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.