Part II Mexican Fashion — does the right thing!

After my last agitated post commenting on Mexican designers who don’t acknowledge their sources of ‘indigenous inspiration’ or give them any credit, I thought thought I might post Adele, of Latin Threads Trading, comments. She comes from a design company which has been working in Mexico for awhile – making high quality products for the mid range-market. (see link bottom of page).

I agree with arguments on both sides of this discussion…it is a complex issue with no easy answer re. wages and respect of native traditions.

As for culture degradation, a friend who has worked many years in Chiapas with indigenous people once said to me, “The indigenous people see the commercial work they do for us as work, like going to a job every day. What we do with their product doesn’t matter to them as they have their own vibrant work that they do for themselves.” In my experience working with indigenous artisans, I would tend to agree. As for cutting up tired traditional garments and repurposing them, when I ask the indigenous women we work with what they do with their old and spoiled clothing, they tell me they throw them away. Why not preserve these remnants and enlighten the consumer with something that is both beautiful, cultural, AND functional?

It is our mission (Latin Threads Trading) to create sustainable employment at fair wages for indigenous artisans doing what they do best, the traditional crafts of their respective villages. It is a long road, fraught with problems on both sides of the equation, one that requires time, patience, and cultural sensitivity. There is no excuse for not acknowledging the contributions made by these people within the fashion industry, but that is another discussion.

But there’s good news! Designer Carmen Rion of Mexico City has worked with indigenous artisans in a number of her collections and happily acknowledges them. This seasons designs are inspired by the chales or mocheval/ capes of Zinacatan in the highlands of Chiapas. I’m including a video of the Pasisaje Mocheval Exhibit of some of Carmen’s most elegant and inspired mochevales at the Franz Meyer Museum in D.F. You’ll notice  Zinacatan embroiderers in their full traje/costume enjoying the fruits of their labor. They were also included in the fashion show (See the second YouTube video). And although they might be too humble to say so, I’m sure they feel pride in being included.

Textile Shopping in San Cristobal – Chiapas (updated May 2013)

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While you will have many opportunities to buy wonderful textiles in San Cristobal take time to thoroughly research things. Take the opportunity to visit Sergio Castros’ Collection of Regional Costumes (previous post) then you’ll have an over-view of the components of the Chiapas ‘traje’ – chales (shawls), enredos (women’ skirts), blusas and huipiles (blouses or huipiles) to name a few important ones.

Shopping at textile co-ops is the best way to support local weavers while assuring them fair prices for their labors instead of prices set  by a retail shop owners. The following are by no means the only ones in town. Zapatista villages also have co-ops on Guadalupe walking street, but not necessarily focused on textiles. You might find good deals there if your timing is right.

Sna Jolobil – Has relocated to the Santo Domingo Convent, recently restored with the addition of the Museo Textile of Mayan Textiles next door. It’s in a wonderful light and airy building at the entrance, not to be missed. It’s the highest quality textile co-0p in San Cristobal – if you want to see the very best. Sna Jolobil which means ‘the weavers house’ and was founded about 30 years ago by Pedro Meza a Tenejapa weaver and ‘Chip’ Morris who wrote “Living Maya” and currently includes 800 weavers from 20 Tzotzil and Tzeital indigenous communities. Without going into too much detail included are photos of some of the most impressive items in the store. Chamula, Tenejapa, Magdalena, are a few of the communities pictured. Expect the high quality and high prices although be assured you will be getting the BEST. If you are good shopper you may be able to find some of these items in different locations somewhat cheaper, although some items you will only see here.

J’pas Joloviletik – Avenida General Utrilla # 43 Easily overlooked as it’s a pretty low-key  enterprise manned by very shy women. This co-op located on the back side of Santo Domingo Church across the street and inside a blue arched colonial building, has been in operation 26 years and has two rooms of nicely woven goods- from  6 communities:  Pantelho, Chamula, Zinacatan, Huixtlan, Aldama and San Andres L. There is a wide range of items from napkins, table runners, and pillow covers to very nice contemporary  blouses, traditional huipiles, woolen items from Chamula all at competitive prices. Remember shopping at co-ops allows more profit to return to the weavers/embroiders for their intensive labor…motivating women to continue weaving and teaching their daughters the skills, helping keep the traditional Mayan textile culture alive.

Jolom Mayaetik – Calzada de la Escuela 25 on the ‘old road’ to Chamula – up about 1.5 blocks on the right– This co-op has been in business since 1996 and includes 250 women weavers from the highlands of Chiapas. The store is a light filled  room with shelves stacked with textiles located  on a small parcel of land  a short ways up the ‘old’ road to Chamula, which includes a school and meeting center. The place was buzzing with activity when we were there – women delivery goods and the shop ladies’ kids playing on the floor. The focus here is more on ‘domestics’ – nice contemporary designs and colors – pillow covers, decoratively woven and embroidered, napkins, table cloths. There are wearables: bags, shawls, blouses and even irresistible baby clothes. High quality goods with a European flair – (French designers were involved a few years back and their influence is in evidence).

San Cristobal is a wonderful shopping experience that doesn’t quit. The market in front of Santo Domingo is chocked full of stuff . It takes awhile to sort through to find the true bargains and unique items, but worth it. Remember here you are expected to bargain but the co-ops prices are fixed.

Museum of Regional Costumes/ Traje Regional Chiapas

Museum Regional Costumes of Highland Chiapas Calle Guadalupe Victoria #38  near \ Av. 12 de Noviembre – San Cristobal call for appointment around 3pm (967) 678-1609 or show up at 6pm at the door. Donations appreciated.

While you will have many opportunities to buy wonderful textiles in San Cristobal you might not have the time to thoroughly research things. I’ve found that the best strategy is to get an over -view of high quality pieces first and perhaps Sergio’s local textile collection is the best way to get oriented.

Sergio Castros’ collection of Regional Costumes is a great way to see the many complete outfits of the Highland Maya, the outfits in use daily in many communities as well as those used in ceremonies and weddings. Costumes have been donated over the years from his grateful patients who come for treatment of burns. Serigo is a well respected healer and will take the time to give lots of information while he tours you around this wonderful collection located in his home. You will need to call ahead to make an appointment.Tours usually start at 6pm and last about an hour. You can take pictures too. Donations are happily accepted so that Sergio can continue giving treatments without charge to the indigenous people.

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If you are interested in hearing more about Sergio’s humanitarian work here’s the official website with instruction on how to get there  and where you can make donations.  and a blog

Textiles of Chiapas – January 2011

Currently I’m exploring the textiles of the Highland Mayas of Chiapas by visiting villages, markets, and if I’m lucky.  a festival or ceremony  in process. Many villages are having the changing of their civil and spiritual leaders through the passing of ‘cargos’ (obligations), so ceremonies are common and luckily for me, traditional costumes are in abundance. The downside of this story is that photographing their ceremonies  and their costumes is prohibited by village tradition. On several occasions I just ‘got lucky’ and managed to get an image and other times I was invited to take a picture. Sometimes the images of these groups of people have been so stunning it will be indelible in my visual memory. What I will try and do is give you a taste of the textiles worn by the people in the area of San Cristobal de las Casas. Some of these were in taken in the villages – others were taken on the street during the funeral Jan. 26, 2011 of the famous Bishop Samuel Ruiz who championed the rights of the indigenous people through the ‘theology of liberation’ in the 70’s . It is obvious which people were compliant in these images and I hope to have more textile friends like the V. Carranza weavers I am documenting with more in-depth information in the future. Enjoy this sampling of the beautiful and intricate textiles of Chiapas.

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