Today, our founder Maria Pacheco, is the guiding inspiration behind the Wakami brand, the lifestyle it promotes and the values by which it operates.
Maria was born in Guatemala City, living there until the age of 12 when she and her family moved to the United States. When the war in Guatemala between the government and the guerrillas started to escalate, Maria first became aware of how poor and devastated her homeland had become.
Maria returned to Guatemala with her parents when she was 16 and within two years began working in a refugee camp. One particular experience in the refugee camp changed her life. She recalls a traumatized mother running to her, screaming for help, holding her lifeless child. This mother’s anguish and desperation ignited in Maria a desire to improve the quality of life in her native country.
After completing her undergraduate studies in Guatemala, Maria attended Cornell University where she earned a Master’s in Biological Agriculture. In 1993, Maria returned to Guatemala once again, determined to address the famine that was a perpetual issue in her homeland. Teaming up with 10 other activists, she started an organic farming program in the rural villages of Sacalá. Maria was convinced that, if properly cared for, the Earth would provide enough resources to generate change in the impoverished community. However, it would be nearly a decade before real improvement was realized.
In 2001, Maria and the activists she’d worked with in Sacalá joined together again to tackle the famine in Jocotán. They knew that planting gardens as they had before would take too long to make an impact. The people of Jocotán told Maria that real change would only come from economic improvement and so Maria and her team developed a commerce-driven program. They organized groups of artisans, skilled in ancient basket weaving techniques and sought markets outside of the villages to create a reliable income. They found a good distribution channel by securing a deal with the premium-quality rum company, Zacapa. The company’s first order of over 2,000 units marked the beginning of a very promising enterprise.
The success in Jocotán demonstrated to Maria that environmental sustainability was important, but that her best chance at breaking the poverty cycle was through commerce. A steady source of income would provide the people with clean water, food, health care, and education for their children. Educated children with access to global markets would be able to earn higher incomes, allowing them to educate the next generation. Maria believed that by expanding their earning potential, the cycle of poverty and famine could be broken and replaced by a new cycle of economic empowerment.
In 2004, Maria founded Kiej de los Bosques S.A., a business dedicated to connecting rural villages with local markets. The program’s success convinced Maria to expand into international markets, and eventually create opportunities for rural communities in other countries around the world. So in 2006, Maria joined with her cousin Queta Rodriguez to create Wakami, and the dream was born.
In 2011, Eric and Ryan Dedola partnered with Wakami to start Wakami USA.
In the spring of that year the brothers, 22 and 19 at the time, were already sold on the concept of socially conscious business and were traveling in Guatemala looking for raw materials, when they saw their first Wakami creations. The boys had already fallen in love with Guatemala. They were inspired by its natural beauty and ancient culture, steeped in mysticism. They were impressed too by the indigenous weaving techniques and began to generate ideas about a company that channeled these unique talents.
The brothers traveled back to Guatemala establishing contacts, and on their third visit they met Wakami founders, Maria Pacheco and Queta Rodriguez. This meeting proved to be a turning-point, cementing their connection with Guatemala, its people and the Wakami mission.
Maria and Queta began helping the brothers develop their business and during this time Eric and Ryan became passionate about the brand. When invited to join Wakami and pilot their expansion into the United States, Ryan and Eric gladly accepted, and Wakami USA was born.
Starting Wakami USA has been an exciting journey and we are very proud to be a part of such a progressive organization.