Thanks to all the 85 people who responded to our request to help us choose a logo for Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Your opinion matters and we listened! In my graduate school statistics study at The University of Notre Dame, I learned that any survey response of N30+ is valid. We are secure in our decision, as a result of your telling us your preferences, that we have made the best choice.
The voting was split 58 people in favor of the all capital letter version, while 28 said they preferred the lower case. I’m publishing our new logo here, knowing that a few minor changes are being made to the information. But the logo is how we will use it.
Eric and I want to express our sincerest thanks for participating in this market research survey
We hope you will join us for one of our tours and workshops in the upcoming months and in 2024. Abrazos fuertes.
We are mid-way through our second Chiapas tour. I always say, The right people always show up! and they do. We saw the same things, made the same stops, met the same people and each tour is different based on interests, questions, experience and personalities. We have four weavers and two three textile designers on this tour, plus two tag-along husbands who also contribute a lot to the dynamics of engagement.
We have traveled to Tenejapa for market day. We have meandered museums, designer shops, met Alberto Lopez Gomez, picnicked under the Maya crosses at Romerillo cemetery, and visited with humanitarian healer Sergio Castro Martinez. We met with weavers at a 30-Year old cooperative to talk about cultural appropriation and explored the life of the Lacondon indigenous group through the eyes of archeologist Frans Blom and his photographer wife Gertrude Duby Blom at Na Bolom.
This is a photo essay of our days here, so far. At this moment a fine rain shrouds San Cristobal. I’m sipping hot tea and warming up. I hope you can come with us in 2023! send an email if you are interested.
This textile woven in San Andres Larrainzar was on display at San Francisco International Airport in 2018. At the Sergio Castro Museo de Trajes Regionales de Chiapas
This morning I received a link to this article from Vogue Mexico that features Oaxaca clothing designers modeled by Oaxaca indigenous woman Karen Vega. This grabbed my attention for many reasons. Just as there is a movement in the United States to recognize non-traditional beauty, i.e. a departure from a fashion industry defined by tall, lanky, undernourished white girls, we are seeing something different.
This is especially important in Mexico, where fashion models have always represented the European-centric image of superiority and style. Those with Spanish heritage — long legs, lighter skin, sculpted faces — are prized for their beauty and promoted as the standard of beauty to attain.
Karen Vega, Oaxaca
Since Yalitza Aparicio made her debut in the 2018 award-winning film, Roma, indigenous woman are defining a new standard of beauty and talent.
Oaxaca, long considered a fashion backwater, is coming into her own as a center for creative style. I am familiar with most of the designers featured in this article below. Some are adapting indigenous design to contemporary application. Some may be accused of cultural appropriation, taking snippets of weavings and embroidery and repurposing them into contemporary blouses and dresses that only vaguely resemble the original indigenous textile.
These designers are from Oaxaca. Perhaps they have more of a right to do this than the international designers who swoop in and market huipiles they call kaftans to an unsuspecting, fashion-hungry public, priced in the stratosphere, giving no credit or compensation to sources.
Be that as it may, we now get to applaud 18-year old Mexican model Karen Vega, who is helping to pave the way for others and for us to embrace beauty with a different paradigm.
Mexican Model Karen Vega Is Bringing Oaxacan Pride to the Fashion World
At 18-years-old, Karen Vega is off to a strong start with her career in fashion. The Mexican model, who is from Oaxaca, got her big break when she recently appeared in the pages of Vogue Mexico’s July issue, becoming the first Oaxacan model to do so in the publication’s history. “It was a great surprise, from the moment I received the invitation,” Vega says. “The day I had the magazine in my hands and I could see my portrait in print, my family was incredibly happy. It was a dream that we
Shuko Clouse just opened her online shop Mano del Sur. She is a friend and I want to help give her a boost.
Shuko is from Japan. She loves Mexico and particularly Oaxaca. She combines her aesthetic for quality and simplicity with all unique, one-of-a-kind pieces she finds along the way during her travels south-of-the-border.
Shuko is dedicated to learning Spanish. She recently came to Oaxaca for a language immersion program. In her generous, kind and insightful multicultural approach, she communicates directly with artisans to identify and buy the best home goods and fashion accessories to pass along to discerning buyers via her new website.
Our textile study tours offer people like Shuko a guided opportunity to seek out some of the most outstanding artisans in a region. Shuko came with us to Chiapas and she is now returning for the Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. She comes to Oaxaca city, too, where I take her to villages to meet some of the best artisans to buy their craft.
I am happy to work with Shuko, designers and retailers to introduce them to artisans. The makers appreciate being able to sell direct with no middleman and the buyers know they support artisans directly and pay a fair price for their quality workmanship.
We are filled for the Oaxaca Coast Tour, but we have space for
Magdalenas Aldama is an hour-and-a-half from San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, on a winding road deep into the mountains beyond San Juan Chamula. Its isolation is protection from the forces of modernization. The Spanish had difficulty getting there to evangelize. Traditions run deep and strong.
Rosa, center, wearing neighboring Chenalho dog paw embroidered blusa
Being remote is a double-edge sword. It guarantees lack of access to education and decent health care. It ensures sustaining traditional practices like building with wattle and daub, creating garments with the back strap loom.
Welcome to Magdalenas Aldama, where liquor is not permitted, per Zapatista custom
This is the same story for many villages tucked into the swales of eight thousand foot mountains around the city.
Close-up textile texture of supplementary weft on back strap loom
On our quest to explore the textiles of the Maya people surrounding San Cristobal de Las Casas, it is important to meet and know the people where they live and work. This is a cultural journey to appreciate artisania, to give support and to put funds directly into the hands of the makers.
Women at the Magdalenas expoventa, photo by Carol Estes
Magdalenas Aldama women weave some of the most beautiful blouses and huipiles in Chiapas. They are intricate textiles with ancient pre-Hispanic Maya symbols that have spiritual and physical meaning. It can take six to eight months to weave a traditional Gala Huipil used for special occasions.
A ceremonial Gala Huipil, cost is 3500 pesos, 8 months to make
Typical Maya symbols incorporated into the cloth — a story of life:
The milpa — corn fields, squash and beans
The sacred forest — pine trees
The Four Cardinal Points — sun, moon, earth and sky
The making of cloth on a back strap loom, Magdalenas
During our van ride we talk about what to look for in a quality garment as we approach Magdalenas. We are sewers, embroiderers, collectors, knitters, appreciators of the creative work that women do.
How are the seams finished? Are the seams raw and unraveling?
Is the embroidery done on cloth that is made on a back strap loom or is it done on cheap commercial polyester or a poly/cotton blend?
Are the embroidery stitches small, tight, evenly executed?
Is the weaving even and are the supplementary weft threads densely packed?
First stop is to the home of Rosa and Cristobal. They were activists in the Zapatista movement, working for land reform, indigenous rights, access to services, and justice for Maya people. Twelve women in the extended family gathered in the smokey kitchen to prepare our lunch: handmade tortillas, sopa de gallina (free range chicken soup).
Mary Anne enjoys sopa de gallina chicken soup, a rich broth
Babies are tied to their backs with rebozos. Toddlers and youngsters played around their mothers’ skirts. The wood fire was pungeant, smokey, making it difficult to see or breathe.
The best corn tortillas, organic, criollo
After an expoventa in the adjacent barn, we went to the plank wood house of Don Pedro and his son Salvador, just a few blocks away to see their fine handwoven ixtle bags. Women in the family brought traditional Magdalenas huipiles and blusas, woven pocket bags, belts and embroidered skirt fabric.
Young nursing mother waits for a sale
Over breakfast this morning we share our impressions of the experience.
Don Pedro’s wife, wearing traditional huipil (blouse) and falda (skirt)
Lanita commented that this is a culture where back strap looms are everywhere. Women can do it a bit at a time, between caring for children, cooking, tending the kitchen garden, after chores are done.
Tortilla making by hand, a woman’s fingerprints in dough
Carol appreciates that joy is possible in any circumstance. We see the power of a community of women, and as women travelers, we, too, become a community of women. We made connections. There are ore things that make up the same among us that make us different.
Children entertaining themselves. No television here.
Mary Anne notes that she learned more about the social justice issues of the Zapatistas. They are not a bunch of rebel revolutionaries.
Woman against adobe wall, photo by Carol Estes
Cath says that this trip is more than about textiles, although this is a good place to start. To be here is to look beyond the fibers, to look at the totality of life and ask, Where did this cloth come from? Who made it? What does it mean? Where is the woman who designed it?
Norma examining weaving detail, photo by Carol Estes
Textiles are a way into being part of another culture. We could dig in, experience, open up to what else it is we can see and discover. We were excited to find cooperatives where innovative design uses traditional fabric woven on the back strap loom.
Weaving is a way of life, while tending the flock and children
Most importantly, we provided direct support to women, men and families whose work we appreciate, admire and regard with respect.
Don Pedro and son Salvador weave the finest ixtle bags, photo by Carol Estes
Portrait of Patricio, who shows us the way, nephew of Tatik Samuel Ruiz
We know the culture! We are locally owned and operated.
Eric Chavez Santiago is Zapotec, born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.
Norma Schafer has been living in Oaxaca for almost 20 years.
We have deep connections with artists and artisans.
63% of our travelers repeat -- high ratings, high satisfaction.
Wide ranging expertise.
We give you a deep immersion to best know Oaxaca and Mexico.
Creating Connectionand Meaning between travelers and with indigenous artisans. Meet makers where they live and work. Join small groups of like-minded explorers. Go deep into remote villages. Gain insights. Support cultural heritage and sustainable traditions ie. hand weaving and natural dyeing. Create value and memories. Enjoy hands-on experiences. Make a difference.
What is a Study Tour: Our programs are learning experiences, and as such we talk with makers about how and why they create, what is meaningful to them, the ancient history of patterning and design, use of color, tradition and innovation, values and cultural continuity, and the social context within which they work. First and foremost, we are educators. Norma worked in top US universities for over 35 years and Eric founded the education department at Oaxaca’s textile museum. We create connection.
OCN Creates Student Scholarship at Oaxaca Learning Center Giving back is a core value. Read about it here!
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
We Contribute Two Chapters!
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Meet Makers. Make a Difference
Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university, textile and artisan development experience. See About Us.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your independent travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, curators, universities and others come to us to develop artisan relationships, customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Select Clients *Abeja Boutique, Houston *Selvedge Magazine-London, UK *Esprit Travel and Tours *Penland School of Crafts *North Carolina State University *WARP Weave a Real Peace *Methodist University *MINNA-Goods *Smockingbird Kids *University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Oaxaca has the largest and most diverse textile culture in Mexico! Learn about it.
When you visit Oaxaca immerse yourself in our textile culture: How is indigenous clothing made, what is the best value, most economical, finest available. Suitable for adults only. Set your own dates.
One-Day Custom Tours: Tell Us When You Want to Go!
New--Ruta del Mezcal One-Day Tour.We start the day with pottery, visiting a master, then have lunch with a Traditional Oaxaca Cook who is the master of mole making. In Mitla, we meet with our favorite flying shuttle loom weaver, and then finish off with a mezcal tasting at a palenque you will NEVER find on your own! Schedule at your convenience!
We require 48-hour advance notice for map orders to be processed. We send a printable map via email PDF after your order is received. Please be sure to send your email address. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map After you click, be sure to check PayPal to ensure your email address isn't hidden from us. We fulfill each map order personally. It is not automatic.
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle