A Kind Voice radio interviews our founder, Adele Hammond, about social entrepreneurship, fair trade, and what it takes to create handcrafted apparel and accessories for women in Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico.
It is an interesting conundrum building a business in a world where seasonal colors, tight delivery deadlines and demanding standards for consistency collide with the alternate reality of tradition and rural life of indigenous artisans ofand .
As Abrazo Style grows we have confronted challenges that would make any ordinary fashioncompany lock their doors and throw away the key. After all, it would be so much easier to just go to to produce a that would have convincing embroidery, consistency, and proper sizing. But for anyone who knows what we do, the process, the mission, and the result are intimately tied together.
Since my last post, we have taken on several very largewhose names I don’t think I’m allowed to mention. One of them understands our mission and has been absolutely amazing in their patience while we “figured out” how to adapt the handmade blouse they chose for their catalog into a “production” blouse with 4 sizes and a consistent embroidery design. How hard could that be, right? Well, pretty hard, as it turns out. A different customer chose one of our totes for their high end apparel and accessories line and we were faced with reproducing EXACT designs for them on a very tight deadline. Fortunately, we were successful and the tote even made it into this month’s .
As you might guess, Abrazo is evolving. Though our passion remains traveling the backroads ofto discover the one-of-a-kind treasures our customers love, we are also inspired to reinvent tradition with an updated process and a line of clothing that is machine sewn, hand , and designed in 4 sizes for bodies. So far, the ladies in Oaxaca and Chiapas love it and so do our US customers.
Our process may be evolving but women still work in their homes and their lives remain fundamentally the same with the exception that they are becoming more economically stable.
We, along with our artisans are challenged to make intimidating and unfamiliar changes in the future in order to grow, but so far we are making good progress (with the exception of some occasional VERY large bumps in the road ;-).
Straddling two worlds, centuries apart, with a shared goal of success requires perserverance and above all, a great sense of humor.
Lots of things going on at Abrazo these days! We will update soon on our progress with our work in Oaxaca and Chiapas but in the meantime, a carrot….. If you’ve ever traveled in Oaxaca, the Yucatan or Chiapas, you are familiar with the strange fruits, odd trees and crafts that are unique to this region. Author Svetlana Aleksandroff of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, has recently produced a visual delight of a book that identifies and celebrates the flora, legend and craft of the Mayan culture. “Plants in the Mayan Culture” covers everything from coconuts to incense burners in its richly designed pages, walking the reader through the use and traditions surrounding plants in the region of the Maya. Don’t look for literature but enjoy the visual feast. Check for availability in the US on their FB page: http://www.facebook.com/plantsinthemayanculture
If you read this blog you are familiar with my stories of the challenges involved in doing business in a foreign culture, especially in a developing country. Communication with the indigenous artisans we
work with is often fraught with misunderstandings and assumptions about time, quality standards, commitment, and trust. The results are often comical, and in the end, we almost always compromise and move on with faith that we are all learning.
However, there’s another ongoing, rather curious challenge: our quest for new information and people’s willingness to share it.
Question: “Have you seen this blouse before?”
Answer: “I couldn’t say.”
Question: “We were told Rosita Ortiz made it. Do you know her?”
Answer: “Ah, I don’t know.”
Question: Do you know anyone who could help us find her?”
Or: “Have you seen this fabric before?”
Question: “Do you know where we can buy this fabric?”
Answer: “No idea.”
And so it goes.
In general, the artisans we work with in Oaxaca and Chiapas communicate well with us in all matters concerning the work we do together except when it comes to sourcing materials or the maker of a new product we have discovered. Of course, this complicates our work immensely, as one cannot just pick up the yellow pages or Google the things we need in these rural areas. So we spend weeks tracking down the meager scraps of information we are provided, only to find, for example, that Rosita, the woman who made the blouse, is the sister-in-law of the person we originally asked, and the new fabric we are searching for is being sold only a block away behind an unmarked door.
I realized, eventually, that these roadblocks and detours are created in the interest of job security. They are driven by the understandable fear that comes from generations of poverty and the insecurity of not knowing what tomorrow may bring.
We have learned to respect this, and to expect the extra time it takes to earn the trust of the people whose skills we value highly. Working together, we can create more long-term opportunities for everyone.