5 Things You Might Not Know About the Ethical Artisan Design Process

When you take a behind the scenes look at our design process at Estrella de Mar it spotlights the company’s mission to empower its artisan partners and preserve ancient textile traditions. Here are five things you might not know about everything that goes into the ethical, artisan design process. Read the SHE profile with company founders, Emily and Julie, here. 

1. Choosing producers - who we work with matters. We partner with worker-owned women’s weaving cooperatives and small family businesses. These artisans are incredibly skilled at their crafts, but need access to international markets in order to earn living wages. Otherwise they are largely dependent on selling their goods to a fluctuating tourist market.

We prioritize partnering with women artisans because women hold the key to creating long-term positive change in their communities.

An empowered woman creates a ripple effect; she betters the life of her family and contributes to the advancement of her entire community.

Caption: Handwoven textiles for Estrella de Mar  Carry All bags .

Caption: Handwoven textiles for Estrella de Mar Carry All bags.

2. Cultural preservation is one of our first considerations when planning new products and collections. This is so important to us that it’s stated right in our mission. In Guatemala, ancient techniques have been passed down through generations. Traditions like weaving on the backstrap loom are intrinsic to the Mayan culture. Their history and folklore has literally been woven into their traditional textiles.

We address this goal in two ways: utilizing traditional techniques and utilizing traditional motifs. Techniques you can find in our collections include: backstrap loom, foot loom, hand embroidery and the use of natural dyes.

A textile motif is a small element that is part of the larger work and might be repeated many times. In the case of Guatemalan textiles this could be a Quetzal bird or a geometric star.

Caption: The hand-crocheted  Gray Contrast Bucket Bag

Caption: The hand-crocheted Gray Contrast Bucket Bag

3. Collaborative approach to design. New products and collections begin with some brainstorming and discussion between Julie and me. Our aesthetic is achieved by combining ancient textile techniques with a style that strikes a balance between modern and bohemian.

Once we choose a general direction for aspects like color, pattern, and product assortment, I start working on the details and design. After a few years of working with our artisan partners, I have a good sense of their capabilities, workflow, and preferences.

My favorite part of the design process is collaborating with them in Guatemala. I may adjust our color palette after seeing new colors they're achieving with natural dyes (see photo below) or incorporate a traditional weaving motif that I spot on a vintage textile.

What I always keep in mind is that they are the experts and cultural custodians.

Caption: Fibers dyed with natural dyes

Caption: Fibers dyed with natural dyes

The artisans are the true keepers of their craft who are generously sharing their techniques and traditions.

4. Local resources dictate our designs. We intentionally incorporate only very few materials that are not made in Guatemala. An example of this necessity would be quality metal zippers. We have made this choice for a variety of reasons. We hope that Estrella de Mar gives a boost to the economy in Guatemala at all stages of our supply chain. For this reason we use local leather and have our labels produced in Guatemala City. Sourcing locally also eliminates international shipping from the production stage and therefore reduces our environmental footprint.

Handmade goods convey a true sense of place.

We are proud to celebrate that special combination of characteristics, local knowledge, and materials that reflect what makes Guatemala unique.

5. Small batch production. High-quality, handmade items take time to make. We value efficiency, but we don't believe in pressuring our producers. We work with artisans whom we trust to do their best work in a timeframe that we can both agree upon. Our artisan partners primarily work out of their homes, where they can care for their children and tend to household tasks as necessary throughout the day. Women in the same village often choose to gather together to weave in a group or assemble pom poms by hand. Their craft is inextricably tied to community.

The handmade production process is labor intensive, however it is truly a labor of love.

Handmade production honors people and the planet; that’s why we say, “Love is the message, fashion is the medium.”

With love,


Emily Pinto Estrella de Mar Co-Founder

Emily is a designer and actively travels to collaborate with the artisan partners in Guatemala.

Estrella de Mar was founded in 2012 by Emily Pinto and Julie Savoie (read their SHE profile here) to combat firsthand the extreme poverty, marginalization of the Guatemalan indigenous population, and lack of opportunity for women and girls. The company utilizes the traditional skills of artisans in Guatemala and harnesses the power of the fashion industry as a force for good.