Viktor Mak ’15 helps descendants of Mayans sell their textiles

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Viktor learning to weave on the backstrap loom

Learning to weave on the backstrap loom

Colgate students are sharing their research and intern experiences this summer. This post is by Viktor Mak ’15  from Fort Myers, Florida.

This summer I’m volunteering and living at a weaving cooperative in the Guatemalan highlands for two months.

After applying to a Career Services program to fund my summer internship and receiving the support I would need in Guatemala for nine weeks, I packed my bags and headed down to Guatemala for the second summer in a row.

I’m living in a small apartment attached to the weaving cooperative with two indigenous families – direct descendants of the Mayans.

The cooperative was formed during the Guatemalan civil war to provide a way for women to support their families. Due to little access to education and traditional gender roles, women have little opportunity to earn money besides weaving textiles. The weaving cooperative works with 17 different villages and over 400 women. The cooperative provides secure venue for the women to sell their textiles.

Working at the cooperative’s store daily, I saw an opportunity to help sell these incredible products in the United States. Using the knowledge I had gained participating in Colgate’s entrepreneurship mentor program – Thought into Action Institute – I launched Vern Clothing with a friend from high school. We started very small scale, offering 14 different items in our collection. Each item is hand-woven, unique and high quality. We return ten percent of our profits to the community, donating to an education fund for the children of the weavers.

Currently, Vern is working with two cooperatives, but we are looking to expand to three additional ones around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. We are also working on new products. I’ve launched a crowdsourcing campaign on Indiegogo to raise money for Vern. Some additional product ideas that we have began working on – but need capital to develop – include jean shorts with textile pockets, ties, bow ties, phone cases and belts.

Please check out our store  and offer some feedback. You can follow our adventures on our Facebook page. Channel 2 in Fort Myers covered it here, and the News Press wrote about it here.

– Viktor Mak ’15