As the founder and designer behind Marra Collective, Sarah Contrucci Smith is known for her gorgeous global aesthetic. She travels all over the world to find vibrant, traditional textiles, collaborating with local artisans to create pieces that complement today’s modern style. As if that wasn’t inspiring enough, her company makes a point of paying artisans fair wages and invests 10% of all proceeds to cover education and healthcare for their artisan partners and their families.

We asked Sarah to share her insider’s perspective on Guatemala (where she’s worked with artisans for years), including a few pro tips for shopping the markets. Read on below, and shop Ara Collective’s finds from all over the world HERE.

Marra Collective rattan chairs, and assorted blue-patterned pillows
Photo courtesy of Marra Collective

Describe shopping in Guatemala and your first impression of it.
“Shopping in Guatemala is a whirlwind of color in stacks upon stacks of clothing, home goods, and accessories. The details and craftsmanship in each piece is extraordinary, so it can be overwhelming really quickly. But these are my favorite kinds of shopping experiences! I love getting my hands in there, sifting through the piles, and talking to the artisans about how they were made and what makes them meaningful.”

What’s your approach to shopping in Guatemala? What do you look for?
“On this latest trip I wasn’t looking for any specific item but rather stand-out textiles (in any form) that got me inspired. At Marra Collective, everything I design is based on age-old designs found on traditional apparel, blankets, and rugs in our artisans’ hometowns. I find those designs while wandering around the local markets. It’s a chemistry thing – I don’t know what I’m looking for exactly but I know when I’ve found it. It’s the biggest adrenaline kick and such a fun creative, cross-cultural process.”

Mara Collective founder Sarah Contrucci Smith checks out blue woven textile.
Photo by Kate Zimmerman, courtesy of Marra Collective

How have the things you find in Guatemala changed over the  years? Any trends you’re seeing that surprised you?
“I’ve been traveling to Guatemala now for over two years and I’m still always finding new things in the markets. This time I noticed a lot more textiles with white backgrounds, instead of the more common black, red, or brown hues, which I think is a sign that the weavers are noticing what Westerns naturally gravitate towards. White is a beautiful way to showcase the detail, complexity, and significance of the designs that the artisans are hand weaving.”

Sarah Contrucci Smith sorts through brightly colored textiles in outdoor shops.
Photos by Kate Zimmerman and Sarah Shreves, courtesy of Marra Collective

What makes the markets in Guatemala unique?
“I think the biggest difference between US flea markets and Guatemalan markets is the rich, cultural history that is in each piece you find. Artisans have been weaving these designs with weaving techniques that have been passed down for hundreds of years. Farther back than anyone can remember. It’s evident in the quality, complexity, and story of everything you find in their markets. We just don’t have that kind of history or age-old skills in the United States.”

Sarah Contrucci Smith laughs with shopkeepers in Guatemala.
Photo by Kate Zimmerman, courtesy of Marra Collective

Sarah’s Guatemala Shopping Tips

  1. Have fun, be respectful, and get to know people!  It’s adventure to wander these markets, to run your hands over details that took hundreds of years to master, and to talk to the artisans about what the piece means to them, their families, and their communities.
  2. It can sometimes get overwhelming to negotiate prices or feel like you’re being pushed to buying something (I feel that way all the time in markets!). It’s okay to move on or say a firm ‘no,’ but do so with respect and a smile. Remember, you’re a guest in their culture and hometown.
  3. Negotiating can get you a great deal but who needs that extra $2 dollars more,  you or a Guatemalan family, who can buy a lot with very little?
  4. Don’t let a language barrier stop you from getting out there and exploring! ‘Spanglish’ and hand gestures can get you pretty far and result in a lot of laughter. It’s good for the soul and people that laugh together are instant friends.


Featured photo by Kate Zimmerman. Photos by Kate Zimmerman Pictures, Sarah Shreves, and Sarah Contrucci Smith, courtesy of Marra Collective

July 8, 2016

Chairish is the design lover's indispensable online source for chic and unique decor, art, furniture and home decorating inspiration. Shop our expert curation of exclusive and diverse inventory with 1,000+ new arrivals daily. Happy hunting!