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SIFE: Supporting Guatemala One Bag at a Time

April 27, 2011

If you feel guilty about buying that bag that you just have to have, think again…how about buying a bag that you can actually feel good about?

That’s the concept behind the SIFE (students in free enterprise) Team Guatemala project, an initiative started by SU students from the Whitman School of Management, who are committed to “helping support the livelihood of Mayan weavers”. How have these students managed to help Mayan women overcome poverty? By giving weavers the opportunity to use their talents to create one-of-a-kind handbags, coin purses, hair accessories, picture frames, and laptop cases.

I have to say that walking by the SIFE display table in Newhouse, I was intrigued by the bright colors and bohemian patterned accessories—so intrigued that I had to find out more. Kelly Marie Geer,one of the members of SIFE’s Team Guatemala, who was representing the group on campus, gave me the scoop on the products. Each of them is handmade by Guatemalan women who are trained for years in the ancient art of backstrap weaving (a practice that has been around for five thousand years) These finely made items are all priced under $40—which I find to be overly reasonable. I can imagine the same products being sold at a high-end boutique in SOHO for hundreds of dollars.

I love the mission statement of Team Guatemala: “To develop community and global outreach programs…to make the world a better a better place.” I wish that every designer had the same purpose.

Among my favorite pieces is this adorable coin purse. The beautiful bright blue florals embellished from silk threads make this purse far from ordinary.  I can imagine gifting this to one of my stylish, artistic friends.

blue floral silk embroidered change purse. $10

I also adore this pink woven bag made from recyclable materials. It’s pretty impressive how the weavers were able to make something so tactile and attractive by re-using items that we throw away.

Pink woven clutch made from recyclable materials. $15

Kelly told me that so far Team Guatemala has raised over $45,000 in just 4 years for the talented impoverished women. Now, the women can finally see their work sold for what it’s worth (though I would charge more being in the advertising field!) instead of pennies on the street.

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