Lake Atitlan was once known for its unspoiled fresh waters, but through the years it has suffered for reasons opposite its fame. In the past, this lake helped fishermen make a living, while also drawing in countless tourists. Foreigners would even invest money into the communities nearby, but that has all slowly come to a stop.
Lake Atitlan has become polluted by sewage, agricultural waste, and toxic bacteria. The waters are filled with toxic algae called cyanobacteria, and other contaminants like E.coli. All this pollution can affect the kidneys, liver, and even a person’s central nervous system. This is bad news for tourism, but even worse news for the indigenous population that still depend on this lake for victuals. To make the situation worse, the one and only water treatment plant for the lake was destroyed by Hurricane Stan in 2005. Of course, the local government has not made this lake or the Mayan people living off it a priority.
Enter Francesca Kennedy. Francesca, whose family is originally from Guatemala, often vacationed in Panajachel, Guatemala growing up. Her summers were spent by the lake so much that she was baptized in it. In 2010, during a visit with her grandfather, she noticed the poor condition of the once-vibrant lake. She also noticed young girls collecting the contaminated water to drink, cook, and clean.
“I was devastated to see my second home and the place of my fondest childhood memories in ruin,” explains Kennedy. “On that trip, I went to the local market as my usual travel ritual and I noticed the markets were empty. I spoke with a Mayan artisan woman there and asked her why the markets were unusually empty and she told me that tourism had been affected by the contamination of the lake.”
Kennedy’s love for the lake and the people triggered something in her. She decided to create an organization that would help the community as a whole. She started Ix Style, and began to sell handmade sandals (huaraches), bags, and jewelry. The Mayan textile inspired sandals are made and designed by over 800 female artisans from Guatemala. For every pair purchased, Ix Style donates to Charity Water, a group devoted to bringing safe drinking water to those who depend on it.
Since its initial start Ix Style has since partnered with J.Crew, Goop, and The Gap, among others. Kennedy started with $1,000, secured $150,000 from Birchbox, and has now sold over $500k in merchandise.
“It’s my life’s purpose to be a brand ambassador for the people of Guatemala, create a world market and help highlight their gorgeous products, ensure premium fair trade wages, and provide clean drinking water for communities in Guatemala.”