Category Archives: About Latin Threads Trading Co.

An Inside Look with Adele Hammond: Embracing Contemporary Style and Handcrafted Traditions

An Inside Look with Adele Hammond: Embracing Contemporary Style and Handcrafted Traditions.

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Filed under About Abrazo Style, About Latin Threads Trading Co., Chiapas, embroidery, Fair Trade, Indigenous Culture, Indigenous Mexican women, Living Abroad, Living in Mexico, Mexican blouses, Mexican textiles, Mexico, Oaxaca, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Textiles Oaxaca, travel/shopping in Mexico, Women Artisans

A Radical Shift Toward the Future

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Chiapan women showing their handiwork for Abrazo Style

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Catalog images of finished piece.

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 of Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico.

As Abrazo Style grows we have confronted challenges that would make any ordinary fashion apparel company lock their doors and throw away the key. After all, it would be so much easier to just go to China to produce a blouse 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 large customers whose 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 InStyle magazine.

As you might guess, Abrazo is evolving. Though our passion remains traveling the backroads of Mexico to 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 embroidered, and designed in 4 sizes for American 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.

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The Embroidered Box

The simple and beautiful Rococo-tee blouse, before modifying it.

A couple of weeks ago, Celina, my assistant in Oaxaca, informed me that a shipment of blouses we had been waiting for from Chiapas, Mexico had arrived. This was exciting for two reasons:

First, the women who make them live in a very remote pueblo where there are no phones and so our contact with them is difficult.

Second, we had asked them to make the blouses in a special way for us.

By “special” I mean we asked for them to NOT sew certain parts of the blouses together. I know that sounds odd but we

The possibilities are endless for what we can do with a diamond in the rough....

had been having such challenges with consistency in the construction of the blouses that we had decided it would be easier to finish them in Oaxaca with women we trained.

So, these blouses were to have the basic box shape, neck hole, and embroidered front with  sides unsewn. Well, the blouses did come in as we had ordered with a little “bonus”…..what looked to be a large bite taken out of the sides of each blouse (maybe done with a knife?). When asked, it turns out they were trying to “help” us in determining where to stitch the arm hole…..sigh…..

That little added “detail” to the blouse altered the way we had to finish it, but in the end, we came up with something beautiful.

Consistency in sizing and patterning remains a huge challenge in these regions. In reality, these concepts are very foreign to indigenous artisans in Oaxaca and Chiapas, which seems especially odd considering how textile traditions have dominated these cultures for centuries.

So, we take the hard part out of the equation and deliver blouses that are sized and well adapted to our American bodies for them to embroider. Easy, RIGHT?

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Filed under About Latin Threads Trading Co., Chiapas, embroidery, Fair Trade, Indigenous Culture, Indigenous Mexican women, Mexican blouses, Mexican textiles, Mexico, Oaxaca, Textiles Oaxaca, WBTW, Women Artisans

In Pursuit of the Holy Grail….Information

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

Catalina delivering blouses from her village.

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?”

Answer: “No”

Or: “Have you seen this fabric before?”

Answer: “Maybe.”

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.

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Thanks for a Great Year From All of Us!

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Happy New Year to our friends and supporters of ABRAZOstyle/ Latin Threads! As the year closes we’d like to thank you for your ongoing interest in our work in Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico and give you a short update of what we’ve been up to.

My blogs have been painfully few his last year due to all the attention we have been giving to creating a market for our artisans’ work here in the States, but I will endeavor to post more in the coming year…A good New Year resolution, I’d say!

We are very excited to report that we’ve had a fantastic year with very positive growth in the company and in our circle of  artisans.  Our hand crafted , socially responsible clothing and accessories for the worldly woman are now found in boutiques, specialty gift stores, museum stores, high end garden stores, and even zoos on the west coast, parts of the southwest, the midwest and east coast,  but there is still much to be done!

Plans for 2012 include continued growth in the communities we work with in Mexico as well as expanding into larger markets in the US.

The embroidery classes we started in October in our village of San Pablo Etla, Oaxaca have been going extraordinarily well. (See pictures) The group is now up to a maximum size of 15 members with our most advanced students producing hugely improved, beautiful work. Thank you Ayuda (the NGO sponsoring the classes). In the coming year we will be working with the women to help them to create their own designs and products to market through ABRAZO in the States.

We are also continuing to expand our work with families of women in small villages in the highlands of Chiapas.  Look for some their new and traditional blouses this spring on our web site along with new designs and colors in our totes and scarves. Lots of surprises coming!

We appreciate your sharing what we do with others and, as always, we welcome your comments and suggestions!

If you are interested in following us on Facebook, just click on this link and you’ll get the latest updates as they happen!

http://on.fb.me/kgQvzE

Thank you once again for your interest and encouragement. Abrazos (hugs) from all of us and best wishes for a bright and successful year!

Adele and the ABRAZOstyle Team

Oh, I almost forgot. If you are interested in joining us in Oaxaca this year on a socially responsible shopping tour, please let us know.

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The Practice of Stitches, Patience, and Cooperation

The first meeting of the group.

Several months ago, with the support of a small non profit group called AYUDA, the ladies of San Pablo Etla began embroidery classes. It was their decision. The non profit asked me what the group needed and I had my own idea. I thought it would be fantastic for the women to learn to sew on sewing machines and to create clothing (as well as embroidery) to sell. More skills, more income, right? Well, I was pretty off base. When my assistant, Celina, and I had a meeting with the group to discuss the modest funding AYUDA was offering, I gave them my suggestion of what we could do with the money. They nervously looked at one another until one of them spoke up. “What we really want to is to be the best ‘bordadoras’

Abigail, Marta's daughter, joins in the class for fun.

“(embroiderers). They said they “had so much to learn” and wanted to improve upon the skills they were building. Only later would it come out that they were also intimidated to take this on for fear of failure.

What has transpired over the past months has been very interesting. The teacher for the group (a young and very congenial local woman) who has an impressive repertoire of stitches, started the group on some of the more difficult stitches (at their request) and they are moving through them with great enthusiasm. Of the 8 or so women we started with, several have dropped out due to jealousy and envy (a common theme in my blog), but others have made remarkable improvement and are now taking on more difficult embroidery projects. Though their work is not yet at the level of the women of Chiapas who have embroidered for generations*, they are developing a beautiful, consistent style which we will be introducing online this spring in our new beach cover up.

Word has it that a few of the women are interested in trying the sewing machine now but they remain intimidated by the machine and are afraid of breaking it. We will see what develops on this front.The challenge remains to continue to supply these women with work so that they can continue to develop their skills and provide for their families.

On a parting note, Marta, our star of San Pablo, actually paid for the addition of a bedroom to their home from the money she earned embroidering. Humble though it may be (made from corrugated metal with a dirt floor), the pride in her face was obvious when she showed us around. Of course, for fear of shaming her husband, she didn’t mention who paid for it. Celina just whispered the great news to me as we were leaving.

*In fact, a number of the families we work with in Chiapas actually have 4 generations of women sewing in the family.

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Huipiles and Whirlwinds

It has been awhile and there is much to catch up on with stories of our travels, the evolution of Latin Threads into our new brand, ABRAZOstyle, and of course, updates on our artisans! As we are busier now than ever, I’m afraid I have fallen behind with sharing our journey, my apologies. Please indulge me for a few more weeks, until the holidays, and I will catch up with more news.

Meanwhile, for those of you interested in learning more about the history of the huipil, here is a short description for you. If you are curious to learn more, below I’ve included a link to a fabulous new book about the textiles of the Chiapan highlands. A smaller version of the book with be coming out on Amazon around January.

Hasta pronto!
Adele

The huipil, a pre-columbian garment pervasive in Mezo America, can best be described as the canvas on which the wearer weaves her or his identity. It is a simple garment made from rectangular pieces of fabric woven on a back-strap loom, which are then folded in half and stitched together with a hole in the middle. Simple in construction but complex in its symbolism, each huipil portrays the celebration of daily life, honors the earth, the gods, the saints, and is a unique and personal statement about its maker. One can determine where the wearer is from, their marital status and even their religious beliefs at a glance.
The tradition of the huipil has been passed from generation to generation, with periods of great artistic flowering, as well as periods when the tradition was at risk of being lost forever. Today, the Mayan textile culture continues to thrive. Styles, colors, and techniques continue to evolve despite the move toward modernity that is ever more prevalent in villages throughout Chiapas and elsewhere in the Mayan world.

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Rosita threading her back-strap loom in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

– https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B0f-9JoAPGuCNDNlMTYyMDItYTYwNC00MzViLWIyMDAtODU0YzYyZWQ4Y2M0&hl=en_US <https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B0f-9JoAPGuCNDNlMTYyMDItYTYwNC00MzViLWIyMDAtODU0YzYyZWQ4Y2M0&hl=en_US>

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