Ethical fashion interview #2: Origen

A few years ago I had the pleasure to meet, interview and even do a little bit of writing for Rose Marie Stirling, the founder and owner of Origen, a lifestyle store in Melbourne that stocks a huge, colourful array of fair trade and ethical products from all over the world, including India, Indonesia and Mexico.

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Rose Marie is an obvious choice to feature in this series on sustainable fashion, and although there are many cultures and countries I could ask her about for this post, I decided to ask her about Guatemala and its handicraft culture – I’m sure the photos will be ample explanation for why it fascinates me!

Style Wilderness (SW): What products do you stock that are from Guatemala?

Rose Marie (RM): We stock crafted bags from recycled textiles, accessories, totes, overnight bags, back packs, baskets, cushions, jewellery, cosmetic purses, toys and worry dolls.

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SW: How did you find the artisans who make them?

RM: Through my passion for their textiles and my love of Mayan culture. I spent many months in Guatemala during my 20s and 30s and I still work with the same people from that wonderful time. I’m so proud these enduring relationships with the people and my connection with them have withstood the test of time.

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SW: Where do these artisans live?

RM: They live in the highlands of Guatemala, where the people are just as colourful and rich in what they wear as their culture and history.

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SW: Has life changed much for the people who make Origen products since they started working with you?

RM: The artisans we work with have made monumental improvements in both their business and personal lives since we started working with them over 20 years ago. We have seen how people’s lives can be improved through the development of productive skills, family health and education. And by working directly with each artisan we are able to provide work in their own fair trade workshop. By supporting women to work at home we help them to be more available for their children while earning financial independence. It’s a workplace that represents mutual appreciation, dedication, and respect. And this is reflected by the beautiful products we develop with them and sell in our stores.

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SW: For you, personally, what is your favourite Guatemalan handicraft, and why?

RM: It’s our overnight bag because I love the bright colours used in the textiles. This is what I love about Guatemala. It makes me happy just looking at it.  (Note: this bag certainly would brighten anyone up, but Rose Marie looks this cheerful pretty much all the time!) The striped fabric is hand woven by Guatemalan artisans and it’s indestructible. The women use it every day.

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SW: What makes Guatemala special to you?

RM: Guatemala is beautiful, and is known as the country of eternal spring. I immediately fell in love with the people, the culture, the history, the ancient ruins, the jungle and the flora.

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SW: Can you tell us some insider tips about Guatemala for those lucky enough to visit the country? (All those gorgeous photos of fabulous textiles are making me want to jump on a plane right now!)

RM: Food: Saberico Deli in Antigua is a gem. It has a gorgeous courtyard, the café is completely decorated with Guatemalan crafts and textiles and their menu is healthy home-cooked food. Heaven! There is no better way to relax in the day than to enjoy their garden which is full herbs and fruit trees.

For something a little more traditional and rustic I never go past roadside corn barbecued in its husk. It’s delicious with lemon and salt and of course, chillies and tortillas.

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Top of my list for places to visit in Guatemala is Lago de Atitlán. It’s one of Mother Nature’s greatest works of art. It was volcanic in its origin, formed into a large lake by an eruption 84,000 years ago. Today it’s surrounded many little Mayan villages and to me is one of the most mysterious and beautiful places in the world.

SW: I have a feeling I know where my next holiday should be…!

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