' The MZ Blog – About Us

The MZ Blog

Celebrating Christmas - the Zapotec Way!

Celebrating Christmas - the Zapotec Way!

While many people the world over celebrate Christmas, the traditions vary from place to place. With the holiday season in full swing, we’ve enjoyed learning about the traditions that are unique to the Zapotec communities of Oaxaca. We chatted with MZ artisans Jose Luis and Maria Luisa Santiago to learn more about how their family celebrates the holiday.

Similarly to the US, in Teotitlan del Valle (where the majority of the large Santiago family lives), Christmas is a religious holiday for some, and more of a cultural tradition for others. Jose Luis explained, “Some families fast on Christmas Eve, and then come together to break the fast on Christmas morning. While many go to church, others don’t because it isn’t important to them.”

The Zapotec people primarily practice a unique sort of Catholicism that is infused with their indigenous beliefs. An example of this would be the tradition of pedimentos - or petitions - that sees individuals and families bringing objects or figurines to the church to petition God for their wishes granted. “People will bring small houses if they want a new home, or little animals to ask for more chickens or sheep. Lot of people bring tiny dolls as a way of asking God to give them a family,” said Maria Luisa.

Another Christmas tradition in the village are the posadas - or holiday parties - that begin in early December.  These large parties are typically hosted by a family who opens their home to the entire town! Posadas are celebrations to commemorate the Virgin Mary, and the birth of Christ. Children with candles sing a song that tell the biblical story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter for the birth of their child. These festivities are filled with food (enough to feed the village), atole (a hot beverage made of corn and spices), Christmas piñatas made with seven spikes to represent the seven deadly sins, games to play, and lots of noisy fireworks.

The Santiago family has their own way of celebrating that is unique to their family. On Christmas Eve everyone gets together at one of their houses; they take turns hosting each year. Each family brings a dish to contribute to the potluck-style feast. 

Maria Luisa described the Christmas Eve meal: “For dinner we make guajolote, which is like a turkey but a little bit smaller. We have the traditional drink called ponche, which is hot punch made with apples, guavas, hibiscus, cinnamon and natural sugar. And of course we have mezcal, it wouldn’t be a celebration without the mezcal! It is a very joyous party for everyone because all of the family comes together. There is not necessarily a gift exchange, what is more important is that we are all together. We dance, sing, and eat!”

We love the emphasis on togetherness that Maria Luisa describes, and getting to learn about the distinct celebrations for a familiar holiday. What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?

¡Feliz Navidad!

Zapotec Designs - Why they Matter

Zapotec Designs - Why they Matter

We were recently able to sit down with MZ artisan Maria Luisa at her home in Tlacochahuaya, a Zapotec village only a few miles away from Teotitlan. María Luisa, along with her husband Jose Luis, has been working with MZ from the very beginning. As we sat on her open patio looking over the Oaxacan countryside, we got to chat about the significance of the woven designs in her life, and in Zapotec culture in general.

Q: Can you explain the meaning behind the Zapotec designs and their significance in the culture?

ML: The majority of the Zapotec symbols are from the Zapotec ruins like the ones in Mitla, the ruins built into the church in Teotitlan, and in Monte Alban. Most tapetes (the tradition woven rug) have the same Zapotec symbols as found in those ruins, such as diamonds, arrows, agaves, butterflies etc.

Each design has a different meaning, for example, the border along many of the tapetes have the Mitla greca design of interlocking spirals, each spiral representing life and death. They are always connected. The diamond design symbolizes the eye of God. The arrows are representative of the corn flower; corn being extremely important to our people and thus the arrow is a very common design found in the tapetes. There are also symbols that represent butterflies, mountains and rain.

The symbols are the same across different Zapotec communities, and they are even similar to ancient Incan and Mayan symbols. This is because most indigenous cultures share a deep connection to nature, the trees, the birds, the mountains.

Q: Can you speak about how your family teaches the Zapotec designs to younger generations?

ML: When a child is just beginning to weave, the first thing that they learn is the ‘rain’ border. They start to learn how to work the loom with a simple design, and after they gain more experience with weaving, the designs become more complex. The spiral design we call a Mitla greca is difficult to weave but it’s one of the most important designs because it symbolizes the life cycle.  

Q: Do you have any memories about weaving when you were younger?

ML: Yes I have many memories. When we were little, our toys were spools of yarn, so even as babies we played with yarn, and started to identify the colors. My mom was always dying the wool and my dad always weaved. When I got big enough, I was able to press on the pedals and little by little I began to love and appreciate the process of weaving more. Our family was very close because as a weaver, out father was able to work from home. He was able to take breaks to play with all of us, and we were always together as a family. Weaving is work that unites a family because every person has a job and can work as a team.

Q: Can you identify which family made an item by its design?

ML: Yes, for example, our family always does the same design - the Mitla border, with the diamond and an arrow. We always weave the corn flower, the Mitla greca symbol, and the eye of god. Other families may weave similar designs, but there are differences in they way they are combined. The majority of weavers have not learned to combine colors like we combine colors in our family, and this makes our work distinctive.  

Q: Can you explain the significance of being able to share your Zapotec culture with people around the world?

ML: Sharing our Zapotec culture is really important and beautiful. Before, people didn’t value it as much. Now, people know that every piece of weaving holds the history of the village, the story of a family and their customs. We are so excited to see people use our bags outside of Mexico. My bags get to travel around the whole world! I get so excited to know I made something that people love and cherish. Since the symbols and designs are distinct, people all over the world can recognize that they are from Oaxaca, and that makes me very proud.

For us at MZ, we recognize the significant role that weaving plays in maintaining and celebrating the incredible Zapotec artisanal lineage. We believe it is essential that Zapotec communities are able to pass down the meaning behind the traditional Zapotec symbols and with it, their connections to their ancestors and the natural world.

It is our goal, through sharing Zapotec textiles with a wider market, to help make weaving a viable livelihood for the artisans, allowing them to continue to do this important work. And we couldn’t do this without conscious shoppers, who value handmade products and indigenous artisanal traditions. Thanks for being part of the MZ family!

Why Fair Trade?

Why Fair Trade?

October is Fair Trade Month, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to dig into what this widely-used term really means, and why this movement matters. 

Fair trade creates opportunities for producers in developing countries and allows consumers to have a relationship with the farmer or artisan. For producers, fair trade helps grow their businesses sustainably, share their products with  the global community, promote fair wages and safe working conditions, and generates support in their production process. We believe the benefits to the consumer are significant as well. 

MZ has been members of the Fair Trade Federation since 2013. The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) is an membership organization that promotes 360° fair trade within North America.  MZ’s founder and CEO Shelley Tennyson is a board member of the Fair Trade Federation. We got a chance to talk with her about the FTF and their mission and impact.

Q: Why is it so important to be fair trade verified and can you can speak to how the FTF’s vision of 360° Fair Trade is unique?

Shelley: MZ was originally founded with the intention of becoming a member of the Fair Trade Federation, because our mission is to provide economic opportunity for the artisans. It’s always been important for us to not only pay fair wages, but also to have everyone working with us feel like they are an important part of our company’s success. 360° is about looking at fair trade from every angle.

Q: Many people are aware of fair trade verifications but do not understand the full process, can you elaborate on the process of becoming fair trade certified?

Shelley: The application process is a very thorough vetting of each organization. The applicant must provide detailed answers to the many questions about all of the fair trade principles. The FTF staff, along with a committee of peer members, review each application and also check with several references, including the employees in the country of the organization.

Q: We hear a lot about how fair trade businesses are better for communities and consumers. In your opinion what is the greatest impact felt in the communities making fair trade verified products? What is the greatest impact for consumers of fair trade certified products?

Shelley: For the communities the impact is the realization that there are companies that actually care about their welfare and want to involve them in the company as fully participating and valuable employees. Most people we work with have not had this experience before and come to have more self respect. For the consumers, the products become “feel good” purchases that they can be proud of. Being able to trace who made your clothes or grew your coffee creates a consumer expectation of transparency, which can lead individuals to be more discerning of all their purchases. 

Q: MZ is a Fair Trade Federation Member, how has being a member affected the business?

Shelley: There are many consumers, both wholesale and retail, who have begun to look for products that are ethically sourced. FTF verification automatically gives us that status without question. We have also become part of an incredible community of organizations who truly support each other with joint marketing and valuable business operation information, not to mention sharing stories of both problems and successes.

Q: Being an FTF board member and the founder of a fair trade fashion brand, what shifts and improvements would you like to see in the global fashion industry?

Shelley: Of course I would love to see all brands become ethically sourced, and I think there is at least some awareness now from many brands to take a look at how their products are made, including wages and working conditions. But there won’t be a real shift until consumer demand makes it so. It will take a lot more publicity and consumer education to overcome the siren song of low prices and fast fashion. So far the shift is slow, but seems to be steady.

Q: How can individual consumers aid in pushing the fashion industry to be more ethical?

Shelley: Individual consumers must take the time to search out brands that are ethically sourced, and demand transparency from those who aren't open about their production practices. The Fair Trade Federation is a start, but we are small and mostly work with artisans in the “Global South” (south of Europe and the US). It would be great to see some larger process where brands of products made in factories could be certified to have decent wages and working conditions. I think the current millennial generation will begin to demand something like this, and hopefully soon! :)

Learn more about the FTF and why fair trade here. October is a great time to pay attention to where you are getting your goods from, and who that is supporting. But don’t let your intentional shopping habits die at the end of the month. Fair trade needs a consistent commitment from consumers to question brands about their practices and choose ethically made products. As the shopping frenzy of the holidays approaches, how can you shape your consumer habits to better match your values?