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The MZ Blog

Honoring Artisan Mothers

Honoring Artisan Mothers

Written by Maria Luisa Santiago. Translation and introduction by Hannah Aronowitz.

A couple months ago on a visit to Teotitlan del Valle, one of the MZ artisans Maria Luisa slipped a folded piece of notebook paper discreetly into my hand, so her mother who was preparing food on the other side of the patio would not see. 

Completely unbidden she had written, in a beautiful sloping script, what is essentially an ode to her mother Gloria. Gloria is the matriarch of the Santiago family, and can count no less than 10 children who work with MZ. I'm not quite sure where we would be without her!

Maria Luisa asked me if I would consider publishing her note on the MZ Blog, as a surprise for her mother. It's my honor to translate her words and share this message of love and legacy with you. 

For Gloria  

One of the most special bags in the MZ collection is the "Gloria." The name of this bag is in honor of my mother, Gloria, as well as all the artisan mothers who transmit their love through their weaving. 

Gloria's story is translated through each one of our weaving, of our bags, and it's the story of all the artisan mothers of past generations. We are artisan weavers thanks to them. It's what they always dreamed of, and now it's become reality. 

They gave us the most invaluable knowledge, that you cannot learn just with the eyes, or with the hands. It takes heart. This is the heritage of my mother, passed from one generation to the next. We've done it!

Now it's our commitment as artisan mothers to give future generations the best we have to offer. We are the daughters of the great generations of Zapotecs, who never disappeared because they live in each design, in the threads and colors of our weaving. 

Thanks to the great team at MZ for supporting the dream of Zapotec artisan mothers. Thanks to all the those who support this great project through buying our bags. Thanks for carrying so close to your heart my "Gloria" tote ... and from the bottom of my heart, thank you to my mother for being the inspiration. 

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We are currently offering 33% OFF in honor of Mother's Day! 

Learn more about Maria Luisa HERE.

Shop Maria Luisa's products HERE.

Check out the bestselling Gloria Tote HERE.

5 Years after Rana Plaza - What's Actually Changed?

5 Years after Rana Plaza - What's Actually Changed?

April 24th, 2018 marks five years after the deadly collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, which took the lives of over 1000 garment workers, and injured another 2000. This tragedy brought attention to the terrible human rights abuses and environmental degradation caused by the global fashion industry. In the wake of such a large scale disaster, social advocacy groups, brands, and consumers have called for safe working conditions, fair wages and environmental regulations. 

But even with all the noise, how much has really changed?

At the Sustainable Fashion Forum in Portland, Oregon last week, I had the opportunity to hear ethical fashion advocate Whitney Bauck of Fashionista discuss this question. 

One of the largest shifts in the past five years is increased visibility of human rights and environmental abuses within the fashion industry. Movements such as Fashion Revolution, plus ethical fashion and conscious consumerism campaigns on social media on the parts of brands and shoppers, have brought more awareness around the problems caused by fast fashion, and offered solutions to slow down the cycle of consumption.

Over half of millennial and Gen Z shoppers say that would rather buy a product that was ethically produced, which is an indication that the attempts at education have been effective. However, consumer habit statistics paint a different picture. While people SAY they care about ethical production, they might conveniently forget their morals when it comes to the cash register. 

In terms of actual policy, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was signed on May 15th, 2013. It is a five year independent, legally binding agreement between global brands, retailers and trade unions designed to increase healthy and safe working conditions within the garment industry in Bangladesh, which is the largest producer of clothing worldwide. 

According to Whitney, while the Accord has made safety regulations more enforceable, labor rights issues still have a long way to go.  Workers are forced to work long hours for little pay, they are banned from joining unions, and reports of sexual harassment and abuse are rampant. As the vast majority of garment workers in Bangladesh, India and Cambodia are millennial women, ethical fashion is truly a feminist issue. 

In all, it seems that the Rana Plaza disaster shook up the fashion industry, increased awareness and demanded reform. However, unless consumers truly put their money where their mouth is, the demand for cheap, trendy clothes will continue to feed the monster that is the fast fashion industry. As a consumer, our individual and collective shopping choices truly do matter. How will you use your purchasing power?

Guest Blog: MZ Artisan Visit Reflections

Guest Blog: MZ Artisan Visit Reflections

Written by Lee Owlsey of Latitudes Fair Trade 

A few weeks ago the managers from our three Latitudes Fair Trade stores had the delightful experience of visiting Oaxaca and the MZ artisans.

MZ's Creative + Marketing Director Hannah met us in Oaxaca City and we traveled about 40 minutes through the desert landscape, enjoying the cacti, small towns, mountains, and the warm Mexican sun. 

On the way to Teotitlan del Valle, Hannah explained that the Zapotec people have some of the most preserved indigenous culture in Mexico in part due to their knowledge of natural dyes and weaving. We were intrigued to find out that one of the reasons that the culture has been preserved is due to the cochineal insect, which lives on the local cactus and is used for red dye. Hannah explained that it was a highly prized commodity in Europe before commercial dyes were available and the Europeans imported it from the smart Zapotec people.

Weaving had traditionally been a man’s job and the women did the dying, washing, carding, and spinning of the yarn. Now women are weaving too, and there is typically a loom for each adult in every home in the village. (Like our American homes with one car per driver, I thought!). 

When we entered the town, it was clear that people here love to weave. Sure enough, every house seemed to have a loom in the front yard or on a porch. Every house even looked like a small store with rugs and bags hanging on fences and in stalls and store fronts in yards. Hannah explained that there is a huge saturation of supply and repetition of patterns here that makes it hard for people to actually sustain themselves with their weaving.

It was so exciting to enter the home of some of the weavers. The patriarch of the family, Porfirio, showed us how he cards and spins wool. Of course, when we tried it we found that something he made look easy was practically impossible for us!

We got a tour of the dying area while the family sheep, about 12 of them, bleated their welcome in the background. The women explained that the dying process is very specific. They have to allow a certain amount of time for the dyes to set in the sun.

“Sometimes we are almost finished, but the sun is setting so we tell ourselves we have to stop and continue tomorrow,” they explained. 

We could tell they had very high standards of quality and much pride in their processes and products. The family rooster, Señor Adulto (Mr. Adult) kept us entertained while they gave us a demonstration of how weaving is done on the large bi-peddle loom.

I asked the women how their lives are different because of MZ and they were eager and animated as they explained that MZ came at just the right time as tourism was down and they were desperate as to how they were going to continue. Now they have consistent employment and can help many people in the village. Rocio, Antonia, and Malena explained how they get to design and now manage others. It was clear they felt very empowered and excited about their part in MZ.

And we felt so embraced, welcomed, and bonded to them in just the short few hours we spent there. I think this was my 10th artisan visit and I can confidently say that in all this time and through my travels, this was my absolute favorite group of artisans. I felt that if I lived there we would be best friends.

A second home/workshop we visited was that of Ludivina and Faustino. They specialize in natural dying and gave us a fascinating demonstration of how that is done.

My favorite part was seeing how the cochineal bug is squished in the palm, lime juice added, and a flaming red dye produced. It was like magic.

The highlight of the whole trip, however, was when I asked Ludivina if we could have little snippets of the natural dyed yarn to make a small display for the store to put with our bags and she handed me a huge hank of all colors of yarn and told me to just take it. No, she wouldn’t take any payment! It’s in my store today as part of my MZ bag display and I love telling customers that story.

Thank you, MZ and Hannah, for a fabulous time of learning, growing, and forming new friendships. Our MZ bags are so much more precious to us now and we almost hate to see one leave the store, except that we know that with each one that leaves many lives have been touched for the better. Keep it up, please!