After calling ahead and making an appointment, we took a taxi to the outskirts of San Cristobal de las Casas at the end of a dirt road to find the headquarters of Camino de los Altos. This is a cooperative of 130 weavers who make extraordinary textiles.
They will be exhibiting and selling their work at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca from Friday through Sunday, February 17-19, 2012. If you are in Oaxaca, you won’t want to miss this event!
The cooperative began in the mid-1990’s by eight French designers who had a passion for Mayan traditions, textiles, and indigenous design. El Camino selects ancient traditional colors and re-imagines them. They produce bags, children’s clothing, pillow covers, scarves, shawls, table cloths, runners, napkins, and dish towels on sturdy, highest quality fabric that is hand-woven on back strap looms in five Chiapas weaving villages. Six sales are held each year in Paris and at other selected locations around the world.
Wool pillow covers can be the natural color of the sheep or dyed with either palo de Brazil or cochineal to yield a rich red. Mayan women then embellish them with traditional hand-embroidered designs. The cotton is dyed with industrial color. The color combinations are juicy and intense, and based upon traditional weaving patterns, too.
As a cooperative, the members meet together to decide next steps, new design and color directions, and pattern innovations. Their commitment is to each other — everyone must have work. The marketplace speaks, so together they determine what needs to be altered, adapted, changed or discontinued.
[Cultural note: In traditional villages, the men work in the fields and do required community service (cargos). Women are responsible for all the household work, and care for children and in-laws. We hear that many of the women who are now able to earn their own income through weaving and other crafts, choose not to marry to achieve some level of independence.]
El Camino de los Altos operates through the sale of their work and the support of a French foundation, and are able to employ four full-time staff. The money they earn goes directly to the weavers. In addition, they are training indigenous women in marketing, sales, production, inventory control and other business development aspects that will ensure ongoing success.
A Chiapas retail store, Madre Tierra, sells Camino de los Altos textiles. It is located across from the sweets market on Insurgentes in the courtyard behind the fabulous bakery that sells the most delicious whole grain onion garlic buns.