At West Elm, we believe in using design for good. That’s why we’re excited to announce our new partnership initiative called The Atitlán Project.
We’ve pledged to donate a minimum of $100,000 to benefit Santa Catarina Palopó, a small community on the northeastern shore of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. Given its recent population influx comprised of mostly young people, the 6,000-person Santa Catarina Polopo community is having trouble sustaining this growth with agriculture alone. The lack of local businesses results in a community that is no longer sustainable for families and is now experiencing high rates of poverty.
Enter the Painting Change nonprofit, which kicked off a community-wide project called Pintando el Cambio Santa Catarina Palopó. The community here has used their city as a blank canvas to create a beautiful and rejuvenating environment, and the project belongs entirely to the people of the town to transform their city and stimulate economic growth. Each family in Santa Catarina Polopo chooses the color and designs of their homes, which is now becoming a cultural and tourism destination.
“It is about great design coming together
with a vibrant culture to bring about empowerment
and a better understanding between communities.”
— Harris Whitbeck, Project Founder of Pintando el Cambio Association.
We first heard about The Atitlán Project through long-time collaborator, Diego Olivero, who is originally from Guatemala and shared with us the opportunity to help benefit Pintando Santa Catarina Palopó. We began our work with Guatemalan artisans and Diego Olivero in 2013 through Meso Goods, and the Atitlán Project was the next step in creating more impact by helping to develop more socioeconomic opportunities for artisans while also preserving their traditional craft. Through this project, we’re able to continue our work with global artisans in a way that directly benefits themselves and their community. We’re committed to helping break the cycle of poverty, create sustainable income, fight poverty and malnutrition, while encouraging education and reducing the amount of migration to other communities.
Through our partnership with Diego Olivero, he was introduced to design duo + longtime West Elm collaborators, Mitzie Wong and Wendy Wurtzburger of Roar + Rabbit. They travelled to visit Santa Catarina Palopo with Olivero in 2017, concepting the 14 artfully woven, hand-embellished, and hand-embroidered furnishings for a live auction on Paddle8.com from May 6-May 22, created in partnership with Guatemalan craftspeople. Outside of the one-of-a-kind pieces, today West Elm is also launching a limited-edition collection on westelm.com and in select stores that will help raise money towards our $100,000 commitment.
Shop the Atitlán Project on westelm.com here
Santa Catarina Palopó is known for its vibrant huipiles (traditional garment) in hues of purple, blue, turquoise, red and white, so we featured these same colors for both the one-of-a-kind and the limited-edition collections. Color, pattern, textiles, volcanoes, sunsets, the lake and the people of Guatemala all were major sources of inspiration.
Each pattern has a different meaning to the Lake Atitlán community and is derived from stories that are passed from generation to generation. As Pintando el Cambio Association grows and paints in other towns, the colors and patterns will be different based on that specific community. As of March 2019, approximately 350 houses have been painted, and West Elm’s $100,000 donation is expected to be able to help paint an additional 200 houses.
Each purchase from the collection made at westelm.com as well as in select stores will contribute to the $100,000 donation. If you want to donate directly to the organization or want to learn more visit pintandoelcambio.com.