Judy Bergsma, Jovita Sho & Maya Artisans

Full Bio

Female-owned, fair trade. Designed in NYC, handmade in Belize. 

MayaBags was founded in 1999 by Judy Bergsma, Jovita Sho and five Maya artisans from different villages in the Maya Mountains of Belize. Today, the MayaBags talented team of shareholder/artisans has grown to over ninety Maya artisans. 

MayaBags is a handmade, design-driven accessories collection, inspired by nature and crafted with the artisanal skills and spirit of the Maya. When you purchase a Maya Bag, you help lift up Maya women and giving them a voice in their communities and within their family. As well, the income they earn helps put food on the table and send their children to school. 

From its roots in 1999 to the present, the MayaBags business has grown from six cottage industry artisans to over 90, and the demand is growing from Maya women and men who would like to participate. Thus, as we grow our revenues, so does our impact! And each active member of the MayaBags team has now become a shareholder. The artisans‘ lives have changed dramatically. Almost all the MayaBags workers have bank accounts now. In the past, I couldn’t get a Maya woman to walk into a bank with me. They felt excluded from the system. 

Most of the artisans’ children are now attending school through high school. It just took encouragement to let their daughters go to school and enough income to be able to pay for school uniforms, books, test fees, and bus fares. 

MayaBags mission is: 

- fostering ancient skills: embroidery; back-strap looming; basket-coiling from 

rainforest plant fiber; slate, coconut, and gourd carving; hand-processing fiber and hand-making rope from agave; leather processing using a fully-natural and ancient method of curing the hides with eggs, water and bark; leather cutting and stitching 

- inspiring personal achievement: developing quality employment skills; raising Maya women’s self-esteem and giving them an independent voice in their families and communities and in MayaBags as a shareholder; rotating the team leader’s position in each village MayaBags’ team so each team member can experience the role as a leader 

- building a village economy: creating jobs where there were none; empowering Maya 

women; providing a stable source of income; creating a role model for other entrepreneurial ventures, outside of the norm of slash and burn farming; with a larger number of people in the village employed, more cash gets circulated inside the village, helping small stores and vendors with their businesses 

- teaching financial literacy: familiarizing women with the local banking system, 

which many have never used before; including all the women in the shareholders’ annual meetings, using visual analogies and translators to take them through the balance sheets; counseling women individually on how to balance their budgets so that they can send their children to school, keep food on the table, and pay their bills 

- celebrating creativity: reinvigorating Maya pride in their traditions and 

environment; combining designer and artisanal product concepts; balancing vivid and traditional Maya colors with Pantone seasonal colors; executing beautifully detailed construction; employing hand-made craftsmanship to create luxury quality - 

MayaBags is a proud member of the Nest artisan guild, a global community of over 400 artisan businesses practicing diverse craftsmanship across more than 70 nations. In partnership with Nest, a non-profit 501(c)(3), Maya Bags is working toward a more inclusive global economy that brings increased opportunity to their craftspeople, their families, and their communities.

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