• Carrin Robertson

Design Trip to Antigua

Antigua is where we buy some of our fabrics, and also where some of our products are stocked in local stores. Obviously, I’m excited to be heading there to do fabric shopping and to meet some of the women we buy from! PLUS, we’re taking the chicken bus there and back! Sick.

The bus is glorious, brightly coloured with crazy loud Reggaeton tunes blasting out of the sound system. People hop on and off for a ride for 10 Quetzales or to sell things like chocolate bars and nuts. The bus gets quickly filled en route and I expect two people to a seat, as that’s how much space there is for two sets of arses, but nope. A third person always squeezes on the end and we’re literally packed in that Camioneta like chickens. I am totally fine with this, luckily on the window seat side, and love how fast it goes and the new views out the window.

I am in love, I tell Angela and Barb. Not in the way that people who marry inanimate objects are, but you know, it's close. (Side note- I just googled “people who married inanimate objects and discovered that Tracey Emin married a stone. WHAT? And now I’ve taken a half hour detour reading about that and texting my friend about it and then realised that I shouldn’t be surprised by this. Artists, eh?)

SO! Barb, Angela and I are in Antigua (Barb, btw, is incredible- she’s 83 and set up UPAVIM over 30 years ago- more on that in future posts)

Antigua itself is a million miles away from La Esperanza, I don’t feel in danger. There are loads of restaurants and shops- vegan restaurants, shi-shi coffee shops that wouldn’t look out of place in a Wes Anderson film. Definitely coming back soon for a leisurely visit to this place.

Our first stop is a store called Casa de los Gigantes to deliver an order to the owner there, Zigi. It was such a pleasure to meet her, her store is gorgeous. She sells artisanal, high quality handmade goods- homeware, jewellery, accessories, a whole host of things beautifully merchandised, like an independent Anthropologie. I’d LOVE to have a shop like this- dream future goal. Each item is handmade in Guatemala and has a story. She shows us lots of homewares made by local teak carpenters, fabric weavers in the mountains and local glass blowers. There are projects from all areas of Guatemala and buying these helps change the lives of the artisans in terms of economic growth, better healthcare and lifestyle. Some of her products are made from fabric she has designed herself, there is so much to see. She shows us some handcarved wooden cutlery that sells well, people carry them around in place of plastic single-use cutlery. She asked me to design a holder pouch for these, so that’s another project I can get into! Plus if we have any other new designs, she’d love to see them too. It’s so encouraging to meet supportive people who are as excited about design and see the positive impact it makes, this woman is very inspiring. Zigi is 69 and has owned her shop for more than twenty years, she shows us back of house too…


She has a laser cutter.

I feel at home.

Next place we head to is to buy material which is traditionally used to make cortes which are the skirts worn by Mayan women, handwoven and so intricate.

Of all of the many reasons I came to Guatemala, fabric shopping ranks highly, and to learn about the textiles whilst doing so.

The different designs of cortes are regional, most pueblos have a distinct pattern that makes the wearer recognisable to that area or tribe. In many ways it’s similar to my own Scottish heritage of kilt making, and having our own tartans. The Mayan patterns are much more intricately detailed. The cross-checkered styles made on the loom known as Ikat or Jaspe, I can’t quite get my head round, as the individual threads are tie-dyed before being woven to create this unique and complex pattern in the final design. (I could write more about Jaspe but the magic of t’internet may do a better job as there are many people who know much more than I do) I really love the multicoloured jaspe and select a few that catch my eye, they feel really substantial and well made, these pieces are honestly works of art.

Barb didn’t want to buy orange as it didn’t sell as well in Texas where she is from, they like a blue (Aside from in Austin apparently- orange is their colour). So far, the week that we’ve worked together, we’ve enjoyed finding out that we have polar-opposite aesthetic tastes. What I love, she hates and vice-versa.

BUT she always ends with “It’s your decision, you’re the designer, I don’t want to discourage you”

If only all people were open and encouraging like her!

When it came to me picking out a beautiful (I use “beautiful” way too much, but its the most honest way to describe most things here!) Corte that is mostly turquoise but had orange through it, she did agree this time it was really pretty. First one we’ve both liked!

We buy directly from the Mayan women, Estafania is the lady we bought half of our fabrics from and and another lady Elena we brought a whole lot more. The women want to sell their fabrics and charge us accordingly. Both are very welcoming and happy for me to take take some photos of the hupiles and tzutes they also have as I’m interested in those for future projects. As I took my camera this time, I don’t need to describe how lush they are (I’ll post more on instagram @_carrin_) We bought so many that we couldn’t carry them, so left them with Estafania whilst we went for lunch.

Ricon Tipico is where we stop to eat and we meet with Greg, a former UPAVIM volunteer who is now a member of the decision making UPAVIM bioard. He gives us this weird looking thing called a SCOBY- stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast apparently- in a jar to pass to my flatmate to make Kombucha. Surprisingly or not, I’ve never drank Kombucha, but looks like I will be soon. Rincon Tipico is a little gem of a restaurant, and clearly a local treasure with traditional Guatemalan food. A simple menu of Pollo Asado, or 3 other meat options if you prefer something else, with a side of guacamole, potatoes, salad and tortilla. Its delicious, simply cooked, filling and all for the bargain price of 30Q (less than £3)!

We then delivered to Mico, a childrens’ toy store which stocks colourfully curated traditional toys- all handmade gifts for children. They stock some of our toys and baby products; we brought our baby hat samples and she placed an order for both styles! Yay! So I can get those in production and shipped to her at the weekend. She also has lots of suggestions for products she’d like to stock and what sells well in her store, its so great to have this kind of conversation and insight with a client- they want to stock your product and can suggest ideas. It’s brilliant and I’m enjoying meeting people face-to-face too, so I said I’d come back to visit her soon.

Before we head off, we collect our cortes from Estefania and head off in a tuk-tuk to catch another Chicken Bus back to Gaute City. The ride back is dreamy and greenery galore, and the super-friendly lady next to me strikes up a conversation saying she saw me in Antigua, and asked what I was doing in Guatemala. I stand out like a sore thumb here, blonde and a giant at 5’ 2”.


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