Protecting Indigenous Textile Designs in Guatemala

by Jack Guy

Oct 13, 2018

Guatemala © SimonDannhauer |

Trends / History

For decades, indigenous communities in Guatemala and elsewhere looked on as companies profited from their ancestral textiles, but now they are organizing to protect their heritage.

Everyone who visits Guatemala will notice the bright textiles worn by indigenous Maya communities, especially in the highlands. These designs have been used for everyday and ceremonial use for thousands of years, but more recently they have been used for profit by unscrupulous fashion companies.

Fed up with the situation, Mayan weavers started to try and protect their designs. Although intellectual property law is weak in Guatemala, the communities want the country’s congress to protect their textiles in law.

After organizing various protest marches in Guatemala City, an organization called Asociación Femenina para el Desarrollo de Sacatepéquez proposed a series of laws that would see indigenous groups benefit from the use of their textiles. So far the laws haven’t been adopted, but the good news is communities are organizing to protect their interests.

The growing movement even spans international borders, receiving support from groups in southern Mexico and beyond. It’s interesting to see how previously disparate groups are working together to protect their heritage.

If you are in Guatemala and want to buy some textiles, think hard about where you shop. Try and buy from the weavers themselves rather than shops or fashion brands.

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