Producer Spotlight: Manos Zapotecas

Posted on September 05, 2013 by Jenna Valdespino | 1 Comment

We're excited to introduce Manos Zapotecas, Lydali's newest artisan partner and the first we've worked with in Mexico. Their striking bags are both hand-dyed and hand-woven by weavers in Oaxaca, Mexico, and we're excited to have them as part of our fall collection. 

Teotitlan del Valle, a small Mexican village outside of Oaxaca, is home to a firmly rooted authentic ancient culture. The doorways of adobe and brick family homes display patterns, shapes, and colors of the Zapotec people. And catching a glance inside one of these homes, one would find even the youngest weavers using the 500-year-old techniques and processes of their ancestors – employing large treadle looms, surveying endless varieties of colorful yarn, dyeing wool, and ultimately producing woven pieces that are both traditional and one of a kind.

This family tradition, however, is threatened. With a major rise in violence and a decline in tourism, weavers are forced to sell their pieces for a fraction of the initial price in order to make any money at all. The market for woven goods in Mexico is vanishing.

Shelley Tennyson, the founder of Manos Zapotecas, recognized this trend while volunteering with a group of female weavers in the village. The dwindling Mexican market and lack of buyers were forcing many weavers into poverty and away from their rich tradition. Witnessing these effects firsthand, Tennyson wanted to help.

Her solution? Bring the handmade products to the states and break open new markets with Manos Zapotecas– a way for the weavers of Teotitlan to share their work with the world.

With that in mind, Tennyson set out to preserve the culture of the Zapotec people, improve their communities, and foster their livelihoods by committing to fair trade prices for their products.

While Zapotec weavers traditionally made only rugs, the company produces and carries much more than that. With charming purses, luggage, backpacks, pillow covers, and even laptop sleeves, Manos Zapotecas is embracing the ancient techniques and adding a modern twist.

Liz Moffett, the company’s web operations manger, especially appreciates this combination. “Many of the designs you see on our products are traditional designs that date by to pre-conquest ruins,” she said. “It just makes me smile to know that their tradition can join with modern products and accessories to make something eye-catching and fabulous.”

Moffett said the weavers also enjoy the challenge of creating these new products, which allow for more creativity with Zapotec designs.

“The weavers are always so excited about trying new things and are involved in every step of the new product process,” she said. “They have so many wonderful ideas that are augmented by our research here in the states.”

Mixing today’s trends and ancient culture is no easy task, however. Cultural differences, such as color pairings, can create challenges for the groups of Manos Zapotecas that work together. While bright yellow, red, and lime green work together as a very popular color scheme in Teotitlan, that combination doesn’t work as well in the United States, where consumers are currently into mixes such as mint, cream, and coral. The same bag may need completely different colors depending on where it will potentially be sold.

“Popular color schemes in Mexico and the United States could not be more different,” Moffett said. “It's really strange to think in our globalized world that something as simple as what three colors look great together could be so different. But it makes me smile that there is still that difference out there– that we haven't yet reached a worldwide culture and that places and people are still different.”

In Mexico, Manos Zapotecas has found a partner in Francisco “Paco” Santiago Bautista, an Oaxaca, Mexico native of Zapotec descent. Living in an active weaving community in Teotitlan and working to perfect his English, Paco coordinates and ships all orders to their foreign destinations. He also brings true authenticity to Manos Zapotecas, as a fourth-generation weaver who is now passing the cultural tradition down to his own children, as many Zapotec people do.

Because the company works with many families that don’t have phones, computers, or Internet access, Paco plays an important role as communicator in Teotitlan when other Manos Zapotecas employees aren’t in Mexico.

As the company strives for conscious consumerism and a sustainable living for the proud weavers of this Mexican village, Manos Zapotecas is also providing beautiful, authentic, handmade items for those who are unable to make their way to Oaxaca for a one-of-a-kind iPad case with an intricate Zapotec design.

“We hope,” Liz said, “that by making these amazing weavings available on a larger scale, the tradition will be able to continue in the village for generations to come.”

Lydali now carries five different tribal wool clutches from Manos Zapotecas that are handwoven and sewn by Paco and his wife Josefina in Teotitlan. You can find them in our shop here.

Posted in Liz Moffett, Manos Zapotecas, mexico, producer, producer spotlight, tribal wool clutch, weaver

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Rossana Vargas
Rossana Vargas

September 05, 2013


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