Ajkem’a Loy’a, San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala

2007 – Ongoing

Ajkem'a Loy'a ladys and store

Our first project —an ongoing collaboration with Ajkem’a Loy’a – a women’s weaving cooperative in San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala. It began in 2007 in partnership with the international humanitarian organization CARE and with funding from Sheila C. Johnson. In June 2008 our students led workshops in marketing, business, and product design on site in Guatemala during a month. They walked the women through exercises in valuing time, pricing, self-branding, identity, colors, shapes, and symbols, and a redesign of their logo. The women from Ajkem’a Loy’a taught us their techniques to make “fajas de mostacilla” (beaded belts that they commonly use to tie their skirts around their waist). We initiated a participatory photography project where seven artisans were given cameras in order to capture images representing their hopes and fears. Our visit ended with the inauguration of Ajkem’a Loy’a’s newly redesigned store in town.

When we returned to Ajkem’a Loy’a, in 2009, we helped organize an exhibition of their photo project. In their studios, we critiqued current designs, built on what had been done to adapt new products, created tags for products, setup their new computers, a website and an online and print catalogue. At Ajkem’a Loy’a’s request we presented an export-focused workshop in addition to those centered on the design process, developing new products or experimenting with different colors, shapes, and patterns. We gave a brief workshop on filming techniques and handed over our video cameras for the women to produce a video about their community, culture and traditions.

In 2011, we provided the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a with a small stipend to develop a new product line for the students to work with. We put together a collection of 10 pieces consisting of bags and scarves and began selling them at the Original Women store in New York City. We are currently awaiting the grand opening of the Ajkem’a Loy’a’s Etsy shop thanks to a new partnership with a fantastic group of students from Pangea Advisors – a pro-bono consulting group of the International Development Club at Columbia Business School.

Artisan Group
Ajkem’a Loy’a


David Dorfman, New School for Public Engagement, International Affairs
Autumn Grace Dougherty, Parsons, Fashion Design
Jeremy Goodwin, Parsons, Integrated Design
Aashrita Jayaraman, Parsons, Fashion Marketing
Stacy Lee, Parsons, Integrated Design
Jane Lien, Parsons, Design and Management
N’deye Niang, The New School for Public Engagement, International Affairs
Trey Phillips, Parsons, Fashion Design and Lang, Liberal Arts
Eileen Reyes, The New School for Public Engagement, International Affairs
Candice Santaferraro, Parsons, Integrated Design
Anna Carolina Santos, Parsons, Fashion Design
Nika Stelman, Parsons, Design and Management
Rachel Young, Parsons, Integrated Design program
Eileen Reyes, The New School for Public Engagement, International Affairs
Sandra Benavides Miro Quesada, Parsons, Fashion Marketing
Larissa Favier, Parsons, Integrated Design
Moira Keogan, Parsons, Integrated Design
Rebecca Lesesne, Parsons, Integrated Design
Alexandra Parkin, Parsons, Integrated Design


Cynthia Lawson, Associate Professor of Integrated Design, Parsons
Fabiola Berdiel, Director, International Field Program, The New School
Pascale Gatzen, Associate Professor of Fashion Design, Parsons


Special Thanks / Partners
Original Women has sold scarves designed by Ajkem’a Loy’a as well as some Original Women/Parsons designed crocheted bracelets
Columbia Business School, Pangea Advisors consulting group:
Cristina Llano Sanchez, Miguel Rodrigo Lopez and Jihyun Lee
María José Sáenz Penagos, Guatemala City-based industrial designer, DEED design intern
Shari Diamond generously supported the documentation and production of the artisan’s lookbook


Sheila C. Johnson – her generous donation in 2007 kicked off this entire initiative
Daniel Agostino Derossi Foundation – their contribution supported the summer 2009 fieldwork in Guatemala


DEED Continues in Columbia’s Pangea Project

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We are excited to announce that DEED was once again selected to work with Pangea Advisors, the pro-bono consulting group of Columbia Business School’s International Development Club. DEED had the pleasure of receiving support from a Pangea team of students in spring 2014, which resulted in a series of business … Continued

We have a Story to share

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On Tuesday night alumna and research fellow Daphna Lewinshtein (DEED ’12) and faculty member/director Cynthia Lawson will be pitching scarves made by Ajkem’a Loy’a in San Lucas Tolimán at Story in New York City. They’re calling for “Good people, good products…” Sounds like us, right? Keep your fingers crossed at … Continued

Summer 2011 in San Lucas Toliman

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We created a new class in the Design & Management program in the School of Design Strategies to run in Fall 2011; Small Business Enterprise: DEED. The goal of this class is to sell the products of the artisan groups DEED works with. The first challenge to be addressed is … Continued

Ajkem’a Loy’a, San Lucas Toliman

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I stayed in Antigua for 6 weeks, studying Spanish intensively. I wanted to be able to communicate better with the women we are working with. I joined the summer team of students visiting the women of Ixokiin Santiago Zamora and I visited the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a and Barco in … Continued

sewing the bags

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The women of Ajkem’a Loy’a finishing the bags they designed. Mayda takes charge concerning the patterns and the sewing Rebecca sewing Romelia’s bag Hilda and Gloria finishing their bags, the women made three sizes of the same kind of bag, Hilda and Gloria are both finishing the smallest version Sandra assembling the … Continued

Muestras Finales de tejidos

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Barco La evolución de los productos esta llendo muy bien en el segundo grupo, Barco. Ahora que tenemos terminadas las muestras de los cubrecojines pasamos a formalizar los tamaños. Hemos escogido dos tamaños de los más vendidos en el mercado americano 18”x18” y 12”x18”. Es una fortaleza que este grupo … Continued

Time flying by…

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Time has proven to be a highly treasured element on this trip. In the past two weeks, we have experienced incredible progress with both Ajkem’a Loy’a and BARCO. It has been both a privilege and learning experience working with each group; and equally exciting to see what they have been … Continued

Experiments and Inspiration

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Last year in June, in San Lucas Toliman, we worked with a much larger group of women then the group of women that is currently assembled under the name of Ajkem’a Loy’a. Students and faculty from The New School conducted workshops in business, marketing and design. The women of San … Continued

Tune in this Sunday!

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The TV show LatiNation will be broadcasting a segment on our project in Guatemala this coming Sunday. They interviewed me last Fall, and have edited that with footage from last summer. The show is being described as “Making the Grade, learn how a New York school lends a helping hand … Continued

Participatory Photography Exhibition in San Lucas Toliman

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Last year we conducted a participatory photography project with the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a. Seven compañeras were given disposable cameras in order to capture images representing their hopes and fears. After taking the photographs, the women used the pictures to reflect on their desires and concerns within the context of … Continued

Next Steps: San Lucas Toliman

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Pascale and 5 Parsons students who will be focusing on the development of new products with Ajkem’a Loy’a have arrived to San Lucas and they will continue blogging from there keeping us updated! Some of the things they will work on – critiquing current designs, building on what has been … Continued

Workshop: How to Export

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Per Ajkem’a Loy’a’s request, on Sunday afternoon students led a workshop which focused on exporting. The workshop was divided into three parts. The first, focused on what needs to be in place before exporting begins (high quality products, a clear print and online catalogue with styles and prices, communications, and … Continued

Ajkem’a Loy’a’s store: 2008 & 2009

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Lesson learned from the project: only what is truly designed collaboratively remained in the artisan women’s group a year after the project began. In summer 2008 a team of students redesigned Ajkem’a Loy’a’s store in San Lucas Toliman. Although they worked carefully with the artisan women, it was not a … Continued

Our student team

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Every time I travel with a team of students for an international project, I truly believe that group could never be surpassed in their energy, skills, support for one another, and eagerness to learn. I have, again, been proven wrong. This year’s team is yet another superb group of students … Continued

Ajkem’a Loy’a’s latest scarves

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modeled by one of our students! We were excited to see how much Ajkem’a Loy’a has been experimenting with new color palettes, and even new scarf designs (with a variety of color combinations and weaving techniques.) Click on the image to see the next one.

Earth Lodge

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Earth Lodge – a wonderful lodge just 20 minutes outside of Antigua with absolutely stunning views, delicious home cooked meals, and an extremely friendly and international staff. I was particularly moved by the work that co-owner Briana is doing in the … Continued

Participatory Photography Project

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I traveled to Guatemala in April 2008 to meet with Ajkem’a Loy’a and plan the summer collaboration. I was given the task to document my visit through photography so that I could report back to the students in NY. I felt reluctant about taking on this responsibility since I considered … Continued

Beaded pixels: an experimental animation

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As I mentioned before, after learning how to bead I became fascinated with this idea of each bead as a pixel. Here is a short animation that took me 3 weeks to bead (and 1 hour to put together :)).

A Final Snapshot

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Our month-long stay in San Lucas ended with the inauguration of Ajkem’a Loy’a’s newly redesigned store. Here it is – the new logo handpainted on the facade, courtesy of Elias Jacinto (master painter & typographer in San Lucas) with side texts by our own Jeremy “Jeremias Ganabien” Goodwin.

Children’s Bag-Making Workshop

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Estella with a fish bag. Tomorrow, Monday the 23rd, Candice and Trey (Carlos) will do a workshop with the children of Ajkem’a Loy’a to make little bags. The children are very inspiring, they make us beautiful drawings and brighten up our days with  their love, affection and openess. While one of the groups … Continued


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A 30-minute boat ride to Panajachel and an hour car ride (or 4-hour multiple transfer bus ride on public transportation as some from our group experienced) got us to Chichicastenango known for its enormous outdoor market on Thursdays and Sundays (as well as the church in which the Popol Vuh … Continued

Ajkem’a Loy’a Workshop: Natural Dyeing

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Last year some of the women from Ajkem’a Loy’a were trained in naturally dyeing cotton threads for their weaving. With a stove setup in the outside patio of the students’ house, Sandra very patiently walked us through the lengthy process through which we dyed two bunches of thread with “Pericon” … Continued

Ajkem’a Loy’a Workshop: Mostacilla

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This was the first workshop run by the women from Ajkem’a Loy’a for the group from The New School. They taught us their techniques to make “fajas de mostacilla” (beaded belts that they commonly use to tie their skirts around their waist.) We worked in pairs starting off with a … Continued

A Most Beautiful Landscape

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On our way from Panajachel back to San Lucas Toliman we made a stop from the curvy road to soothe the motion sick. What we ran into was this most beautiful landscape from the “Mirador de Godines.” It was dusk and we were above the clouds that have been covering … Continued

Weaving Workshop

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Yesterday was a particularly exciting day because we were having our first weaving workshop. I packed my backstrap loom that has traveled with me from Guatemala to NY and back to Guatemala without being touched. The women from Ajkem’s Loy’a and the students spread around the house, setting up their … Continued

Business Workshop: Savings & Inventory Control

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Building on the June 5th workshop on pricing, our student team started off by asking the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a what items could be eliminated from the pricing worksheet in order to reduce the price point of one of their products. This conversation led the group to prioritize what they … Continued

Product Workshop: Design & Fabrication

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Candice, Eileen, Jeremy, Stacy, Trey started off their first workshop with everyone sharing the clothing and accessories they had been asked to bring along and explain why the brought them. This exercise was meant to show that the things one likes can be made in different ways and turned into … Continued

Business Workshop: Pricing

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Anna, David, Jane, and Nika led this workshop on valuing time and pricing. They started with a laughing ice breaker in which all participants had to laugh for a whole minute. Then, each person had to write or draw everything they do in one day. This setup the conversation about … Continued

Barbie a la Maya

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We learned that some of the children make garments for their barbie dolls. This particular one is an interesting outfit designed from local textiles. It reminds us of one of our students’ prototype designs from the Spring semester, and something to return to with the women (and children!)


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Dancing is central to latin culture and is already playing a big role in our time in Guatemala. On the first day the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a performed their typical dance, the “són.”Later in the day we had a chance to also try the moves.It has now become tradition to … Continued


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It’s been raining every single day since we arrived in San Lucas. First, the two tropical storms, and now it seems to just be the normal climate. Everything is damp, the things we wash don’t really dry, and we look forward to every bit of sun we can get!

Apple computers = laughter

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As I was editing some of our videos I started to attract several of the children from Ajkem’a Loy’a to the desk in which I was sitting. They were content to just sit next to me and watch and listen as I edited in iMovie, but it was when I … Continued

“Sock” puppets for the kids

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We have been extremely moved by all the children who surround us on a daily basis. We have become accustomed to running workshops with interruptions of baby sounds and children playing. We took some time out of our routine to handmake sock puppets (without socks!) for the kids.

Marketing workshop: branding

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Our three teams of students: Marketing, Business & Product Development have designed a series of workshops for the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a. Our brave Marketing Team members – Aashrita, Aparna, Nick & N’deye – kicked off our workshop series with their first on branding. They walked the women through exercises … Continued

First stop: Antigua

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Antigua was the perfect place to spend our first night in Guatemala. Despite the never ending rain from two tropical storms, we couldn’t wait to wander around town and discover the beauty of this country and region.I wonder who decided this cutout was reflective of the artisan market inside?