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Sarah Contrucci Smith, the Founder and Designer of Ara Collective, took a shopping trip to Guatemala, and we’re lucky enough to be able to share her gorgeous artisanal finds! Sarah also reported back with pro tips with us on trends she’s seeing and advice on shopping in markets. Read on below!

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In a few sentences, 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 were you shopping for, and did you find what you were looking for?

On this trip I wasn’t looking for any specific item but rather stand-out textiles (in any form) that got me inspired. At Ara 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.

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What trends did you see 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.

What are the biggest differences between US market shopping and shopping in Guatemala?

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, age-old skills, or heritage in the United States.

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Do you have any other tips on shopping in Guatemala? Are there any customs shoppers should know about?

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. 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. And they’re working really, really hard to make money for their families. Also, 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? And finally, 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.

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Love the look of these beautiful artisanal textiles? Shop Ara Collective’s amazing Guatemala finds on Chairish here.

{Photos by Kate Zimmerman Pictures, Sarah Shreves, and Sarah Contrucci Smith}

July 8, 2016

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