Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn-based nonprofit connects with Indigenous artisans to create face masks

July 23, 2020 Editorial Staff
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In the early stages of the pandemic, Mercado Global, a Brooklyn-based ethical fashion nonprofit that connects Indigenous women in rural Guatemala to the international fashion industry, shifted to producing face coverings.

For material to produce their first 55,000 non-medical grade masks, Levi’s, one of Mercado Global’s longest-standing partners, offered 7,000 yards of their deadstock denim.

Sixty thousand Mercado Global masks now have been shipped and donated completely free of charge to epicenters of the virus throughout the U.S. and Latin America — to hospitals and retirement homes, postal workers, housing authority residents, communities affected by HIV/AIDS in Mexico and Brazil, migrant farmworkers in California, migrant communities in Texas, Black Lives Matter in Brooklyn, and Indigenous communities in Guatemala — the home of Mercado Global artisans.

“The Levi Strauss Foundation is proud to support Mercado Global’s innovative and responsive shift to produce functional, beautiful and most importantly ethically made face coverings. This effort builds on a long partnership between the Foundation and Mercado Global; it is wonderful to know that Mercado Global has found ways to continue safely employing indigenous Guatemalan artisans during this unprecedented time,” said Kim Almeida, director at The Levi Strauss Foundation.

Virginia, an artisan from San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala. Photo: Mercado Global

“Everyone loves them. They are beautiful and so well made,” said Joni Barrow, chief cardiovascular physician assistant at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “We are thrilled that while we are being supported as physician assistants fighting COVID-19, that the artisans making the masks continue to be supported as well.”

Mercado Global recently launched the Masks Where They’re Needed Most campaign. For each mask purchased, consumers can choose where Mercado Global will donate another mask to someone in need. Focus areas include migrant communities in the U.S., racial justice organizations, Mexico, Brazil, and Indigenous peoples in Guatemala. Masks are also available for wholesale and bulk purchases for corporate partners.

The campaign supports more than 750 Indigenous women artisans living in rural Guatemala and 5,000 of their family members. Due to the deportation of migrants from the U.S. throughout the pandemic, those communities have seen a rise in COVID-19 cases, prompting strict area-wide lockdowns. Mercado Global has also donated 2,500 masks to Guatemalan artisanal communities, along with 15,000 pounds of emergency food supplies, thanks in part to supporters like Food For The Poor.

“Mercado Global has given me a job when there were no others and I can help by making masks, which gives me purpose in these times and while I’m unable to leave my home,” said Virginia, an artisan from San Pedro La Laguna.

Mercado Global was founded fifteen years ago by Ruth Alvarez-DeGolia, who has continued to lead the organization as the Executive Director. “Since day one, we have believed that a single thread is stronger with woven with many others,” Alvarez-DeGolia said. “Never has that seemed more true than now.”

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