The founder of Teysha, Sophie Eckrich, loves bringing economic opportunities as well as other positive social impacts and empowering the local communities. With her co-workers, they decided to chase their dream in Guatemala and has been gradually expanding to other areas worldwide. See the interview with Hanna, the director of production of Teysha, and learn the stories behind them!
What made you decide to set up shop in Pastores?
We originally fell in love with the vibrant colors and culture of Guatemala, and were thrilled to find a small town filled with master shoe-makers. We knew we needed to find a way to blend the amazing textiles of Guatemala with these shoe-makers, and our Guate Boots were born. Shoe-making is in the blood of the artisans of Pastores, and all of the shoe-makers we work with are second or third generation artisans.
Boots or slippers?
Boots when I may want to jump in some puddles or kick some rocks. Slippers for easy breezy, run-out-the-door days.
What is your favorite part about being in Antigua?
Antiqua is a gorgeous town surrounded by mountains and filled with secret gardens. Exploring the cobblestone streets and meeting people from all over the world makes every day an adventure. So amazing nature + interesting travelers, my two favorite things.
If we had 48 hours in Antigua, what would you recommend we do?
Spend a day getting lost on the un-marked streets, dipping into cafes and museums. Drink coffee, eat fresh fruit and try some typical Guatemalan food. Eat dinner on a garden patio at one of the many amazing restaurants in Antigua, and then end the night sipping mescal at Cafe No Se. Wake up early and spend the morning at the spa at Santo Domingo and let the various pools wash away the mescal haze. After lunch, do the short hike up to Cerro de la Cruz to get a unique view of Antigua from above. Then get in a car and go up into the mountains to Hobbitenango, a Hobbit village at 7500 feet that has amazing views over the valley and the nearby volcanoes. It's the best place to watch the sun set, sip on some cocktails and marvel at the incredible landscape of Guatemala.
A day at the lake or a day in the mountains?
The lake and the mountains are both magical. If you only have a day, the lake is a bit far for a round-trip. It can take 2-3 hours to arrive, so just be ready for a long time in the car. If you have more time, try to spend at least 2-3 nights at the lake. Side-by-side, i'd choose the mountains (at the lake) ;)
You work with six different artisan communities throughout Guatemala and Panama, what is your favorite part of each community?
Our absolute favorite part of working with artisans is experiencing the lengths they all go to to create every day. Keeping an art form alive and flourishing is hard work, and it is inspiring and incredible to meet people that make it their life's work. While their different art forms vary in form, materials, and finished product, they are all dedicated, passionate, and talented people. Sharing life with them is our favorite part.
To make each pair of shoes, you must work with multiple artisan groups, one for textile, one for leatherwork, what is that like?
It is lots of work! We've spent years learning the ins and outs of the techniques that go into each artisan process. And we've also spent years learning and un-learning what to expect from handmade items and the people that make them. None of us are machines and there are human occurrences that affect how and when our products are made. With multiple artisan groups, there is a lot to juggle with the people, materials, timing, quality etc. but it has all helped us learn to take deep breaths and enjoy successful outcomes.
What is your favorite Teysha product you have developed over time?
So hard to choose! But it's been amazing to see the responses to new styles over the years like the Vaquera Bootie and the Amor Slides. It is also so great to hear that people have worn their Peace Boots and Smoking Slippers for years and years and they are constant story-telling shoes. With or without textiles, we are so proud of the quality of the craftsmanship and materials of our shoes and that has been our favorite accomplishment to date.
You all host customers and Teysha fans at your workshop in Guatemala, what is that like?
It's really fun! Most people have never considered how their shoes are made, so it's really cool showing people the process. Our shoes are made completely in house, so you can see all of our leathers and how they are cut with the different patterns for each style. And then you can watch how our master seamstress sews the leather and textile pieces by hand and then how the shoes are soled using special soling leathers, needles and thread. Each pair can take between 6-10 hours to complete, so it's much more time-intensive than most people realize. After seeing the process, you can design your own shoes by going through our super special textile room and matching them up with your favorite leather. We measure your feet to make sure we get a perfect fit, and then you can watch your shoes being started right in front of you. We can then deliver them to you while you're in Antiqua or ship them home to you.
What is a common misconception about Guatemalan culture/people?
What people hear on the news is that Guatemalans are poor, dangerous, and desperate to get into the United States (and also that Guatemalans are Mexican--- umm they are two different countries). Many Guatemalans have it hard, yes. There are not many well-paying opportunities in Guatemala, so there is a lot of poverty. While there are obvious issues that arise with poverty, the people of Guatemala are no more dangerous or desperate than anyone else and leaving their country and families is absolutely a last resort for many of those that choose to emigrate. Guatemala is rated as one of the happiest places on Earth, and it's not because everything is perfect here. I think it comes down to the fact that Guatemalan people make the best out of simple things and also the importance of a close-knit family here. Visiting Guatemala, you will constantly see people laughing, smiling and greeting neighbors and strangers. It's this friendliness and finding joy in the simple things that have inspired us the most over the years and what keeps us loving and working in Guatemala.