An Ethical Fashion Line in Guatemala Helps Empower Female Mayan Artisans

An Ethical Fashion Line in Guatemala Helps Empower Female Mayan Artisans

By Kristi Eaton for Hiptipico

Alyssa McGarry never dreamed of one day owning her own fashion line, but the New Jersey native is using her intimate knowledge of indigenous cultures in Guatemala to empower local artisans through her own ethical fashion brand.

A chance encounter on a street in the rural community of Panajachel, Guatemala, with one of the local indigenous artisans led McGarry to create Hiptipico, an ethical fashion brand that empowers Mayan women and their families.

“Each weaving is unique and no two are the same,” McGarry says. “You can truly see and understand the work and dedication that goes into each piece.”

In Guatemala, more than half of the population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank, and the country’s indigenous people face high levels of inequality, including less access to education and high rates of chronic malnutrition.

Founded in 2012, Hiptipico works to create sustainable avenues for local artisans to sell handmade items to larger markets across the globe while honoring the Mayan culture. The socially conscious brand works with individual artists as well as female cooperatives. In addition to Mayan artisans, Hiptipico also uses indigenous women to model the fashion line for promotional materials, which helps to create jobs.

The name Hiptipico comes from the Spanish word “tipico” and refers to the traditional clothing that indigenous Mayans wear in Guatemala. Hiptipico products have been found at Urban Outfitters, Free People and Forever 21 stores, as well as in specialty boutiques around the world. The company plans to expand to additional outlets in Europe in the coming months, including the United Kingdom’s largest independent fashion retailer, ASOS.com.

McGarry graduated from Towson University and received her Master’s from Georgetown University before taking a job in California. But the chance to live and work among people from a different culture was calling her. She ended up taking a position with an organization to create educational materials for local indigenous students in Guatemala. Along the way, she founded Hiptipico.

“I’ve been able to create longstanding and personal relationships with our artists. That’s truly why I enjoy living full-time in Guatemala,” she says. “Hiptipico’s artisan partners are not just vendors; they are my extended family.”

McGarry is now looking to share her knowledge of Guatemala and indigenous cultures with others. Hiptipico offers customizable tours, which are ideal for solo travelers who have a penchant for authentic experiences, as well as groups looking for alternative spring break options.

Led by McGarry and her team, the wanderlust tours feature authentic experiences including home visits to Mayan artisans, shopping for textiles at the local market and more. For the outdoor lovers, the tours offer zip-lining through the jungle as well as picturesque journeys through rural Guatemalan villages. Based in Panajachel, a quaint town along Guatemala’s magnificent Lake Atitlan, the tours are also ideal for those wanting to take part in Spanish immersion or volunteer to give back. 

Alyssa McGarry with artist Teresa in Santa Catarina, Guatemala. Photo: Hiptipico

When McGarry was in college, she says she always looked for alternatives to the classic spring break trip in Cancun or Miami. She ended up spending her vacation time in far-flung locations including Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, France, Italy and Spain.

“I felt there was a better way to spend my free time than on a $1,000 all-inclusive bar tab,” McGarry says. “It was nearly impossible at that time to find official programs and I just connected via email with small organizations on the ground in developing countries.”

The seven-day Wanderlust tour package offered by Hiptipico starts at $1,500 and includes housing, transportation and transfers, all food and beverages (non-alcoholic), sightseeing and cultural tours, and family visits and artisan workshops. Airfare, personal expenses and alcoholic beverages are not included.

The tours, McGarry says, allow young professionals and university students the opportunity to explore the world in a socially responsible way. The tours also allow young people to learn what it takes to start and run a startup.

“Our trips are created to inspire young people and show them firsthand that they can go confidently in the directions of their dreams,” she says.

Published: 11/30/2015

Editor's Note: Kristi Eaton is a publicist for Hiptipico, meaning she is compensated by Hiptipico for promoting this brand. We feel Hiptipico is a good, socially conscious brand that you should care about; we just want you to know these things. Enjoy this beautiful story!  

Kristi Eaton is a roving journalist, communications strategist and author of the book "The Main Streets of Oklahoma: Okie Stories From Every County." Visit her website at KristiEaton.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram to see photos from her travels.