Guatemalan Aprons for Sale

Guatemalan Aprons for Sale

The world-famous Guatemalan apron is going places, you know. Just like you can find mothers and daughters selling gabachas, aprons, on any given street corner, you can also find a zillion online stores selling Guatemalan aprons; some of them claiming to pay “fair” prices or wages to the artisans.

I often wonder what is “fair” trade? What does that really mean? What are fair wages? Is it “fair” fair?

How does one decide what are “fair” wages to pay to the artisans for their handicrafts? Does one pay the “average”, the minimum legally possible or a fair share of the final price? Is it “fair” to keep artisans communities impoverished so long their “basic” needs are covered?

I often wonder how many of the so-called “fair trade” NGOs pay fairly? I wonder if the artisans that sell their wares to these “fair trade” live any better than their neighbors that sell their wares on the open market? Do “fair trade” artisans have access to better education, better food, better lifestyles?

Boy, I have many questions. Me urgen respuestas. 🙁

By the way, the aprons above sell for Q35/$4.23 directly from the seamstress and her daughter; online, the Guatemalan aprons sell on average for $35 (Q289). Go figures…

© 2009 – 2013, Rudy Girón. All rights reserved.

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  • Eric

    Excellent questions, Rudy – I confess I have the same ones sometimes. 20+ years ago, some of my artist friends told me that they charge $20 U.S. per hour that it took to create a work, plus materials. That was 1986, though, when credit cards were running rampant here …. don’t know if that made a difference (?)
    I try to make my purchases from the creators when possible – I’ll look at a price of what I want en una tienda, then see how much the creator wants for what they are offering, and if it’s something I really like, I try to give the creator some amount in between. Sort-of ‘regatear en reversa’, or I just don’t haggle that much. As long as I have the money to spend, and it’s something I really like, it works for me.
    I have not made any fair-trade purchases online, or through NGOs, so I can’t weigh-in about the impact of fair-trade. It sounds like a great concept but, as you say – how do you decide what’s fair ? Wouldn’t the creator/seller be the best to decide to decide ? I guess I’m not helping … Perdoname …
    Oh, and I saw … what do you call them, telas (?), the long, narrow weavings … in a ‘Mayan Imports’ store here in Boston, on sale for $27 U.S. each…what is that, about 220Q? When I buy these from my friends in Guate. (who actually create them), they ask me for 50Q each. They do such phenomenal work that I wind-up giving them more. I can’t say that this lifts them out of any financial hardship, or elevates them to another station, but we are all very happy in the end. Now if I could just set-up a fair-trade Moza brewery near my apartment….Hmmmmmm….

    • @Eric, fair trading Mozas, huh? Let me think about this one while drink some Mozas bien frias. 😉

  • Sandra

    That is a significant price markup. Maybe I should be selling aprons…You know, I never saw Abuelita Nacha without an apron.

    • @Sandra, gush you me like my sister :-(. Believe it or not, before I came across the “fair trade” thing, I was actually going to talk about our abuelita, and abuelitas with their omnipresent aprons. The sentiments and emotions seeing aprons arouse in me. I miss her very much.

  • I looked everywhere for these aprons! -I bought a couple in Guatemala City but they were for kids- now I will have to find ”this” Abuelita when I get back to Antigua in October.

  • Eh, so why not help the seamstress and her daughter set up an eBay store? Then they can decide what’s a fair trade price, ha! 😉

    • @Braaad: Eso! I agree!

      As mentioned before, great questions Rudy. There is one for-profit business that I wrote about and that really impressed me in Honduras. They have many first-hand accounts of their employers actually moving ahead in life because of being employed at this business (Aquafinca). That’s about as good of a credential that you’ll get I think. Here’s the story:

      Fishing for a Better Standard of Living

      Here’s a novel idea when running a business that manages more than a thousand employees:

      “We try to do basically everything to make them feel they are like partners not workers. Everybody is on bonus system, everyone can basically gain more from the company’s success, so everybody feels like it’s their project. That’s the kind of environment we like to maintain here with our people.”

      Those partners Yedod Snir is referring to are the 1,350 locals that make up the direct workforce of Aquafinca St. Peter Fish, a Tilapia producer based out of El Borboton, San Francisco de Yojoa, Honduras. Yedod is Aquafinca’s production manager.

      Central America is a hotspot for cheap labor and, sadly, greedy businesses that cruelly exploit their workers. But, on a trip hosted by FIDE, the Honduras Foundation for Investment and Export Development, I, along with a small group of other ag journalists was able to tour and learn about businesses based in Honduras who lead with impressive example. Among those model operations we toured, Aquafinca St. Peter Fish stood out from the rest as a world-class facility. In fact, one well-seasoned ag reporter with our group, who wished to remain unnamed, confidently asserted that Aquafinca would put similar production and packaging facilities in America to shame. Certain exemplary standards at Aquafinca, he said, are simply unheard of in the U.S.

      “I’d put this facility in the top one or two percent in the world,” the reporter said during the tour. “In the U.S., big boxes [of raw goods] would be sitting for 10 to 15 minutes before they were moved. Here everything is moving through steadily. Nothing is sitting.”

      The plant is cutting, gutting, flaying and filleting raw fish, yet, as workers bustled around us constantly sweeping up fish scraps from the floor, the reporter said it’s the cleanest food plant he’s ever toured.

      In order to tour the plant, where 700 workers were handling raw fish, we had to cover ourselves from head to foot with special gear: hair caps, special jackets, special pants, face masks and big rubber boots. Before entering a room, we had to thoroughly wash and sanitize our hands twice as well as dunk our boots in troughs of sanitizing liquid. When we left a room, we were instructed to repeat the hand-boot procedure.

      Outside the plant, Aquafinca uses its Tilapia farms, a natural lake – Lago de Yojoa – and a manmade lake – Embalse el Cajon – to ultimately produce 90 tons of fresh fish each day. That’s 32,850 tons, or 65.7 million pounds, each year. Yedod says Aquafinca ships 1.4 millions tons to the U.S. each month under the name Regal Springs. He says Aquafinca is the largest exporter of Tilapia in the world.

      The operation Aquafinca runs is tight one, a clean one, and a hugely successful one. But, even though Yedod estimates that the company earns between $35 million and $40 million in gross revenue each year, he says Aquafinca’s priority is not fish:

      “We have a saying: It’s not about the fish. It’s about the people,” Yedod said.

      Yedod says Aquafinca values its workers as the most important component of its business. If a company wants to produce an excellent product, he says, it should treat its workers with excellence. It’s safe to say, even the most scrutinizing critic would applaud the vast array of programs and benefits Aquafinca reports it offers natives. Yedod says the company offers the highest salaries in the area in addition to subsidizing 55 to 100 percent of food for its workers and their families. Aquafinca offers education through its own school. With a psychologist and two doctors on staff, four health clinics provide workers and their families free medical attention, medicine and social aid. The company has its own bank that gives employees higher interest rates on savings accounts and lower interest rates on loans as compared to other banks in Honduras.

      Locals who want to start their own Tilapia farms are not only encouraged, but offered free assistance and expertise. Aquafinca will also help finance feed for their fish. Yedod says raising Tilapia is good for small, rural areas and is an industry that has great potential to help Honduras move away from poverty. Aquafinca, he says, helps interested locals get what they need, helps them grow their fish and offers locals technical assistance. The company will then buy their produce and process it.

      Yedod says people aren’t the only thing of capital importance to the company though. He says Aquafinca takes special care to protect the environment and lead a sustainable operation. The company says it funds various educational and sustainable projects around the two large lakes it operates on – Lago de Yojoa and Embalse el Cajon. Yedod says Aquafinca leaves a zero impact on both lakes. He adds that it’s important to teach locals in the area to have the same care for their natural resources in order to maintain the quality of their produce.

      Aquafinca also uses leftover scraps and skins to produce fish feed, fish oil and biodiesel. The company uses the biodiesel it produces to fuel its operation and is 100 percent self-energy sufficient.

      I published the story on a couple news websites, but here’s the link to the story published on my site in the case you want to see photos. You can also listen to the audio interview with Yeodod Snir:
      http://giramonda.com/2008/09/fishing-for-a-better-standard-of-living/

  • Eric

    Always nice when a ‘fish story’ is actually true ! Ja-ja-ja ! Thanks, Laura .