Caitlin Ahern is a Wonder Woman.
Having lived in Atlanta, New Orleans, New York, Maui, Cambodia and Guatemala; Caitlin is a global citizen in every sense of the word.
Born from an clear gap in the international tourism market, Thread Caravan is a socially sustainable guided tour agency that offers intimate artisan workshops around the world. Founded by Caitlin as a vessel designed to support local artisans in their craft, she's passionate about offering travellers a genuine cultural experience through arts workshops, local tours and unique adventures.
On a recent trip to Guatemala, Caitlin and her group took our Abundance Turmeric and All Seeing Black Dot lace-ups on an intrepid adventure through local bazaars, workshops and guided tours. We also took a moment to chat with Caitlin about her small business and the ideas that propelled her to launch the enterprise.
Words by Alex Birch
Can you tell us about Thread Caravan. What motivated you to establish the business?
I started Thread Caravan as a way to bridge the gap between maker and consumer; to preserve heritage crafts and empower groups of marginalized artisans while educating travelers about the intricacies of handmade process and the stories of the people behind the traditions.
Why Guatemala? What was it about this vivid nation that drew you in?
We now offer trips in Oaxaca (southern Mexico), Guna Yala (an archipelago off the coast of Panama inhabited by a sovereign indigenous group) and the highlands of Guatemala. But our very first trip was to Guatemala, and for some very specific reasons.
First and most importantly, their textile traditions are very deeply ingrained in the way of life. Second, those traditions are being exploited and stand to become less intact due to changing life circumstances and children that are not interested in continuing their parents’ work. Third, I’d traveled to Guatemala 8 years prior to starting Thread Caravan and still had friends there. I knew several people connected to artisan communities who were interested in the sort of relationship I wanted to foster with Thread Caravan. I believe that question should always take priority -- do the artisan communities want to share their traditions with others? The answer is not always yes.
It also helps that the landscape of Guatemala is absolutely invigorating - situated atop volcanoes and the rolling mountains that surround them.
Caitlin wears the Abundance Turmeric
Photography plays a predominant role in this project. How is it incorporated and why is so important?
I absolutely love photos. I love taking them, sorting them, editing them, sharing them with others -- all the steps, including the ones that other people don’t always like. I think they can play several important roles in Thread Caravan, mostly: helping convey parts of the handmade processes and artisan stories to all those not able to join our trips, helping to preserve the crafts in a sort of time capsule version AND documenting the journey for our travelers to reflect on afterwards.
Talk us through your favourite images from trip. What stories lie behind them?
Photo in Meso Goods shop: We happened upon the Meso Goods shop while exploring Zone 4, my favorite part of Guatemala City. People often believe Guatemala City isn’t safe enough to visit (and it’s true that parts of it aren’t), but Zone 4 is a haven amongst the bustle of the rest of the city, full of young Guatemalans and emerging creative businesses… and it’s growing! I’ve been going there for the past couple years and everytime I return, I discover something that’s new to the scene, most recently Meso Goods. Co-founder and designer of Meso Goods, Diego, works with artisan groups all over the country to merge their traditional skills with contemporary design. It’s a business I would already love, but I like and want to support even more because Diego is Guatemalan.
Caitlin wears the Abundance Turmeric
Photo of the shoes on the orange tiled floor: This is in a town we visit called Chuacruz. In Chuacruz we work with a co-op of women weavers who lived through and were greatly affected by Guatemala’s civil war. Their story is one of perseverance and the strength of women, and I so love revisiting them each trip.
Photo's at the textile market: This pop-up market happens two times a week and is small (just one square parking lot with about 10-15 vendors) but is my absolute favorite. I always discover unique vintage pieces when I go. In Guatemala, you can identify a textile’s age and the town it was made in by the design. Each town uses colors and designs specific to their identity. However, these designs change over time. When I go to this market, I can tell I’ve found something truly vintage when it has the same weaving techniques as a town I am familiar with is woven in a completely different color scheme or has slight design variations.
All Seeing Black Dot worn through cobbled streets
What does being radical mean to you?
Persisting past barriers of fear (+ maybe breaking the mold) to live a life of purpose and intention.
*That doesn’t always mean starting your own thing or forging your own path. I think a lot of millennials think that being successful or finding their path means they have to be an entrepreneur, but realistically, not many people are cut out for it. Lately I have been very intrigued by something called the human design chart, which explains that many people are what is referred to as generators. So finding your life’s purpose can also look a lot like following paths that have already been paved before you, as long as they feel right to you. Following that path might be even more bold than forging a new one, because in this generation it’s sometimes less admired.
What are three things you always say ‘yes’ to?
Walks with my dog, a good vintage market and letting someone cook for me (I so appreciate good flavor combinations but the kitchen is my least creative place, haha).