The Heritage Collection: Inspiration & Process
Ana Cris is our bright and talented Oaxaca-based Design & Production manager, who has been with MZ for almost a year now. She has completely reworked our design process, and helped bring in fresh ideas while honoring the traditional Zapotec process and designs that our artisan partners are accustomed to. We caught up with her to learn about developing the Spring/Summer 2020 Heritage Collection, in close collaboration with the artisans.
What was the inspiration behind and the line and how does that affect the color palette and designs?
While Zapotec culture is always present in the inspiration for the designs, for this line we pulled all of our inspiration for the patterns and the color palette from the Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle, where the majority of the artisans live.
At the initial meeting with the artisans to plan the SS20 Collection, I shared this concept with them and they were thrilled to have their culture represented in such a strong way. We began to talk about the customs and traditions within the town. During the year they have several patron saint festivals and hold multi-day celebrations. There is special food, music, dance performances and tributes.
In visiting the community museum, I was able to see visual representations of the traditions the artisans had described. From woven clothing, to plumed headdresses, rugs, traditional foods, and even the local church and ancient Zapotec stones … I was able to take in and synthesize the significance of this culture and all the colors. From this, the palette for the SS20 collection emerged.
What is different or unique about this collection compared to others?
This is the second collection I’ve produced with MZ, and there were many changes and progress made compared to the last one. I loved being able to base the line on the cultural context of Teotitlán which helped us get on the same page.
When we did the first color samples on the wool, they knew the colors we wanted to achieve perfectly because those colors are in their daily life, within their context. When we put all the color samples together, the mixes and the color contrasts they generated were very harmonious.
The way of developing the designs was also very different this time around. For this line, we decided to work with designs and patterns that they had already developed for previous collections, and that had been popular with customers. We gave them a second life through using the new SS20 colors and arranging them in a different way.
Each artisan has a favorite pattern and design; those that are easier for them or that are more entertaining to weave. Among them, they decided which models to make according to their preference. It was a very practical and stress-free method, as each artisan focused on the models they liked the most.
What does the collaborative process look like between you and the artisans?
I really enjoy working with them. I think the biggest challenge is translating ideas and colors from the computer to dyed wool. It’s easy and fast to change and adjust colors on the computer, but when I print them they will always change. It’s difficult to even use color names that the artisans can relate to. For example, sometimes I see pink, and an artisan will see brown. So we began a process of renaming colors together, so we can better understand each other.
We ended up making up new color names like: tejate (a local drink made from corn and cacao) for beige, agave (the plants which grown wild around the town) for mint green, mostaza (mustard) to clarify what type of yellow, mar (the sea) for a specific blue, or any concept that helped us have the same idea in mind for the color; the process is actually a lot of fun!
Are there any specific challenges or things that felt rewarding while working on this collection?
The COVID-19 crisis definitely has been a huge challenge in how I can continue working with the artisans. Thankfully, this line managed to get completed, shipped, and photographed before everything got complicated in Mexico. However, at times we thought that production might have to be canceled and that would be really tragic for everyone, but especially for the artisans.
The economy is beginning to destabilize here, as in much of the world, due to the virus, and the people who are going to suffer the most are the small businesses and individual entrepreneurs, like our artisans. After several heavy meetings and decisions, we decided to continue, with new rules and practices in place for the health and safety of our whole team. I'm very grateful that MZ did not give up due to the global crisis. It has been complicated and likely will continue to be complicated for a few months at least, but it’s at these times when we have to support each other more. And knowing that we are doing all we can is the most rewarding thing of all.
We are thrilled to share the Heritage Collection with you. Inspired by the Zapotec culture and brought to life by our hardworking team. We hope you’ll find these bags perfect for the spring, as well as for seasons to come.