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

2007 - 2009

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
  • 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
  • CARE
  • 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


Blog Posts

We have a Story to share

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

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Summary, summer 2010

Our last few days in Guatemala were so hectic we did not get around to blog and report back on all of the work we were able to accomplish. Now,

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sewing the bags

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

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Muestras Finales de tejidos

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

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Time flying by…

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

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Tune in this Sunday!

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

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Next Steps: San Lucas Toliman

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

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Workshop: How to Export

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

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Our student team

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,

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Earth Lodge

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

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In March 2009 I returned to San Lucas Toliman to continue working  with the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a on the tracksuit we are developing for W139 ,  one of the main

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possibilities 2

close-up of one of the experiments of Catherina the experiments of Catherina with the W for the top part of the pants Sandra experimenting with a dark color and more

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a design that Romelia and Cindy collaborated on all women are weaving real size now, no more small experiments Gloria and I collaborate on a design for the sleeves of

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Designing 139

In the afternoon, from 2pm to 6pm, I work with the other women of Ajkem’a Loy’a,  Sandra, Romelia, Catherina, Ruth, Gloria, Hilda y Cindy experimenting with weaving. At 4 pm

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Sewing and pattern making

Every morning from 9am to 12 pm, I work with Mayda in the shop of Ajkem’a Loy’a,  designing the shape, making the patterns and sewing the prototypes for the track

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A track suit for W139

In the coming two weeks the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a and I will develop the first proto type of a track suit for W139. W139, one of the main art spaces

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A Final Snapshot

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

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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

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Our final week

Next week will be our last week here in San Lucas. We have done a lot and yet feel there is so much left to do! We will be focusing

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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

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Weaving Workshop

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

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Business Workshop: Pricing

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

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Barbie a la Maya

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

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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

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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,

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Apple computers = laughter

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

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"Sock" puppets for the kids

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

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Marketing workshop: branding

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,

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First stop: Antigua

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

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