The Thread Caravan

March 1, 2017

Caitlin Garcia-Ahern of Thread Caravan has long inspired Anaak for her uncompromising support of artisans and preservation of traditional crafts. Caitlin arranges artisan adventures around the world, employing artisans to continue practicing their craft without the pressure to sell the goods they produce. This allows for appreciation of the process, rather than emphasis on the end product.

Photographer Luis Cárdenas traveled with Caitlin to shoot in Cuba. These images are a beautiful example of Luis' ability to capture culture and place.

Centro Havana
Centro Havana

Cuba has always been a place I have wanted to visit! Could you share some of your personal highlights that were discovered off the beaten track?

We actually went to some of the more commonly visited places in Cuba - Viñales, Trinidad and Havana. Despite being popular destinations, it's still possible to get off the tourist track once there.

In Viñales, skip the horseback riding and rent bikes or go hiking on the mountain paths. Little paths wind through organic farmland, where every once in awhile you get to feel like you're the only one there.

In Trinidad, we suggest making your way to a rooftop to see the colonial town from above.

In Havana, we loved a restaurant called La Guarida. It seems to be getting more popular, but if someone didn't tell you about it, it'd be hard to suspect it was anything other than another apartment building from the outside. Once inside though, the place is stunning! Also, I recommend Coppelia ice cream in the Vedado neighborhood. It's got a cool vintage logo and is in the middle of a small but friendly park. La Fabrcia de Arte is also a must.

Caitlin strolls through Havana in the Marie-Anne Flutter Blouse and Jessica Button Striped Khadi Skirt.

— Do you have any stories around some of the places, people and moments you have included in your photographic series?

Two of the photos wearing the Scarlette Slip Dress are taken in the restaurant I mentioned, La Guarida.

Two of the other Scarlette Slip Dress photos and the Amer Patchwork Bikini photos were taken at our favorite casa particular in Havana. Casas particulares are basically the Cuban version of Airbnb (although now Cuba also has Airbnb). If families have an extra room in their house, they can get government approval to rent the room to tourists. This gives Cubans an extra source of income and travelers a closer connection to the country and its people.

The last photo in the series is from our trip to Viñales. While we were walking on one of the farm paths at sunset we came across my favorite tree, a large Banyan. We climbed around a bit and took some photos, and just as we were about to leave some horses wandered over to us after what I imagine was a long day of carting tourists around. With the sunset, Banyan tree and unleashed horses, I then understood why so many people call Cuba magical.

Carriage passing en el Malecon, the boardwalk that stretches along Havana where the city meets the sea.
Colonial Trinidad

— With Thread Caravan there is a focus on local artisan crafts, Were there any artisans you discovered whilst on your travels? If so, what craft were they practicing, and did they include any interesting differences?

In Cuba there are many cultural crafts - cigar rolling, making rum, weaving baskets, etc. The main difference with these Cuban crafts however, is that most of the makers seem to be doing the craft out of necessity because that's the job assigned to them by the state -- not because it's something the people are generally passionate about. For that reason, I am more drawn to pursuing dance in Cuba, as it's something Cubans choose to do for fun and is also a vital and thriving part of the history and culture. Cuba is known for salsa dancing, but also has a strong Afro-Caribbean influence.

LEFT: Caitlin wears the Marie-Anne Flutter Blouse and Jessica Button Striped Khadi Skirt in Centro Havana.

RIGHT: Caitlin lounges in the Jaisalmer Off-Shoulder Dress.

LEFTT: Caitlin in the gauzy Jaisalmer Off-Shoulder Dress.

— Has your trip to Cuba altered, heightened or encouraged any new ways of approaching your own lifestyle? If so, in what ways?

Cuba reminded me of the importance to seek deeper understanding of situations. Things are always more complex than what you find on surface level. Cuba is more than a country suppressed by communism. It’s more than it’s old building and vintage cars and the magical time-capsule feeling you have when you’re there. During all travel and experiences, I think it’s important to look past labels and typical U.S. rhetoric; to eliminate your judgements and dive deeper into understanding with an open mind.

Inside La Guarida restaurant in Centro Havana.

Caitlin wears the Scarlette Slip Dress in Citrus Tussar Silk.

— We've been thinking recently about how our Anaak women love to bring home unique, special objects from their travels, laden in story and time. Was there an object that you bought back from Cuba that you're enjoying/using?

Yes! We were there just a couple weeks after the death of Fidel Castro, el Comandante. Luis has a particular fascination with Fidel and the revolution history and had the good idea to ask some of the people we were staying with if they could get us the newspaper that announces Fidel’s death.

My most lasting memory of our Cuba trip was tapping into a completely new perspective of history that I hadn't been exposed to in the U.S. This newspaper is a reminder of that perspective and a very special historical treasure.

Now back home, what are you currently working on/towards?

I’m working to provide more consistent work for our artisan partners by hosting custom designer sourcing trips. These trips will connect designers with artisans to assist in their brand’s production, empowering artisan producers while also giving their brand a transparent and ethical supply chain.

I am also very hesitantly working on launching a Persian rug weaving trip in Iran later this year. The primary aim of this trip is to bring more positive attention to the Middle East. Unfortunately with recent U.S. immigration ban, Iran's president is restricting U.S. tourists in Iran in retaliation. However, the current political situation is changing rapidly so I'm moving forward with trip planning in hopes that the political climate changes before the end of the year. Honestly, I think a more positive emphasis of the Middle East in the U.S. is especially important now.

Also... I'm planning to move to Mexico City later this year! While there I plan to continue to engage with artists and projects that have a positive societal + environmental impact.

Images by Luis Cárdenas

Interview by Yasmine Ganley

Visit Thread Caravan to read more about Caitlin's work