Sandro von Borell and Enrique Escudero of Máak-an on modernizing global traditional skills and influences.
— As told to Melissa Patenaude
Sandro (left) and Enrique (right)
When you drive passed these villages, you see all the macramés, and all of them have hammocks. Every single family has their own store. The entire towns work with this type of art, but they all use different techniques.
Hi! I’m Enrique, I'm 29, I'm from Mérida, Yucatán, México. And my name is Sandro. I'm 28 years old and I'm from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
I'm from Mérida, which is the main city of Yucatan, and I grew up with a hammock in my room. I was always around this kind of textile work. When we moved to Tulum, I wanted a macramé badly, and at that point, I couldn't afford it. I knew exactly what I wanted and started to wonder if I could make it myself. I bought the material, looked on Youtube as one does, learned a little, but nothing like I wanted. So I decided to go to this Mayan village, 15 minutes driving away from Tulum to find the traditional macramé makers.
Between Mérida and Tulum, in Quintana Roo, about three hours driving distance, there are three specific villages that do macramé. There is Macario Gómez, Francisco Uh May, and Manuel Antonio Ay. If you pass those villages you will see the macramés and all of them have hammocks. You see them all from the highway. Every single family has their own store, the entire towns work with this type of art, but they all use different techniques.
We worked with one family in which the dad is a priest. His daughter, Elia, has made macramés since she was very young and she lives off of it. She has three children and she supports them doing macramé. Her mom does a lot of crochet, another technique, but still in the textile family.
I went almost every week, two or three days per week, to learn with them. From the start I was creating new things, we were exploring new ways to make macramés together. "Let's try this technique, this color, etc". I wasn't the only one learning, they were also learning new things. And when Sandro started coming with me, we starting creating even more new things.
When we got better and started getting more clients who were asking for different designs that we didn't know how to do, we would go back to ask them how to do it. We grew with them. Máak-an is not just Sandro and I, it's also made of the people that were involved in the project, who helped us grow. Still now, even though we live in Oaxaca, we still have projects with them because they are part of the brand. I can't do it without them. When we get orders for 200 macramés for example, we can't do all 200 because everything is handmade. We need to have people that understand the brand, the techniques and the vision that we have. So yeah, I'm glad they are still part of our team.
Brazil is a huge country. In Rio, where I was born, you find a lot of mixed culture, there aren't any specific handcrafts from there. They have markets where you can find macramés, clay, paintings, and a lot of art. In specific places of Brazil, in the different states, that's where they have their own specific art. For example, in Salvador, they do a lot of hammocks—they are famous for these. In Minas Gerais, they work with clay. Actually, they do a lot of wood work in Rio now that I think of it.
Well, the carnival of Rio is art in itself. Maybe is not specific handcrafts, but all the costumes, art, colors and vibrations. Rio is definitely very artistic.
Enrique taught me most of what I know about macramés. But, I'm also a self-learner, I look for videos to discover new techniques. I also love doing embroidery and I apply those principals to the macramés. I feel bored if I always do the same thing, and both of us always want to learn and discover more. "What else we can do?" is always on our minds. We like to travel and explore, and we apply this in our art.
We were looking for an original name for a brand that would be a tribute to the Mayan culture. We found that Máak-an means ‘to make’, ‘to do’, ‘to create’ in Mayan. That's where the name comes from.
A Natural Evolution
When Enrique started to make macramés, we were in Tulum which is a Mayan area. The small towns nearby, all practiced the skill of knotting, and most of them were Mayan people. We were looking for an original name for a brand that would be a tribute to that culture. So we started looking at Mayan words, and food that some of the words were really difficult to pronounce. And then I found that Maak-an means ‘to make’, ‘to do’, ‘to create’ in Mayan. We agreed that this was a nice name, easy to pronounce and made sense for what we do. That's where the name of our brand came from.
Sandro and I started making macramés for our own home, and after a while, we had 8 or 10 macramés and realized that we had enough. So we started selling them on Facebook in local groups of Tulum where they sell different kinds of things. We would post "Oh, who wants a macramé?”, and people started asking about them. One of the girls who messaged us was in charge of one of the main stores in the town. She asked us if we wanted to sell our products there, and we said yes. After a week she sold everything and started asking for more, and then more, and then more. So we started making a lot more. Not long after, we started selling to hotels since we grew with Tulum as the town became a touristic place. So we were in many new places, hotels and beach clubs. Also, because our art is handmade and customizable, we started going to different places to make the macramés on location. And that’s when we started looking at our art and offering as a company, as a brand, and started hiring people. Everything started growing very fast. We have been working with macramé for more than five years, and now we're making our own designs and projects which involve different materials. And we’re still discovering! We always create new things and new products, and our main goal is to be accessible, not super expensive, so people can have a macramé in their house. It depends on our clients really—we work with hotels and we work with families.
It was the perfect time for us to start a company. When we arrived, Tulum was a small community and everyone knew each other. Everyone supported each other's work. We talked with our friends about the business and they supported us as well. One of them worked in a hotel and said, "Oh, maybe we need some macramés in the hotel". We also did bazaars and markets. In Tulum, there was a famous bar for the gay community and Enrique gave gave workshops there on how to make macramés. At the time, Tulum was also growing a lot and tourism exploded. So with all that, the timing was just right.
What made Máak-an different is that we don't like to do the same techniques and patterns as everyone else. We create our original designs. When you go to Tulum, you see a lot of macramés everywhere, big macramés, and most of them use the same patterns. And that's actually why we decided to make our own for our home instead of buying them. We wanted something different, something original. A macramé doesn't have to have lot of knots to be beautiful. It can be simple, it can have a lot of different ropes, different colors, etc. That's what we like to do.We travel to new places and buy materials in new places, like in Guatemala, Brazil, Germany for example. We like to explore new materials and combine them with the traditional macramé. People like our work because we try to create a new concepts, incorporating wood, clay, and other different materials.
Macramé is a human, global and ancient technique. You can find macramé all around the world. Not specifically the same designs, but you can see knots everywhere. It is how you use them and how you create new things with them that makes it unique. The strength of our brand is how we reimagine the knots with a new perspective, new designs and incorporating techniques that we learned in the Mayan villages, and new techniques we discover along the way.
We recently moved to Oaxaca and took a one month workshop, six hours per day working with clay, and now we incorporate clay in our work. So that's fantastic because we create new products that you can't find in the market.
My grandmother was an artist, she made drawings and paintings. And she sold many! She sold in churches, very cool ones. She taught me some of her techniques, but I'm not good at painting or drawing. I thought I maybe I had this artistic vibe in me, but it was not going to be with this specific technique. I found it in macramé.
No one is really artistic in my family. Actually, one of my aunts paints, but I haven't spent much time with her. Still, since I was young, I loved art. When I started school, I loved Crayola crayons and painting, I loved to create. I remember when I was a kid, when the technician from the phone company would come to fix the cables on the streets, they would leave a lot of wires on the street. I would collect the wires and my grandpa taught me how to do braid them. So I started to do all sorts of things from these braids. I used to love to play with clay also. I remember when I had my first art class in school, I was so happy! I always liked to be messy and to create.
Maybe our pieces will exist for 20-30 years and then, they should reintegrate the earth, safely. It's not the goal to have our products not last, but we want them to be organic and authentic, and we don't want to make waste.
We started the brand in Tulum, which is a beach town, and we didn't want to create more waste for the environment. This is very prevalent there. We naturally care for the environment. So we only use natural materials and dyes. We found cotton, jute, wood, and clay, all organic materials. We don't want something that lasts forever. Maybe our pieces will exist for 20-30 years and then, they should reintegrate the earth, safely. It's not the goal to have our products not last, but we want them to be organic and authentic, and we don't want to make waste. That's why we don't use plastic or harmful materials, it doesn't align with us and our values.
And also organic materials look better. It feels warmer.
"I hope that we can reach as many people as possible so they can start to value and buy more handcrafts and art instead of buying fast products. I think people would value it more if they had it in their homes and experience them, appreciate them. It's a way that everyone can speak up and put their experience, their stories out of their hands and head, into sculpture, painting, music, any art really. I hope more people support art because without it, people would go a little crazy and would be lost."
More on Enrique, Sandro and Máak-an coming soon.SHOP SANDRO & ENRIQUE'S PRODUCTS