' The MZ Blog

The MZ Blog

Creating the Cochineal Collection

Creating the Cochineal Collection

The Cochineal Collection is a bold and beautiful line of bags in striking shades of red and black, accented with white and gray natural wool. This line of 10 new bags is part of our Lujo Collection, which is made with only the highest quality leather and metal hardware, and boasts modern bag styles that are available exclusively at mzfairtrade.com. We are proud to also present two new models: a chic crossbody that converts into a clutch, called the Lola, and the Ludi, a leather-sided tote named for our beloved Ludivina, who is a master of natural dyes.

Cochineal has been used by the Zapotecs for centuries as a natural dye that can achieve every red tone from a pale pink to the deepest wine. To achieve the vibrant red colors, our artisans use cochineal insects which thrive in Oaxaca climate.

This line is an ode to the tradition of dyeing with cochineal in Zapotec culture that predates the Spanish colonization of Mexico. Cochineal has played an immensely significant role in Zapotec culture and the same techniques that the MZ artisans’ ancestors applied to dyeing and weaving still persist today,” says Sam, Product Design Director.

Cochineal (or grana cochinilla in Spanish) are insects that nest on nopal cactus. The acid within the nopal has a chemical reaction within the insect that creates the vibrant red color.  These insects are harvested and dried, and then the artisans use an ancient stone grinder called a metate to crush them into a fine powder. This is then added to the dye vat in order to achieve various colorfast shades of reds, pinks and wine. 

Master dyer Ludivina explained, “I can get 60 different colors from the cochineal insect, from soft tones of pink, to very dark red tones. The color depends on the quantity of the dye you use and the color of the yarn you use, whether it's white, or dark gray. I can also add lemon to get orange tones and baking soda to achieve shades of purple.”

The true black color that contrasts the red is achieved by dyeing gray wool with a dried pod that grows on a local tree called huizache. The huizache pod is dried and crushed in a similar process, the yarn is soaked in vat of the dye, and then hung up to dry in the sun. From start to finish, the traditional processes are completely gentle on the environment.

It's important to me to use natural dyes because they aren't toxic. I care about the earth and the damage toxic dyes cause. In my home I have many plants in my garden, and I can use the same water I use in the dyeing process to water the plants after, so as not to waste it,” MZ artisan Ludivina explained.

Using natural dyes, as opposed to their chemical counterparts, is more expensive, complex and time-consuming. “What I've learned is that when people can see our workshop, they can understand how much work goes into each piece, especially when using natural dyes. The process is slower, more laborious and more expensive, but it is very important to us, said Isabel, MZ artisan.

The Cochineal Collection was designed to be minimal and elegant, letting the vibrant colors and functionally beautiful bag styles take center stage. Red is an intense color that incites passion, survival, and assertion. By combining it with the black leather, it captures the regal qualities of the color. Beyond simply beautiful bags, each piece in this line carries with it the power to keep the Zapotec artisanal traditions alive. Thanks for sharing in this process!

Check out the entire collection HERE.

All process photos by Soraya Matos. 

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

The celebration of Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is magical time here in Oaxaca. It's a holiday that draws from the local indigenous tradition and is a time to honor and remembering one's ancestors, when the souls of the departed come back to visit the living. Weeks before the actual holiday, which is primarily celebrated between October 31st and November 2nd, you can see the city changing. The markets are filled with cempasúchil flowers (marigolds), which are used to help guide the dead back to the living, pan de muerto (special sweet bread), sugar skulls, colorful paper streamers called papel picado and countless other traditional decorations and offerings for the dead. While the holiday is celebrated throughout Mexico, Oaxaca boasts the biggest and most traditional festivities. While Día De Los Muertos centers around the dead, it is not scary or sad, but rather a beautiful communal celebration that commemorates life and death.

In almost every home you will find altars laden with ofrendas (offerings) for the souls of the departed that are believed to come back to visit during this time. Ofrendas could be flowers, pan de muertos (sweet bread), small gifts, favorite dishes and beverages of the deceased, sugar skulls, candles, and the local sacred incense called copal

Families go to the cemeteries to clean and decorate their ancestors' graves with the same sorts of offerings. They spend entire nights there with their loved ones, both the living and the dead, remembering, sometimes mourning, but more often sharing stories, eating, drinking, and playing music.

Oaxaca city, as well as the surrounding towns, have many street parades known as calendas with fireworks, face painting, dancers, puppets, music and costumes. There are lots of feasts and parties and an overall sense of magic and playfulness throughout the city.

While Día de los Muertos decorations can look distinctly Catholic, with lots of religious iconography and crosses, the beliefs predate colonization, with its roots in Zapotec culture and spirituality.  Día de los Muertos is a representation of how indigenous traditions and catholicism have melded together. 

This magical holiday is not only about bright and colorful festivities but about the connection of the living with the dead. It's a beautiful way to honor your ancestors while spending time with your loved ones. If you ever have the chance to come to Oaxaca for this unique celebration we couldn't recommend it more! 

Oaxaca Travel Guide: Top 10 Cafés

Oaxaca Travel Guide: Top 10 Cafés

Oaxaca may be known for its incredible cuisine, but its coffee culture has developed exponentially in the past decade, and the small city now boasts plenty of great spots to get your caffeine fix. When traveling to a new destination, having a peaceful place to relax and refuel is key ... but with so many options, how does one choose?  From quick corner cafes, to full-blown brunch spots, we've scouted our favorite places to enjoy a cup and savor the moment.

Best Pour Overs: Jaguar Yuu

Coffee snobs rejoice, Jaguar Yuu really knows their stuff. Enjoy a Chemex pour-over while learning about the local coffee industry, bean to cup!  If you're hungry, their breakfast and lunch menu won't disappoint. 

Best French Press: Cafeto & Baristas

A cozy and chill locale to share a french press with a friend, or with a good book. Don't forget to order the banana bread!

Best Workspace: Café Brújula

Cafe Brújula is a Oaxacan staple. With many locations, it’s a convenient and consistently good spot to grab a beverage, tap into the WiFi, and stay a while! Note: like most spots in Oaxaca, WiFi speeds vary.

Late Night Hang: Cafébre

With its central location and generous hours (open 'til 11 PM!), this is our favorite spot for a late night (and alcohol-free) meet up! 

Best Baked Goods: Boulenc 

Boulenc has quickly caught some major buzz for having the best bread and baked goods in Oaxaca. Enjoy a long lunch at their sit-down restaurant that boasts a great vibe and menu, or grab something to go at the connected cafe. 

Best Brunch: Chepiche Café

Chepiche has a seriously impressive brunch menu, with inspired takes on traditional dishes and non-traditional breakfast items made with local ingredients, such as their blue corn cakes with house-made blackberry jam. Spend the morning in their peaceful courtyard and dig in! 

Best Quick Breakfast: Muss Café

One of the best spots in Oaxaca to get your avocado toast fix, or a chocolate croissant paired with a great Americano. As it's located inside a boutique hotel, you can enjoy your quick bite in its lovely courtyard. 

Best Non-Caffeine Beverage: Mondo Café

This small and airy café is known for its lovely lavender lemonade, but their latte isn't half bad either. Make sure you get a punch card if you're staying in Oaxaca for a while, you'll want to come back!

Best Latte: Café El Volador

El Volador is located in one of the most picturesque squares in Oaxaca. Order a macadamia nut milk latte, sit outside and people-watch for awhile.

Best Hot Chocolate: Café Caracol Púrpura

This cafe is tucked away from the main center of town, but its authentic Oaxacan hot chocolate makes Café Caracol Púrpura a worthy destination. In addition to the best cacao beverage, they have lots of coffee options, plus small goods for purchase, and great vibes. 


Were there any spots that we missed? We'd love to hear about your favorite cafés, and why!