I receive hundreds of e-mails daily from brands who want to partner with Luxury Travel Mom. Most of them end up in the trash.
When the Catrinka Project reached out to me, I felt like I had found my soulmates and I know you will too. Simply put, they buy products made by women in the developing world and use the money to fund education for girls. They aren’t the first to do this, but they might be the best. Helping women around the world is a passion of mine, but I have rarely found a product that I want to buy, carry, wear. The Catrinka bags are another story. I would buy these bags even if my purchase didn’t have a deeper purpose.
I want to introduce you to the founder, introduce you to the brand, and give you a chance to win one of their adorable bags.
Interview with CEO and Founder of Catrinka, Megan Reilly Cayten
Describe your brand.
Catrinka is bold, authentic, textile-inspired, and celebrates women’s work.
How and when did you start your brand?
I created Catrinka as a way to celebrate the beautiful work of women, and to leverage the power of women and girls to invest in each other. In 2012, after I had taken some time away from my previous career to spend with my kids, I decided to marry my love of textiles, cultivated by living and working on four continents (and shopping them dry!), with a project to give back to the women who make them, and their daughters. We launched in 2013 with a collection inspired by the girls education film Girl Rising, and last year introduced our first collection from Mexico, as well as our first holiday capsule from Uzbekistan, and our first scarves, from Honduras. In 2015, we just launched our summer collection from India. We are building long-term partnerships but also following the textiles wherever they lead.
Tell me about your previous work experience and how it helped you to create your own brand.
I used to build power plants and airports for a living, so it’s quite a transition. But living and working on four continents – including extended stays in India, Mexico, Honduras and Hong Kong – provided me with the global inspiration and the local knowledge to be able to source and manage our production partnerships. It also helped me to see the power of women’s stories – each one is unique, and yet we have so much in common. The world over, women work to provide a better life for their daughters, and that is how Catrinka works – every product employs a woman and educates a girl.
What (or who?) are some of your inspirations?
I am endlessly inspired by the women weavers who create our extraordinary textiles. Each piece of the Mexican collection was woven by hand, by a woman sitting in her front yard on a backstrap loom. The exquisite ikat for our Fergana holiday capsule was made by dying threads ahead of time, and weaving them into complex and rich patterns. I am in awe of their work, as I am by the blankets woven by my grandmother, who was a master weaver in wool. And I find endless inspiration in the places that I love. Bombay is a city of romance, with a deep, soulful richness of color and culture – everything looks better when accessorized with marigolds. In Oaxaca, where I was married, indigenous traditions mixed with Spanish influence to produce glorious architecture, and a great variety of finely crafted folk art that carries rich meaning and soul, and the air often carries a whiff of gardenias. We included a tiny silver heart milagro in each of our Mexican bags to symbolize our gratitude.
How does travel inspire your collection?
The collection would not exist without my travels. I have been lucky enough to visit more than 50 countries, from Kyrgyzstan to Cuba, and have traveled on everything from camels to smoke-filled Chinese minibuses, from ferries down the Irrawaddy in Myanmar to one particularly memorable flight in the luggage storage area of a Yak-42 operated by Kyrgyz Airlines from Bishkek to Osh. Everywhere I have visited I seek out the textiles, from the cheerful folk designs in wool and cotton to the richly detailed fine weaving and embroidery in silk and even water lotus. I soak in the colors, and the flowers, and always have to sample the fruit – from Alphonso mangoes in India to longan in Thailand to the towers of raspberries in Central Asia. On one memorable drive through Trinidad, my taxi driver collected a mango from each stall we passed, and we stopped where the Caribbean and Atlantic meet to try them all. I am richer and more grateful for every experience I’ve had, especially the ones that have taken me the farthest.
If you work with artisans or craftspeople, tell us about how this came about and a bit about the process?
Women artisans are central to what we do. In each country we’ve worked in, we use our global network to help identify the partners who meet our ethical criteria and have the skill and experience to produce one of our designs. We work with each group individually to identify the work they do best, and any areas that we need to design around. We are in constant contact as the product is sampled and then produced, and we work throughout to gather impact metrics and stories of the women involved in the project, so we can share them with our customers. While we have chosen some very challenging production environments, we have been fortunate to find such extraordinary partners all over the world – we have been spoiled for choice.
Your collection continues to grow, what creative endeavors are on the horizon?
We just launched our summer collection from India made by women in Jodhpur, Rajasthan and New Delhi. We are exploring new textile-based products and jewelry. We are also working with the girls in our partner program in Guatemala to create a custom bracelet and hangtag to brand all of our bags. And now that we have offered a wide range of bag silhouettes and features, we are honing in on the ones that our customers love the most, to continue perfecting our offerings.
Can you speak about the social aspect of The Catrinka Project. How has this evolved?
Catrinka is dedicated to leveraging the power of women and girls to pay it forward. Women invest twice as much of their income in their families as men. And educating a girl is the most effective way to reduce poverty – because an educated girl will marry later, have fewer, healthier children, and increased economic opportunities for herself and her family. Every time you buy one of our products, you invest in a woman and in a girl who will invest in the next generation. This has always been our core mission, and we are working now on spreading the word. Please join us!
So-one lucky Luxury Travel Mom reader is going to win a Lalita bag.
This bag is my favorite and I thought you all would love it too. But you don’t have to wait to win, you can order any of their products at a discount, just use the code LTM for 15% off anything on the site. Shop here: The Catrinka Project
Seriously, how many times have you wanted to support a cause like this but the merchandise is really just not something you would wear so you just give them the money? I’m telling you, go on the site, you are going to be gobsmacked at how cute the stuff is. And the mission? Don’t even get me started with how much I love it.
To enter to win:
“Like” the Catrinka Facebook page here: The Catrinka Project
“Comment” on their page and answer the question “Why are you passionate about helping other women and girls?”
I have a feeling that you will fall in love with this project, these bags and this amazing woman just as I have.
The winner will receive a Lalita bag and will be chosen by the Catrinka Project and announced on Monday morning, June 15, 2015 at 8:00 am EDT. Comments will close on Friday June 12, 2015.
And the winner is: Nicole Christensen!