Celebrating The Work Of Guatemalan Artisans
Hannah King founded Woven Futures after seeing how many skilled artisans there were in her home country of Guatemala. They now connect artisans to the fashion industry and aim to make sustainable and mindful living simple. Hannah tells the story of building her brand and business.
Tell us about your brand and brand values? We partner with skilled artisans around the world to make accessories that elevate everyday outfits, without harming the environment. Our supply chains focus on preserving indigenous weaving styles through the use of natural and recycled materials and handmade processes to create the highest quality textile goods. We believe business can and should be a force for good. We’re dedicated to creating a better world through exceptional products that positively impact the people who wear them and make them.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind the name ‘Woven Futures’? Our name originated from the rich weaving culture that stems from Guatemala and the mission to create a better tomorrow for future generations. The “Woven” embodies the craft, skill, and story behind each product. The “Futures” represents the constant commitment to ensuring a world that ensures equality and opportunity to people everywhere. We do this through the fairtrade partnerships that we have with our partners. “Futures” also represents a more green and cared for planet for years to come.
Tell us your business story and how you began? We are a woman-owned company based out of the United States and Guatemala. Our story began when I met several indigenous artisans from my home country (Guatemala) that made incredible textile pieces, but struggled to sell them. On a mission to connect them to the fashion industry and fight the toxic processes behind fast fashion, I began Woven. We started out as a desire to fix a problem and have turned into so much more. I used to sell textile bags at farmers markets until I built a website and began marketing Woven as something more than my passion project. I realised just how powerful one purchase could be and eventually moved down to Guatemala for a few months to develop our own exclusive designs. We now partner with over 60 artisans in Guatemala every year and have a line of sustainably made products that honor their makers.
Tell us about the future of your brand? One thing that is a priority for me is to use my business and dollars for good, not competition. I buy other women-owned goods and promote them through Woven because that's the only way we’ll move forward. I’m not afraid of my customers buying someone else’s products too. I want them to know about all the good brands out there so that they have options for ethical goods! If we all do this, we all win.
Woven Futures connects Guatemalan artisans to the fashion industry and they aim to make sustainable and mindful living simple through fashion. Founder Hannah talks about learnings on her journey and life advice.
Can you tell us about milestone moments, mistakes and learnings? We’ve been fortunate to have received grants, win a few competitions, and have mentors that have helped us get to where we are today. Most importantly, I’ve learned that it's our community that will move us forward. We’ve continued to create a brand that is more than products, but a lifestyle. It’s very important to me that Woven enables our community to live according to their values, this has been a huge lesson for me when building the brand.
Tell us about sources of inspiration, support, mentorship? Community is everything to me. Before I even knew that Woven would by my full-time business, I had mentors that believed in the vision and inspired me to pursue the growth of my idea. In college when I began Woven, I had a professor who taught social entrepreneurship and worked with me to develop the idea, encouraged me to apply to startup pitch competitions, and would hear me out whenever I doubted myself. It was so important to have this professor and other mentors especially since I had zero experience in business.
Tell us about who or what inspires you? Over the years, I’ve applied to Fellowships and programs that help college students and women grow their ventures. I’ve found women entrepreneurs in those groups who are now close friends and a community of starters that keep me going. Seeing others pursue their passions inspires me to keep going when I have tough days. Starting something with little experience and funding is without a doubt difficult which is why some of the best advice is to do something that you truly love and believe in. At first, starting something new is exciting and thrilling but eventually that will fade and you’ll have to rely on your belief of your mission to get you through it.
Have you come across any challenges starting a business as a female? I’m of the mindset that anything can be used as a strength. Being a woman has given me a special platform and voice to inspire other women. It has allowed me to prove people wrong and be a trail-blazer. If anything, I think women are getting more attention for starting their businesses now. That’s not to say that women aren’t undervalued or don’t get enough credit but I do see progress when it comes to this. As a female business owner I have noticed that finding funding has been harder, particularly because I am in fashion which is capital intensive.
Are there any resources/tools that you wish you had when you first started? My best advice is to find what works for you and avoid comparing yourself to someone that isn’t in your industry. Some great resources that helped me while I was an entrepreneur in college was the Future Founders Fellowship & WBENC- both programs with support for young entrepreneurs. Now, I utilize my connections and reach out to people that I want to have in my circle.
Hannah founded Woven Futures after meeting several artisans in her home country of Guatemala and seeing their handicrafts first hand. She tells us about the traditional and local processes that the artisans use.
Tell us the importance of maintaining local craft processes? This is my favorite part of my work! In today’s world, fast fashion and convenience has taken over, resulting in a loss of craftsmanship and designs that are intentionally made.
Tell us about finding your different artisan communities? Woven works with 60 artisans and weavers around different towns in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. I first started working with artisans when I spent a summer in Guatemala. If you ever visit the country, you’ll quickly notice that the artisan culture is prevalent. Artisan markets can be found in most cities and is the easiest way to get connected to create your own products. I began working with artisans by buying products from them consistently for three months. Over time, I shared my vision with them and earned their trust to collaborate. As a Guatemalan-American, it was easier for me to gain their trust since they knew I was part of the culture they represented.
Tell us how you work with the artisans and the collaboration process? I heard many stories from artisans about other businesses who promised to pay and failed to, or stole their designs and manufactured somewhere else for a cheaper price. Knowing the fears artisans had of not being treated equally, I made sure that I set terms that were more than fair for our partners. We pay upfront for artisans to begin production, meaning that they don’t have to invest their own money for materials, it comes from our production deposit. This also gives them peace of mind to know that they will always receive their payment in full. Paying justly and on time is a non-negotiable for us. As far as collaboration for designs go, we begin our process by seeing what designs and textile artisans create. We then brainstorm how we can incorporate these designs into a minimal, multi-use, and functional design. My sister is our lead designer and spends hours visiting artisans, showing them sample designs and testing out prototypes before our final product is ready.
Woven Futures connects Guatemalan artisans to the fashion industry and they aim to make sustainable and mindful living simple through fashion. Founder Hannah talks about sustainability and the future of the fashion industry.
Talk to us about the future of the fashion industry? I’m confident that the future of fashion is moving towards being ethical and sustainable. The new normal for consumers is to know the supply chain and processes behind their products. I think it starts with awareness and brands beginning to highlight their processes. This results in consumers that are well informed and will expect that with any other products they purchase. I love to see other brands do this and consider it a must for our business. Unless you have something to hide, there’s no reason not to share your processes with your community. I love working with other entrepreneurs, especially ones in fashion. The industry is monopolized by fashion giants so it’s critical that us women-owned and self-funded businesses stick together! I always check-in with my startup friends, brainstorm with them, and find ways to use my platform to support them as well.
How has your process changed over the years to be more sustainable? Sustainability is a trendy topic in 2020 but for artisans, it has always been a way of life. They have been living according to the earth for centuries and have always relied on the planet for inspiration when it comes to colors and designs. For us, it's important that we preserve this tradition and love that it also ensures a completely sustainable creation process for our products. As we’ve grown, we’ve also looked inward to see how else we can translate this sustainability in all areas of our business. This means eco friendly packaging, offsetting our carbon footprint with shipping, and exploring new and innovative materials for products.
Tell us about giving back and the importance of working with consistent artisan communities? I love that businesses have “give back” models and are starting to implement that more and more into their businesses. For us, we’ve sought to go beyond that by creating a model that inherently creates value for all involved. This means that artisans who work with us will see benefits in their lives because of consistent payments, resources to grow, and transparency in our partnership. They won’t need to rely on giveback models or aid because they receive enough support through their work.