Guatemala has long been revered as a geological treasure, with volcanic horizons, lush forests, towering temples, and artisan craftsmanship. But to Francesca Kennedy, it was her second home. At three months old, she began traveling with her family from Pennsylvania to stay with her grandpa, aunts, uncles, and cousins who lived in Guatemala City. She would continue to do this every Christmas, Easter, and summer vacation until she was well into her teens. After attending college at Lehigh University and moving to New York City— where she is currently based— she took a job in finance and still managed to visit every other year.
On one particular trip back, she was combing the airport gift shop for reading material and came across Blake Mycoskie’s book Start Something That Matters. Francesca finished the book just before landing, and was greeted by her cousins who warned her that the lake looked substantially different from her last visit. Unable to truly fathom what they were talking about, she drove there to see it firsthand. Every inch was covered in blue-green algae. This was the result of a sanitation plant that was knocked down after a hurricane and never rebuilt. It was the result of agricultural runoff after years of deforestation. And it was the result of the government importing fish in the ‘70s who were not part of the lake’s ecosystem. As a result, the imported fish fed on the native fish who had been dutifully maintaining the algae.
With one look at the lake and the positive mantra to “start something that matters” still echoing through her mind, she was moved to action. Francesca walked around the marketplace, examining Mayan textiles and searching for a product she could make contemporary and accessible to those around the world. She looked down at the huarache sandal, a staple in her closet since she was a little girl and decided then to do what Blake of Toms Shoes had done with the alpargatas from Argentina. It was at that moment that IX Style was born. Her goal was to honor the local artisan skill set and simultaneously provide clean drinking water to families, while striving for better quality and contemporary colors.
Francesca has honored that vow to herself, and has grown IX Style to be that and much more. With each pair of shoes sold, 1,000 female artisans are employed through an organization called Aj Quen Guatemala to manufacture the shoes, and 3,000 children are provided with clean drinking water. This is the direct result of an additional non-profit that IX Style partners with, called Asociacion Puente.
Asociacion Puente is a 24-month education program that teaches women in Guatemala how to cook nutritionally, save money, secure a job, and practice basic sanitization. Upon graduation, they receive a diploma, an installed water filtration device in their home (which cost approximately 300 dollars), and 30 dollars to help begin their savings.
The third non-profit that IX Style supports is called AIR Guatemala, which is an alliance for international reforestation. The organization seeks out villages that are experiencing unparalleled landslides in areas where there used to be trees and then creates nurseries to sprout new growth.
Meanwhile, stateside, IX Style is sold in select Gap stores across the U.S., U.K., and Canada and has launched a capsule collection with Gwyneth Paltrow for Goop. They are continuously releasing new styles, and are even breaking into jewelry, scarves, and the men’s shoe market. In her free time Francesca organizes bi-annual charity events and hopes to secure Rebecca Minkoff, the Hadid sisters, Jamie Chung, and the Editors of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar to join her in Guatemala for a voluntourism trip.
“The most important takeaway is that nothing is ever permanent and that these situations happen all over the world, for various reasons,” Francesca shared. “But water has the most amazing ability to cleanse itself so it’s really just about people taking the time to educate those who live in affected regions and set up the right infrastructure. This is a story of hope.”
Photo provided by: IX Style.