Written by: KT
We had the opportunity to visit the home of Don Vicente, one of our oldest artisan partners at Hiptipico. Usually his children are in school, but when Alyssa and I came in the afternoon, two of his daughters and his wife were home for lunch, making the visit extra special!
Peering into the life of Jesus, you can see he is content: a perfect wife, beautiful children, and a successful business that supports them. But it took a lot of time and hard work for him to get to where he is now. I had the privilege to hear his story firsthand, and I hope to do it justice here.
Jesus grew up in the town of Momostenango, Guatemala, situated in Totonicapán, in the Western highlands of Guatemala. The population of Momos is predominantly of the Maya K'iche' descent and Jesus holds onto his K’iche heritage closely. More then 70% of the Momos population lives in rural areas and most are small farmers growing maize and beans, as well as raising sheep for wool. The town of Momostenango is subdivided into 14 villages and 169 even smaller communities called caseríos or parajes.
Jesus’ mother and father worked as sheep shearers, partaking in everything from raising the sheep themselves, to the shearing and dying the woven spools of wool into various colors. All of this hard work was to finally hand make beautiful finished products such as bags, jackets, rugs and everything else that can warm you up. This was their family tradition, fused into modernity to sell to tourists in Guatemala. This shearing technique has been preserved for generations and was passed on to Jesus at a young age.
Jesus left home with this knowledge at the age of 12 to live on his own. He came directly to Panajachel, Guatemala and took a simple job in storefront to maintain a living. Living very simply, he got by with only necessities and set up a small living quarters behind the store where he worked.
At the age of 15, he saw a lot of potential in Panajachel with the increase in tourists and he decided to do something even bigger. After only a few years of hard work and devotion, he had started his own business [storefront with products made out of wool] and even hired employees before he was a legal adult. He used all the skills he had learned from his parents and he was the first person to bring finished products made of sheep’s wool to Panajachel. Jesus took a risk not knowing whether or not his company would succeed in this untouched market.
He continued raising sheep in Momos, sheered them himself, treated the wool, spun it into spools, dyed it, and finally worked with his team to produce purses, satchels, blankets and many more items.
When he was 18 years old, Ofelia, a Panajachel native born and raised walked into his shop, and his life would be forever changed. Only a year after they met, they were married. They now have 4 happy, beautiful children. Jesus is an incredibly supportive father--he encourages each of them to reach their full potential.
They have been married for almost 20 years and are still going strong. Ofelia is an intelligent and humble woman; she is an amazing co-owner with her husband and a wonderful mother to her children.
Jesus’ experience allows him to work with a wide array of mediums. While he has perfected the trade of wool and brought that design to Panajachel he has experience with many different styles. Working with leather, huipil, corte, wool and crochet, Jesus has perfected all of these trades and combines the forms to create unique designs. Jesus works with many clients all around the world who have taken notice of his incredible workmanship.
Jesus and his family still have a quaint home workshop and local storefront in Panajachel. Jesus employs workers in Momos and Panajachel with fair wages and good working conditions. These are the elements we look for in an artisan partner. Jesus has an incredible eye and he and his wife have unique designs that they elaborate together. Unlike other business in Panajachel, Jesus has extremely high standards, which can be easily seen in the quality and workmanship of his final products. Using traditional wool techniques, Jesus created weekenders, tote bags and bucket purses with the traditional carpet pattern.
Anyone who has met Jesus and his family knows how friendly and kind they are. Recently, Jesus made provision for his employers to work from there homes, even providing them with sewing machines and any supplies they may need, so they could be close to there families and work at their own pace. This is especially noteworthy because working-class Guatemalans are not treated fairly or paid proper wages. This is one of the many reasons we love working with Jesus and his family at Hiptipico. He treats everyone, including employees, like family.
Jesus has partnerships in the USA, Germany and England; however, none of his clients are based in Guatemala. He explained that while he enjoys working with foreigners, is proves very difficult to communicate and alter designs with someone overseas. Instead he shared that working with Hiptipico is his by far his favorite relationship because we are based in Guatemala and maintain an in-person relationship. Building trust, communication and friendship is important to him and his family and the culture of Guatemala at large.
Jesus respect how Hiptipico prioritizes human relationships with its artisan partners rather than just ordering quantities from afar--oblivious to the people behind the products. To him it feels like the latter are simply about profit and not understanding the culture, trade and people. Many times when buyers work with the artisans in Guatemala, there is no personal interest taken in the artisans themselves, and their stories remain untold. At Hiptipico, we make it our priority to build a strong relationship with the people in order to best explain where your products come from.
We are lucky that Jesus and his employees are located so close to the Hiptipico HQ! This means that any time we have a new design or custom order, Jesus and his team are ready to take it on. They are always eager to improve their products and stay up on international trends. Jesus is our go-to artisan because he naturally combines tradition and fashion with a modern twist. Jesus and his family support local staff and employ women’s groups, making them an special part of the Hiptipico family.
Shop and support Don Vicente.