Finally, a Travel Company That Connects Artisans and Travelers
For those who find that the thrill of travel lies in the people you meet along the way, and the crafts those folks champion, Thread Caravan may be a perfect fit for your next journey abroad. This ethical travel company connects artisans...
by Alyssa Brown

For those who find that the thrill of travel lies in the people you meet along the way, and the crafts those folks champion, Thread Caravan may be a perfect fit for your next journey abroad. This ethical travel company connects artisans with travelers, to share in learning about the history and cultural significance of craft as it relates to the place in which it’s created. During a trip with this crew, you might spend a few days in Oaxaca taking weaving courses, exploring local markets, learning traditional dye methods, noshing on the best of local cuisine, and staying in boutique hotels and private homes.

The woman behind Thread Caravan is Caitlin Ahern, whose love for travel, sociology and community sprouted this company. For the full story behind the launch of her brand, and how her varied background led down this particular road, read on in the jump below. Upcoming trip agendas include a Guatemala textile workshop, or natural dyes and weaving in Oaxaca. Or, you can reach out to Caitlin for a customized trip to Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, Iceland, Morocco, Cambodia or New Orleans.

What is Thread Caravan and how did you come up with the concept?

Thread Caravan is an ethical travel company. We curate experiences focused around a craft specific to a place and its people (i.e. natural dyes + weaving taught by Oaxacan artisans). 

After working with two fair trade artisan organizations, I realized there was a disconnect between artisan makers and the people buying their products. And so I created a company that could bridge that gap. Thread Caravan offers travelers the chance to connect with artisans and learn the cultural significance, history and complexity that goes into crafting their various handmade pieces, while simultaneously employing artisans with fair wages to teach their unique process in a way that doesn’t leave them completely dependent on consumerism. We believe these artisans are the ones responsible for making our world such a beautiful and diverse place and we aim to celebrate that.

Ultimately, Thread Caravan provides a thoughtfully-designed platform for cross cultural connection that is mutually beneficial for both the travelers and the local artisans.

Photography: Mychael Henry

Tell us a bit about yourself - your background, experience, etc. leading up to Thread Caravan.

Before starting Thread Caravan, my experiences were a little all over the place and not necessarily an obvious match. It wasn’t until I started pieced it all together that Thread Caravan was born. To give some back story...

I’ve always enjoyed the creative process. After taking sewing courses in high school, I quickly realized that textiles were my preferred medium. I spent so much time designing and making clothes, I couldn’t even keep up with wearing everything I made. That, combined with an interest from friends and family wanting to buy things I made, my hobby progressed into a small retail business I launched on Etsy.

Photography: Paula Harding

I went on to study at Loyola University in New Orleans — where I was sure I wanted to be a fashion designer and so opted to study business. I took an interest in sociology courses (ended up becoming a second major) and because Loyola has such a strong service component, service-learning led me to positions as an assistant teacher and afterschool art program coordinator. After university, I worked for fair trade craft organizations — one in New York and one in New Orleans — teaching artisans the business skills they needed to form successful artisan cooperatives.

And then there’s the final piece! After my time working with the fairtrade organizations, I moved to Cambodia for a teaching gig, followed by another opportunity on Maui. During my time living abroad and on islands, I found myself constantly in touch with friends, old and new, sharing travel tips and recommendations.

This combination of years of experiences making my own art, teaching, working with fairtrade organizations and curating traveling experiences, provided me with the necessary skills to launch and build Thread Caravan. Also, shout out to my parents who are also both entrepreneurs. Growing up and watching them run their own businesses definitely gave me the confidence and know-how to do it myself.

Photography: Paula Harding

What went into getting started? There must be a lot of moving parts to each experience!

Launching Thread Caravan was dependent on a lot of time, energy and support from people who believed in what I wanted to create. Once the business model was down, it was all about finding locations with deep-rooted artistic traditions and locals who were excited to share their culture (we kicked off with weaving on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala - still one of my favorite experiences we offer).

Each trip is meticulously crafted for the group and destination. From there it’s a lot of logistics — where we will stay, what and where we will eat, what activities we will offer during guests’ free time. We also have a growing team of knowledgeable and charismatic local guides who speak the language, translate on both ends and share history and first-hand knowledge.

Photography: Paula Harding

Can you give us an example trip itinerary?

Yes! Our Oaxaca weaving workshop looks a little like this:

Day 1: Guests arrive to Oaxaca City. Choice of free time to relax or explore the city. Trip orientation with the group and private dinner prepared by a talented local chef at our boutique hotel.

Day 2: Meet with our Thread Caravan partners at the first all women’s weaving cooperative in Teotitlan. Venture out to the nearby mountains to learn about natural dyes used in the area. Homemade lunch with the weavers. Afternoon making multiple baths of natural dye and dyeing thread to be used during our weavings. Back in Oaxaca: visit to the botanical gardens followed by group dinner at our favorite rooftop restaurant.

Photography: Leah Pellegrini

Day 3: Return to Teotitlan. Learn about the process of spinning raw wool into thread. Begin weaving pieces of your own with the assistance of local weavers. Back in Oaxaca: visit to the textile museum followed by a multi-course meal at renowned Criollo restaurant.

Day 4: Return to Teotitlan. Continue to work on your woven pieces. Back in Oaxaca: shopping at one of the biggest markets in the city and some of our favorite boutiques, followed by a mezcal tasting, dinner at our favorite street food spot and live music at one of the city’s most hip venues.

Photography: Leah Pellegrini

Day 5: A day of exploration! Venture to mineral springs deep in the mountains, ancient Zapotec ruins and an agave farm where mezcal is made. Back in Oaxaca: multi-course tasting menu at another favorite rooftop restaurant.

Day 6: Farewell brunch followed by free time and departures.

Our trips are all about a week long and include a mix of learning from local artisans, connecting with local designers and enjoying the location. We stay at a mix of boutique hotels and private homes, and enjoy fresh local meals prepared by talented local chefs.

Photography: Leah Pellegrini

What's on the horizon for you and Thread Caravan?  

We’re dedicating a lot of time toward strengthening and supporting the communities we currently work with: weavers, potters, mezcaleros, farmers and chefs in Oaxaca, weavers in Guatemala and textile artists in Guna Yala, Panama. One of the ways we’re doing this is by donating to social programs and projects initiated by the artisan communities. For example, in Oaxaca, we are donating a portion of trip cost to the weaving cooperative and their community initiatives. This co-op is the first all women’s co-op in their small town and has initiated many inspiring community programs, such as a tree planting project, public trash collection and natural healthcare programs.

And for everyone interested in joining a Thread Caravan experience: we are working on expanding our trip offerings! We’re taking our time planning, with much thought and consideration for each new place we host a trip. Teaser: We have our eyes set on India, Peru, Morocco and the Philippines. You can expect to see a new trip or two in 2019/2020. Stay tuned!

Photography: Leah Pellegrini

And in the meantime, bookings are open for the following experiences:

Hammock-making and Macramé workshop in collaboration with Emily Katz: Oaxaca, Mexico, October 14 - 19, 2018

Guatemalan Textile Workshop in collaboration with Luna Zorro: Antigua + Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, November 4 - 10, 2018 + March 3 - 9, 2019

Natural Dyes and Weaving: Oaxaca, Mexico, February 3 - 8, 2019

Mezcal, Maiz + Mole: Oaxaca, Mexico, February 16 - 20, 2019

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about the correspondent
Caitlin Garcia-Ahern
Social Media + Promotion Manager
, Mexico
With a deep love for international travel, a background in Sociology and work experience in education and fair-trade craft, starting Thread Caravan seemed like the perfect fusion of her strongest skills and interests. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Caitlin has also called New Orleans, New York, Maui, Cambodia, Guatemala and now Mexico home. She believes people are the key to getting to know a place and seeks to create authentic connection wherever she is. - Website

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