Pushing the Glass Ceiling with Sewing Machines

In October of 2014, groups of local community leaders of San Marcos La Laguna – including women, youth, political leaders, and a few international residents – met to find solutions to the issues facing their town. After delving into many interrelated problems, the group decided to respond to a lack of well-paying work for women and a lack of nutritious snack options by founding a cooperative named Sabor del Sol.

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The co-op created a product: healthy snack foods created using solar energy. In fact, the name of the co-op translates to “Taste of the Sun”. Members got to work testing recipes and preparing dried fruits, beef jerky, cookies, and seeds in their solar dehydrator and solar oven, then selling these products in San Marcos La Laguna. It has been a learning experience for all, and everyone is looking forward to year two!

IMG_3725_mediumThere are several rainy months each year in San Marcos, however, and snack production slows down considerably at that time. During this past rainy season, Sabor del Sol members decided to take on a new challenge: sewing. The co-op secured a generous donation of one sewing machine, a large stock of fabric to practice with, and a couple months of classes for the members (taught by a local indigenous man). With the purchase of two more machines (an investment from this past year’s snackfood profits) and a lot of enthusiasm, the project was underway! The co-op is currently making reusable grocery bags, napkins, and aprons with local, traditional fabrics.

The story up to this point is impressive enough to pause and appreciate: A community comes together and finds an environmentally-friendly solution to an economic and health dilemma. Women (many of whom single mothers) find themselves in a new job with decision-making power, and a small business grows.

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But within that greater story of the co-op there are thousands of smaller stories… thousands of little ripples moving gently away from the site of this impact. There are stories of women who now have their own income to start purchasing food for their families. Stories of community members making the choice to buy local rather than purchase something imported. Stories of learning. Stories of cooperation. Stories of pride and self-esteem.

One particular story that may be overlooked by many outsiders is that of the machine. Learning to use a sewing machine is no small task for the women of San Marcos. Women are encouraged – expected really – to be weavers and embroiderers, sure. But using a machine in this region, is men’s work.

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So what makes a half a dozen women decide to buy a machine and learn to use it when culture tells them they shouldn’t?

We asked Elia, a dedicated member of the co-op from the beginning, about the project:

Elia and the other members of Sabor Del Sol have made a significant investment – both financially and emotionally. They’re excited to be their own bosses, calling the shots, taking calculated risks, and pushing slowly but steadily against the glass ceiling and the obstacles in their path.

The co-op is currently winding down from their classes and looking into ways to expand their production. JUSTA Collective has committed to purchasing 100 aprons from the co-op as they become available. These will be made available in 2016, both online and at festivals.

By Jackie Mauer, JUSTA Programs Director