When Melany de León moved from Guatemala to Spain in 2017, she left everything and everyone behind. She was convinced leaving not only her country was the best decision she could make, but also quitting her career as a lawyer. Once in Spain, the world was at her feet. And what would you do when everything is possible? You start rearranging the blak canvas, just the way you like. And sometimes, this leads to something beautiful. Discover De León’s full story on starting her brand Ixoqui in a foreign country and on doing back something for those who need it most.
Cover photo: © Pexels
Melany de León
Due to personal circumstances in 2017, Melany de León had to make a hard decision. As a result, she decided to move from Guatemala to Spain – leaving everything and everyone behind. After living for some time in Barcelona (where she studied a Master’s Degree in Digital & Social Media Marketing and started working in a Marketing and Communication agency), she moved to Madrid. It was in the capital of Spain, that De León decided she was ready to launch her personal project. It marked the start of Ixoqui, the ethical and sustainable fashion brand.
Guatemala – country world famous for its handmade textiles, so the appreciation for crafts. Likewise, art and design have always made up a big part of her life. Derived from multiple trips around her homecountry, she had the opportunity to visit various cooperatives of indigenous Mayan women, who have an exceptional talent for creating impressive fabrics using ancient techniques. These techniques have been passed on from generation to generation. Nonetheless, they are on the verge of extinction because local people often lack access to international markets to sell their products. On top of this, most of these women are mothers from low-income rural communities who work from home to care for their children. And due to poor access to education, early marriage and high birth rates, those women have few opportunities to improve their economic situation.
With this in mind, Melany de León wanted to do something. She felt the need to take action to empower these women. She explains: “This is how Ixoqui was born, a word that in the Mayan language means “woman”. It reflects my desire to empower Guatemalan women, by promoting their craft trade and helping to generate job opportunities that allow them to get a fair income and take care of their children.”
Since the beginning, Ixoqui collaborates with brands, designers and cooperatives of women weavers in Guatemala to promote and expand the distribution of their products; aiming to connect Guatemalan artisans and their creations with the rest of the world. De León: “My wish is to offer an exclusive and different selection of artisan handbags, handmade by indigenous Mayan women in Guatemala. Bags that combine high-quality sustainable and renewable materials, with the know-how of expert artisans who put all their creativity, experience and spirit into their bags, ensuring that each one is singular and unique.”
When asking about the message she wants to spread with her brand, De León answers resolutely: “I want to change the lives of those talented women; fostering their extraordinary abilities, encouraging their creativity and empowering them with fair job opportunities.” Hence, she wants to preserve culture and traditions by sharing the beauty and complexity of Mayan crafts.
“I want to change the lives of those talented women; fostering their extraordinary abilities, encouraging their creativity and empowering them with fair job opportunities.“
Preserving techniques and female empowerment
Why was her urge to start Ixoqui so strong? To De León, that’s an easy one. Her answer is twofold: one the one hand, the designers and artisan cooperatives she collaborates with preserve traditional techniques. On the other hand, she created job opportunities for women who otherwise would have been far removed from the working field. She explains: “It is important to me to create an environment where our artisan partners can make decisions about their crafts, obtain opportunities for their family business and carry out their personal designs. At Ixoqui, we do not interfere with the design or production process. Hence, all bags are created by the artisans themselves. Through this type of decent work opportunity, Guatemalan artisans partner with Ixoqui to do something they love and earn a fair income.”
The near future of Ixoqui
It’s easy to discover this lady’s drive and passion. She talks like there’s no tomorrow. And that’s party because she’s got some big examples, like Margaret Thatcher. De León explains: “Margaret Thatcher represents an example of leadership worth highlighting, especially for women. A big part of this was the social and economic context. A time in which the incursion of women in the political sphere implied double merit: she was a woman among men. One of the main attitudes on which her leadership was based was the conviction of her beliefs, the coherence of her ideas and her way of understanding life. She defended with courage what she believed, even though these ideas were not popular.”
And that’s exactly what De León believes in herself. Empowering women and life to your own values. If that implies emigrating to a different continent, so be it. “I hope to continue incorporating more creations of Guatemalan talent to make it known to the world and thereby help change the way people buy, in Ixoqui one knows where their products come from, how they are manufactured and who designs and produces them. I want to continue to share the true story behind each product, including the history of the artisans and the traditional technique used to make each piece, it is my way of empowering women and giving them a voice.”