Category Archives: Clothing Design

Videos–A World of Makers in One T-Shirt: #whomademyclothes

Today, I’m setting out to take visitors from Australia to meet some of the Oaxaca weavers of fine textiles who work in natural dyes. They make the finished product. But it gets me to thinking about all the people who were part of the creation process.

I think, today, I will ask our weavers, Where does the dye come from? Where does the wool come from? Who spins it? What about the cotton? Is it imported? Grown in Mexico? Commercially spun? This whole discussion makes me more curious!

Here is a short, one-minute + video from NPR sent to me by Judi Ross. It’s beautiful and personal. It’s a visual story worth taking time out to see.

 

#whomademyclothes

I think its fascinating to think about all the people in the world whose hands have touched what we wear.

Saludos,
Norma

https://apps.npr.org/tshirt/#/you

Who Made My Clothes? Digging Deeper Into Fashion and Consumption

Who Made My Clothes? is a program of the Fashion Revolution. I’ve been following them and its co-founder Carry Somers since she came to Oaxaca in February 2016 to take one of my natural dye and weaving textile excursions.

Pedal loom weaver Arturo Hernandez, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca

I introduced her to some of the weavers who make my clothes and the rugs that adorn floors and walls where I live in Teotitlan del Valle and Durham, North Carolina.

When I got notice of an online course Who Made My Clothes? produced by Exeter University and Fashion Revolution, I decided to sign up.  The first of three sessions over the next weeks went online yesterday. I’m eager to tell you about it.

But first, what also prompted me to pursue this course was the discussion we had during the WARP Conference about recognizing and naming the people who make our garments.

African indigo tie-dyed cotton that I sewed into dress and skirt

This is true here in Oaxaca, where many of us value, buy and wear beautiful locally made dresses and blouses. If we can afford it, we might buy from Remigio Mesta’s Los Baules de Juana Cata, from the Textile Museum Shop, or from Odilon Morales at Arte Amuzgos. Buying fewer pieces and choosing better quality can be one justification for paying a higher price.

This is a mantra of the Fashion Revolution: the high cost of fast fashion, disposable clothes. Who is paying the price? Our planet and the workers.  In the end, we are, too because we are contributing to a system of over-consumption.

  • 75% of garment workers are young women
  • the world purchased 400% more clothes than we did 20 years ago
  • in the USA in 2012, 84% of unwanted clothes ended up in the landfill or incinerator

If we buy on the street, we have no idea who made the garment or what they were paid for their labor. Usually, it’s a reseller who takes this work, either buying outright or on consignment.

  • What are we doing to make our own clothes?
  • What are we doing to mend our own clothes?
  • What are we doing to buy at up cycle/thrift sales?
  • What are we doing to buy directly from the maker?
  • Do we read labels? Check clothes “ingredients?”

The WARP conference was also about fashion designer theft, talk of label switching by designers in the NYC fashion industry, and mainstream appropriation of indigenous cultural patterns.

A challenge in this week’s online lesson was to read about the 2013 tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, when more than 1,100 people died, mostly young women. From this rubble, the Fashion Revolution was born.

The women in the building were making clothes for brands we all know: Gap, Walmart, H&M, Sears, Tommy Hilfiger and more. Questions came up: Who is ultimately responsible for worker safety? The brands, the subcontractors, the government? All of the above?  How does one person make a difference?

Family mourns death of loved one, Rana Plaza, Bangladesh

So, the course developers are asking me to look in my closet, evaluate what’s there, choose my favorite garment(s), ask whose lives are in the making of these clothes? What materials: cotton, synthetic, linen, flax? How old is the oldest thing in my closet?

The dress and skirt I made (above) last week, took me hours of labor, a total of about four days. I’m particular. I like French seams. I also made my own pattern. I appreciate good garment construction and fabric.

There may still be room in the course.  We have a week to finish the first module, and its insightful, reflective and purposeful to ask: Who made my clothes?

If we care about the food we ingest, we can also care about what we choose to say about ourselves in what we wear.

WARP Oaxaca Walking Tour: Textiles and Folk Art

Last Sunday, a group of ten WARP conference participants gathered in the lobby of our hotel at 9:30 a.m. We set out for a day-long walking tour of textiles and folk art, concentrating on a few superb venues to see the best of the best.

Walking around Oaxaca on a Sunday morning.

I had set meetings up in advance with two of Oaxaca’s most distinguished shops where the finest textiles are curated and sold, Arte Amuzgo and Los Baules de Juana Cata.

Efigenia, with exquisite Amuzgo huipil, rare caracol purpura (purple snail) dye

I asked the owners if they would select five to ten of their most outstanding textiles, explain the dye and back-strap weaving process, and talk about the maker and the region of origin.

Rare silk + Egyptian cotton huipil, indigo + caracol purpura dyes, San Mateo del Mar

Both are doing an outstanding effort to rescue lost weaving traditions by encouraging villages to bring back an art form on the edge of extinction.

Baby alpaca translates to traditional Mitla weaving, theme of corn + cacao beans

Both have galleries in the historic center of Oaxaca where they offer a market for indigenous artisans to show and sell their work.

Amazing indigo, native coyuchi cotton and caracol purpura blusa, Amuzgos

They give attribution to the weavers, too, by including their names and villages on the hang tags of the clothing.

On the colonial walking street, Macedonio Alcala, Oaxaca

But, first I thought it was important to offer a backdrop to Oaxaca, by explaining a bit about her history and culture. I invited Janet, who was born and raised here, to tell us about her city.

Gold-leaf interior, Santo Domingo Church, Oaxaca

Our first stop was at the cathedral on the Zocalo, where the story of Colonial Oaxaca begins. We then walked up the Alcala, making a coffee stop, a shopping stop for hand-made paper earrings (on special request from Louise), and gathered in front of Santo Domingo Church.

Like a tapestry, silk and Egyptian cotton huipil

Here, we talked about the conversion of indigenous people, the construction of the city, the power of the Dominicans, and the wealth provided by cochineal.

The underside is as beautiful as the front!

With a stop, too, at Andares del Arte Popular before lunch with a welcome from manager Eric Chavez Santiago, by the time we landed at Los Danzantes, hunger had overtaken us. Lots of walking, but we didn’t even complete 10,000 steps!

Efren at Los Baules de Juana Cata explains dedication to preserving Oaxaca textiles

Organic blue corn tortillas, Los Danzantes, Oaxaca

The aperitif, fresh frozen mango mezcal and agua de tuna

Here, I will not bore you with our seven course tasting menu that I ordered in advance.  It included grilled watermelon salad. Coconut shrimp. Rib eye tacos. Wild mushroom lasagna. Let’s go straight to dessert.

Chocolate casacada with house made vanilla ice cream, raspberry drizzle

And, if that wasn’t enough, another taste of my other favorite at Los Danzantes:

Goat cheese flan with toasted, caramelized nuts, honey and chocolate sauce

Oh, and fresh fruit. The figs were out of this world.

I ordered this so we would all stay healthy.

Back into the world of textiles, I want to show you some other beauties that we had the privilege to see this day.

Cochineal dyed silk on Egyptian cotton, embroidered, Ayutla

Irene’s find at Arte Amuzgo

Lollie and Elaine holding down the dressing room fort

Gauze weave cotton by Francisca Palafox, San Mateo del Mar

Getting a closer look

Rare green and coyuchi cotton, native to Oaxaca, Amuzgo

Oaxaca is a vast treasure trove of textile wonderfulness. In the colder mountain regions, the cottons are triple-ply and thick for warmth. Along the coast, the weave is much lighter gauze to cover-up but to also deal with hot, humid weather. Some villages weave. Others work in embroidery.

Close up of Mitla wool rebozo, with traditional corn and cacao pattern

There is a reintroduction of silk weaving, and wool is a perfect wrap around material for rebozos (shawls) to protect from winter chill in the valleys.

Stacks of fine garments at Los Baules de Juana Cata

Early Sunday morning, a perfect time for a stroll in Downtown Oaxaca

Oaxaca WARP Conference Kicks-Off with Marta Turok Wallace Keynote Talk

Marta Turok Wallace is a noted applied cultural anthropologist whose specialty is Mexican textiles. A resident of Mexico City with roots in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, (her parents were ex-pats), Marta was invited by program chair Judy Newland to speak at the WARP (Weaving a Real Peace) textile conference held in Oaxaca, June 8-11, 2017.

WARP attendees gather in San Pablo Cultural Center, Oaxaca

More than 70 people attended the conference. They came from Mexico, the USA, Canada, Poland and Russia.

Applied cultural anthropologist Marta Turok Wallace

What Marta talks about concerns all of us who love indigenous textiles and appreciate the people — women and men — who make them.  She asks questions, makes observations, offers solutions and consultation.  Then she steps back and listens, suggests, guides. She affirms that weavers can create their own destiny, their own future for themselves, their families and their communities. And, that consumers can more fully appreciate the history behind the cloth.

WARP president Cindy Lair welcomes participants

Traditions are powerful in Mexico.  Remote villages throughout Oaxaca continue to weave garments using distinctive iconographic designs particular to place. These weavings are rooted in centuries past, worn by grandparents and great-grandparents. There are garments for daily wear and special ceremonial occasions.

Clothing is cultural identity in Mexico. It signifies where you are from and your status in the community.

Teotitlan del Valle weaver Porfirio Gutierrez talks about history, culture

Yet, over time, clothing has changed (think cotton to synthetic threads, hand-spun to machine-spun) based on cost of raw materials, time to make, and influence of current fashion trends in the larger culture. This has an impact on style, design and quality.  As villages interact with each other because of communication and ease of transportation, there is design-crossover, too.

What is “pure” or “authentic” is no longer relevant, perhaps. Change happens and it is impossible to keep people in a box doing what they have always been doing to satisfy collectors and appreciators of tradition. What we want to do is encourage innovation, collaboration, independence and economic success.

The inversion graph, an aging population of artisans, copyright M. Turok

Marta showed a slide explaining that there is a 50% loss of traditional artisans in Mexico. Artisans are aging out and so few of the next generation are stepping in to continue the work. She asks, Why is tradition dying out?

Is the acquisition of artesania being abandoned by the consumer? What is happening in the communities to impact this change? What is in need of revitalization? How do you prepare artisans to sell at fairs and expoventas? How do they show things, take orders, fulfill and ship? Are goods priced fairly for the amount of time put into making them? What are people willing to pay because something is made in Mexico?  How do you commodify art, handmade?

Scholarship recipients present their work, philosophy of design

So, it’s not only about keeping the skill alive, it is about getting it out into the marketplace?  Once something becomes commercialized, then does that erode its value and also compromise how an artisan is compensated?

As they say, It’s complicated!

Young women from Chenalho, Chiapas, represent their cooperative

And, if one changes the scale of motifs or introduces different color palettes to satisfy marketplace demands, or adapt a textile to another purpose (think going from sarapes/ponchos to rugs to handbags and purses), is this a compromise of traditions?

Important topics of discussion during the conference included appropriation of traditional design motifs by contemporary fashion designers, fair wages, using sustainable and native materials.  “What is Fair Trade, really?” when there are no standard rules.

Speaker Eric Chavez Santiago will discuss commercialization

Marta notes that when something is handmade AND mass-produced, someone is not being paid very well.

Many of us want to meet the artisan, have a personal relationship and buy directly so that the money exchange benefits the maker 100%.  That’s not always possible, so it’s important for us to read labels, and ask who made my clothes.

We also need to be sensitive and conscious to the myth that Mexican handmade items are cheap or that we can bargain just for the fun of it.  Let’s be conscientious about the haggler mentality.

What we also notice is that most weavers are no longer creating cloth for themselves — they are weaving for the marketplace, no longer investing a year of labor to create an elaborate ceremonial huipil.  They may dress in ready-made cotton or polyester purchased at Soriana or Walmart. Why?

SOLD: Hand-woven, embroidered ceremonial huipil, San Felipe Usila. 

[Note: This “stained glass window” huipil, above, is from the Chinantla pueblo of San Felipe Usila, about 12 hours from Oaxaca up a mountain road. I know the makers. It is woven on a back-strap loom, then intricately embroidered in cross-stitch. A special piece. Size L-XL. $500 USD. Time to make: 8 months. Who wants it?]

To dress differently exposes one to racism and discrimination. We heard a story about a Oaxaca village where the mayor was so intent on assimilation, that he forbade any weaving of traditional garments. It took thirty years to rescue the tradition by encouraging a new generation of weavers to bring back their cultural identity.

During the conference, Andares del Arte Popular hosted a curated show and sale of artisans in an adjacent patio. Conference-goers could meet the makers and buy directly from them. It was a wonderful introduction to Oaxaca for WARP.

A conference of weavers, dyers, anthropologists, collectors, textile lovers

I was pleased to to work with WARP to produce this conference. I served as the on-site administrator and conference planner, participated on the program committee, contacted speakers, organized a panel discussion, arranged for hotel, meals, conference venue, transportation, and a one-day natural dye textile tour for all conference attendees.  We went to villages to meet artisans and understand the complexity of the creative work of Oaxaca. On Sunday, 12 women accompanied me on an optional walking tour of Oaxaca with a focus on naturally dyed textiles. More about this in the next posts.

 

 

 

Mexican Anthropologist Marta Turok to Give Keynote at WARP Textile Conference

Marta Turok, the noted Mexican applied anthropologist and specialist in folk art and textiles, will give the keynote address at the WARP (Weaving a Real Peace) International Conference in Oaxaca, on Saturday, June 9, 2017.

I’ve been working with WARP and program chair Judy Newland for the better part of a year to help organize the conference. Marta just wrote this morning to summarize the remarks she will make.

Textiles from the village of Cancuc, Chiapas

“My talk will focus on how I learned that a project requires a methodology. It begins with a good assessment (diagnostic) in order to draw a master plan.  There are many imponderables as the project continues and one has to be constantly evaluating to see how to make adjustments.  

This diagnostic includes understanding the role of crafts production and marketing in the community/region, the number of craftspeople/families involved, the capacities that exist and those that need to be developed, how raw materials are acquired and distributed, what the means of production are, what markets one wants to target.   

The approach should be integral, analyzing the environmental, cultural and socio-economic issues surrounding the community and the group.  The clearer the goals, the more investment in capacity building and decision-making, the better chance the group will be able to appropriate the process.”

Applied anthropologist Marta Turok to speak in Oaxaca

Click Here to see the complete program and to register. It’s not too late!

Other conference speakers include Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation representative Lorena de la Piedra, Zapotec weaver Porfirio Gutierrez, designer and natual dye expert Rocio Mena Gutierrez, University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty member Carolyn Kallenborn, social entrepreneur Ana Paula Fuentes, and founder of Chamuchic project Claudia Muñoz Morales.

There will be an expoventa (exhibition and sale) of folk art and textiles on June 9 in the ex-convento San Pablo patio presented by Andares Arte Popular.  On Saturday, June 10, conference-goers will travel to villages to meet textile artisans as part of their conference registration.

Here is the complete Program

Saturday, June 9, 2017

8:00 a.m. Breakfast

Morning Sessions –

9:30 Cindy Lair, WARP President – Welcome and Acknowledgments

9:45-10:30 Marta Turok, our keynote speaker from Mexico City, an applied anthropologist who focuses on socio-economic artisan development in Mexico; she is considered one of the foremost experts on Mexican Folk Art and will discuss her work and what it means for artisans in a global world market

10:30-11:15 Lorena De la Piedra will discuss the work of the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation, it’s commitment to artisan development, bringing products to market and the natural dye culture of Oaxaca

11-30-12:15 Porfirio Gutierrez, Teotitlan del Valle master weaver, will present innovation and preservation in Zapotec Weaving – the evolution of design and the incorporation of innovative materials

LUNCH from 12:30 – 1:45pm

Afternoon sessions

2pm-3pm Panel Presentation followed by roundtables discussions with all attendees participating

Topic: Working with Indigenous Artisans to create fashion and design projects, bringing products to market, design influences, integrity of design, cultural impact, ethical issues and challenges.

  • Rocio Mena Gutierrez: WARP member and panel moderator, founder and designer of Zikuri Natural Dyes, Mexico City
  • Ana Paula Fuentes: consultant/textile designer currently working with Fabrica Social
  • Claudia Munoz Morales: textile designer, creator of the initiative Viernes Traditional, counselor for Impacto Textil and leads the Chamuchic group
  • Carolyn Kallenborn – Associate Faculty at University Wisconsin Madison has worked with textile artisans in Oaxaca since 2003, and produced/directed the film, “Woven Lives”

3:00–3:30 Attendees will select discussion questions prior to meeting and break into small groups with leaders to talk about issues/ideas facing textile artisans around the world, including attribution, copyright, and working with foreign designers

3:45 Scholarship winners 5 minute presentations

1:00–7:00 ExpoVenta – a marketplace of regional artisans at San Pablo Cultural Center

6:00–7:30       Reception with visits to Museo Textil de Oaxaca which is next door

Saturday, June 10, 2017

8:00 a.m. Breakfast – we will have the WARP Annual Meeting during our Saturday breakfast

9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Natural Dye Weaving and Textile Tour, includes van transportation, lunch and visits to artisan studios with demonstrations and discussion of the natural dye tradition in Oaxaca, Mexico. Participants will meet weavers of rugs, home goods, handbags and clothing in their home studios. Tour will make four stops. You will see weavers working on the flying shuttle loom and tapestry loom. See traditional carding, spinning and dyeing methods using cochineal, indigo and other local plant sources. We offer honoraria to artisan-demonstrators on your behalf. Tour provider is Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.