3 Questions With Teysha’s Sophie Eckrich

Teysha isn’t just about the shoes.

Founded in 2012 by Sophie Eckrich and Travis Breihan, the Austin-based organization promotes and supports the work of indigenous artisans.

Focusing on a handful of handmade styles, which range from $80 to $375, Teysha highlights the textile work by women in Guatemala and Latin America.

“When you’re working with these traditional communities, their livelihood is depending on their work being in style and desirable. So we wanted to focus on classic silhouettes that were going to be in season year-after-year,” Eckrich said.

Included among the offered styles are sandals, smoking slippers, chukkas and riding boots — all fused with hand-woven textiles in vibrant colorways and various prints. The footwear is currently sold on Teysha’s website, as well as through boutique-on-wheels the Styleliner.

Here, Eckrich talks how the brand began, who’s involved and what challenges come with designing against cultural appropriation.

Where did the focus on partnering with indigenous artists come from?

[Travis and I] come from an international development background. We’ve spent the past seven years working and living in Latin America — all throughout Central and South America — working in sustainable agriculture and microfinance. We were meeting all these amazing people that were so talented and yet, in a lot of ways, didn’t have access to opportunities to share their talent or resources. When we set out to start our own company, we knew we wanted to create something that was going to help preserve and promote their beautiful art forms.

How exactly do you work with these artists?

It’s a cool process because it involves two groups of artisans. There’s the women who do all of the textiles — the designing, weaving and sewing. We work with the Mayan women in Guatemala and the Kuna women in Panema. All of their designs are rooted to their culture; their symbols and colors all have a specific meaning. And then, about a year ago, we started our workshop in Guatemala, where we’re working with second-, third- and fourth-generation shoemakers. We’re helping create opportunity for them to continue their craft, and in a way where they’re receiving fare wages and opportunities to grow.

Appropriation is often rampant with indigenous textile work. Were there any challenges in going against that?
We’re not doing things the easy way, but we’re doing things in a way that we believe empowers people. A lot of the women we work with are also in remote locations, so finding ways to get them access to the market [is difficult]. But it’s also extremely rewarding — just after a few years of doing this, we can see the impact happening in the communities. The people who design the textiles, they’re artists in their own right. Their creations are coming from their own creativity and inspiration — and just like any other artist in the world, they would feel completely ripped off if their art was copied and mass-produced somewhere else. We want to help build capacity for these women, and for brands to connect with these people and do things in a way that honors them.

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