The vivid rainbow of fabric woven tightly together to make traditional Mayan huarache sandals is as unique as the men and women who hand craft them. Sold in abundance at Guatemalan markets, the huarache sandal is practical and fashionable, making it a staple in the Mayan community.
Originally a shoe fit for natives, the leather sandal has quickly become a stylish standard for all.
Designer and founder of Ix Fashion, Francesca Kennedy, noticed the attractive design of the huarache sandal during a trip to visit family in Guatemala in 2011. More significantly, on that same trip she noticed the toxic blue-green algae sprawling across Lake Atitlán.
“The water looked like sewage,” Kennedy describes on the Ix website. “It was completely contaminated.”
Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán is often called the eighth wonder of the world. Artists, authors and scholars have long found inspiration along the lake’s shores. For Kennedy, the lake is a reminder of her childhood where she and her family celebrated countless birthdays and holidays.
During her visit, Kennedy witnessed women and children collecting the water, despite its contamination. This water is then used for drinking, washing and cooking. Desperation for fresh water runs rampant in Guatemala, and Kennedy is determined to provide relief to these people. Disease contracted from unsafe water kills more people each year than any form of violence, including war.
“When people say one person can’t create change, I look at them and I say ‘watch me,’” Kennedy said.
After spotting the huarache sandals for sale at a local market, she conceived a fashion revolution to help Guatemalan men, women and children receive clean water.
Ix is the Mayan word “water.” Through her charitable fashion line, Kennedy creates jobs for local artisans. With each pair of sandals purchased, Ix donates 15 percent of its profit to Asociación Puente, a nonprofit that works to reduce extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition in Guatemala.
This organization educates women in marginalized communities on valuable topics such as money management, leadership, nutrition and hygiene. Women are then given Ecofiltro water filters and microloans to start their own businesses. Through Ix’s partnership with Asociación Puente, more than 3,000 children have been provided with clean drinking water.
Despite Kennedy’s ambitious business plan, Ix wasn’t built in a day. For a full year, she traveled back to Guatemala to meet with the artisans until eventually gaining their trust. Their collaboration to produce a contemporary huarache sandal has established jobs for over 1,000 female artisans. Because of Ix’s success, these employees are able to afford food, schooling and clothing.
Today Ix has expanded to include sandals for men, women and children, as well as a line of accessories like jewelry, handbags, water bottles and scarves. Each piece is a colorful token of the Guatemalan community.
Ix products are sold online and at retailers worldwide. Kennedy and her designs have been featured in “People Magazine,” “Harper’s Bazaar,” “Vogue,” “Refinery29” and other publications. As support for Ix continues to grow, the impact within the Guatemalan community increases.
Making a fashion statement is bold. Making a difference is brave. Because of Ix, Kennedy lives a life of purpose with a passionate soul and fashionable soles.