Receiving an email from Que Onda Vos last last year felt like serendipity. I felt a deep connection to their story and an immediate resonance with the founder, Hanne. The desire and the journey of empowering handmade, the hurdle and the hustle, the patience, the happiness, the challenges, the exchange of cultures, the older world vs the fast, modern world, the heritage, the noble genuine talented hands, the desire to foster a better world of respect and equality.
All of these things raced through my mind from the time I read her initial email to when I replied “Yes let’s do this”, keen to expand the Pampa rugs collection to different Latin American countries, continuing to trace our map. In a similar way to Pampa, Que Onda Vos works with indigenous weavers in remote Guatemala, preserving culture and empowering the handmade.
We are really excited to be launching The Maya collection at Pampa, a capsule collection of Hanne De Wyngaert’s designs as well as an upcoming collaboration between our brands.
What better way to launch these beautiful rugs to our Pampa community, than with an In Focus interview with the beautiful designer behind it all - a girl from Belgium who woke up one day and, feeling the need for a meaningful work like, packed her bags and moved to Guatemala.
Can you tell us a bit about your life before starting your business?
After high school I decided I wanted to study fashion design because this was where all my passions came together; fashion, music, art, photography etc. I had been collecting lookbooks and copies of Vogue from an early age and I was obsessed with musicians such as PJ Harvey. I loved the work of Guy Bourdin, Diane Arbus. I felt I could combine all of these inspirations with my studies at the Academy. It was a time of research, experimenting and a lot of growing in a creative sense.
After my graduation in 2006, a fellow student and I started the Belgian design label TI+HANN, and we ran this for four years. Following this, I started thinking more about designing and developing products that had a positive social impact on the community, so I decided to start moving in a different direction.
How did your business Que Onda Vos come to be?
I woke up one day with this clear thought in my mind that I wanted to give more meaning to my work in a social way. At first I was thinking of going to India to look for a fair trade organisation to work with, until one of my friends told me she knew someone that was working for a textile program with weavers in Guatemala.
I travelled there for a month to get an idea of the culture and their weaving traditions and I immediately fell in love with their work. Most of the women in Guatemala still wear their traditional clothing, woven by hand on the backstrap loom or the foot loom. In each region they use different techniques, different designs and different colours.
Each design has its own history and has grown from their past. Their designs and their stories are very inspiring to me. A year later, I founded QUE ONDA VOS, a design label from Belgium, but based in the heart of Guatemala. I started out designing mainly handbags and scarves and only a few rugs. The natural evolution of the brand during the last five years has shifted the focus towards the homeware products and the rugs have become our main product.
Can you share with us the story of your first introduction to Mayan weavers in Guatemala?
The first time I traveled to Guatemala, I accompanied that local textile project to visit a community of weavers they were working with high up in the mountains. It was a group of women, all backstrap loom weavers and they showed us their weaving skills. I was blown away by their talent, meeting them felt like finding a hidden treasure.
How do you maintain positive long term relationships with the artisans? How many artisans do you work with?
We work with 16 weavers, 4 women on the backstrap loom and 12 men who use a foot loom.
It takes time to build a solid, trustworthy relationship with the artisans. To begin with, I'm a foreigner with a totally different cultural background. I have a different way of living, thinking and working. So communication is key to building this relationship, accepting what I'm not able to understand and of course following through with the promises I make to them.
As I've now been here for years, they know I'm serious with them and the project and that I'm not just passing through. But it still can be a daily struggle.
Can you share a bit about the process of a Que Onda Vos piece from start to finish, how much time does it take to get a rug woven?
All the wool comes from local sheep and is sold on the local market. One family will card the wool, spin and dye it by hand first. Then the weavers will buy the wool in 'libras' directly from the family with whom they have close contact. It takes up to two days to thread the cotton yarn on a foot-loom, which will be used for around 10 woven pieces. The weaving of a small rug takes around 1 day, the large rugs take up to 3 days, depending on how complicated the design of the rug it can be faster or slower.
Do you live in Guatemala? In a few words, how would you describe Guatemala’s people?
I live in Xela, the second biggest city of Guatemala, although it feels more like a small village.
All the families and communities we work with are 1 to 2 hours away from Xela, so we're pretty central here. All of our rugs and blankets are produced in Momostenango. Momos has an old tradition of artisans weaving wool textiles on the footloom. Other communities we work with are closer to the beautiful Lake Atitlan, they develop handspun cotton yarn that are woven on the backstrap loom into placemats, cushions etc.
Working with members of remote communities can present many challenges, what is the biggest lesson you have learned since launching Que Onda Vos?
'Don't expect anything, appreciate everything'- since every day brings new challenges and nothing ever goes to plan because everything is made by hand, because of our different mentalities, because we have to face the challenges of working in a third world country...this is the only way I can mentally make it work.
What is something that you are particularly proud of?
Since the beginning we've always worked with the artisans as partners, we will always have a dialogue and we will never try to interfere in their way of living or change their lifestyle. They have their own talleres (workshops) and their own schedules and we will always try to find solutions together with them. Aside from this I'm proud we have gained worldwide recognition for our work.
How would you describe the ethos of Que Onda Vos? What does fair trade mean to you.
The village of Momostenango has a unique tradition of weaving. We want to help to protect the communities from losing their heritage and their income as well as preventing the Guatemalan sheep species from disappearing.
We promote awareness through conscious consumption while creating fair wage jobs in indigenous communities in Guatemala. QUE ONDA VOS is about respect.
Que Onda Vos and Pampa feels like such a natural partnership, we are really excited to have your rugs amongst ours. Can you share from your own perspective on our collaborations?
This is the first time that QOV has collaborated with a similar project, I feel we both understand very well the beauty and the struggles of our work. This makes it very easy to communicate and understand each other. We are very happy, curious and mostly excited about this collaboration!