would be only to consume when you really need something. I think our main problem is overconsumption. The fact that our economy is based on constant growth and spending money is causing the environmental problems we are facing today and in the future. Consuming less would have the biggest impact in my opinion. And repairing stuff instead of throwing it away.
Have you tried a product from another ethical brand that you love?
I like the products of Conscious Step. They are supporting great causes with the purchase of their products!
Do you have a piece of advice for our readers you’d like to share?
As the famous Drag Queen RuPaul said: “Don’t take life too seriously and have fun!”
I think this is great advice for the challenging time we currently live in. And it fits perfectly the brand values of guamayu. Although we are tackling serious social problems, we are having fun with our products and our visual identity.
What does the next 12 months look like for Guamayu? Do you have any new exciting product launches coming?
We currently focus on the Christmas season and created special gift bundles consisting of our products, a playfully designed card for your greetings and our signature wrapping paper. Looking into next year, we plan on creating a marketplace selling handmade products from Guatemalan Artisans and accessories made of traditional hand woven Guatemalan fabrics.
We want to give a huge thank you to Elliot and Ruben for taking the time to chat with us about their brand, guamayu.
We love the guamayu gift bundles so much, we’ve featured them in our gift guide!