The Impact of Mercado Global in Panjachel…and Me

I was one of six women who made the pilgrimage to this Guatemalan village, bound by a deep curiosity for learning about its artisanal crafts and preservation. 

From our Director of Sustainability & Social Impact.

The air was dry and warm in the town of Panjachel. The morning sun reached hard through the window to greet me. Parrots played hide-and-seek outside. 

I was one of six women who made the pilgrimage to this Guatemalan village, bound by a deep curiosity for learning about its artisanal crafts and preservation. 

After breakfast, our tight-knit group piled into a small bus — or colectivo —  about to embark on the next leg of our adventure, two hours up into the Guatemalan highlands where the women’s weaving communities lay. 

Together we talked and bounced, all while in the company of our host, Mercado Global.



It was about six years ago that Mercado appeared in my periphery. I met its founder, Ruth – a visionary with a contagious smile – several times, until last year when we serendipitously attended an International Women’s Day event. 

At the time, Free People was looking to explore impact-focused accessories, while Mercado Global was growing more robust brand partnerships. 

In that same evening, Ruth and her team connected with our accessories team and today, Mercado and Free People have developed a line of exclusive accessories, marrying heritage techniques with FP’s quintessential aesthetic.


Mercado Global is a Brooklyn-based non-profit and accessory brand that empowers rural Latin American women to become entrepreneurs through traditional weaving applications. 

It’s not uncommon for women to work in support of their families, but those who do so outside of their home are sometimes met with resistance and abuse at the hands of their husbands. 

Knowing the sensitivity of this issue, Mercado Global created an opportunity for women to work within their homes, at their own pace, and according to their family needs. 

In addition, they develop craft, business, financial and sexual health educational programming for women in rural Guatemalan communities. 

Mercado Global, as a result, has employed 540 women, affected 3,780 dependents, and provided 777,000 hours of living wage work to their community.



During the endless hairpin pins on our ascent, colorful villages popped out at us through lush green vistas. 

The colectivo reached the clouds and one final (incredibly steep) dirt road before arriving at the base of a hilltop, where women were washing vibrant garb in a communal outdoor area. 

There are 21 Mayan dialects spoken throughout Guatemala, and these women and their families predominantly spoke K’iche – a language that, to my Spanish-fluent ears, sounded like Arabic rooted tongue peppered with various throat clicking like sounds. 

We were greeted by a woman and her toddler son, who led us through a rickety gate to a backyard occupied with roosters and pigs.

We climbed up a flight of stairs and into their home and community weaving workshop. 


There, we met 8 women, dressed in huipil (square cut blouses) and corte (wrap skirts), ranging in age from 14 to 65.

Though we didn’t share a single word in common, the genuineness of their smiles spoke far louder.  


Through a roundabout of translation — from English to Spanish to K’iche — the group professed that befriending Mercado had been life-altering, offering them a life they never imagined living.

As we prepared to pack up after a short tour of the workshop and the footlooms they used in their weaving, two women re-emerged, their arms full of traditional tostadas made in the wood burning stove downstairs. 


I left Guatemala with a heavy heart, now comprehending the considerable tasks that lay ahead.

But with that, I am optimistic for this new partnership that is only just getting started.


+ Learn more about Care FP here.


0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Thanks for sharing your story! Inspiring!

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

Judy LaMacchia
3 years ago

I’m looking for a Kimono I saw about 20 minutes ago but can’t find it now. It is black with little flowers all over. It is short not long. Can you help me find it?