The MZ Blog

Creating a Legacy

Creating a Legacy

We can't really discuss the creation of the latest MZ Casa line without reflecting on the significance of weaving in Zapotec culture. We caught up with MZ's Product Design Director Samantha Wattson to learn about the process of creating a modern product line while also honoring history and tradition. 

"The Legacy Collection was truly a blast to create," said MZ's Product Design  Director Samantha Wattson. "While we, as a brand, are new to the home decor industry, Teotítlan has centuries on us, and an inherent knowledge of everything rugsFor us, this new line is all about exploring how we express ourselves in a fresh way, within this ancient tradition."

The Legacy of Teotitlan del Valle is rugs. And yet ... so much more than just rugs. Long before the Spanish conquest, Zapotec weavers used plant fibers and back strap looms to weave rugs that bore sacred symbols. Rugs that portrayed the natural world around them and the divine forces behind it. 

When Franciscan missionaries came, they built a church out of the rubble of the decimated Zapotec temple. That church still stands in the center of Teotítlan today and some of the whitewashed walls have been stripped down to show those ancient symbols etched into stone.

The monks also brought with them sheep, and looms, and taught the Zapotec weavers how to card wool into yarn, and use the bi-peddle looms to create longer-lasting wool rugs. As before, the Zapotec weavers replicated their sacred designs into rug form, and have continued that tradition today, passing on the skill of weaving, and the significance of the symbols of their ancestors on, generation to generation. 

Today, many of the Manos Zapotecas products bear the same symbols that can be found on those stones in the church, that were once the walls of the Zapotec temple. Our work is a balance of honoring the Zapotec legacy, and introducing modern ideas to help translate those ancient designs into everyday life elsewhere. 

We pride ourselves on giving the bulk of the creative control to the artisans themselves, trusting in their artistic skill and weaving knowledge. However, we have introduced the concept of seasonal lines with a defined color palette, offer courses on design and color theory, and feedback on samples throughout production. We aim to utilize traditional handcrafted methods that are driven by modern design principles. 

"Each of the weavers have a different style and personality that comes through their designs," said Sam. "For this line, we wanted to create a very cohesive collection, with unique pieces that our customers could mix and match. To achieve this, we went back and forth, making changes to the colors or designs here and there. It was really exciting to see everything come together."

The Legacy Collection is characterized by warm earth tones in rich hues. It's combination of sand, ochre red, and sage green are reminiscent of the Oaxacan valley. The minimal designs and color combinations on each piece are unique, designed to be complementary, adding a cohesive yet varied dash of color and culture to your space.

"I wanted this line to be simple, something beautiful to add to your home that doesn’t dominate, but never goes unnoticed," she said. 

Quality products for modern living, that honor and celebrate the Zapotec tradition. That is our LegacyExplore the lookbook, and the entire collection. 

Indigo Collection: Inspiration + Creation

Indigo Collection: Inspiration + Creation

 

The Indigo Collection is the first Manos Zapotecas collection made from all natural dyes! While some of our bags are made from natural dyes or undyed wool, most weavers opt for alkaline dyes. These dyes are bold, consistent, less expensive and less labor intensive than their natural counterparts. With that said, natural dyes are desirable due to the rich tradition and natural tones they provide, the expertise needed to use them correctly, and their gentle impact on the earth. 

Last winter, a Swedish textile design student came to Oaxaca to intern with MZ. Miriam Parkman pitched the concept for the Indigo Collection, and together with the support of MZ's Product Design Director Samantha Wattson, worked with master weavers Ludivina and Faustino to produce the line. 

We caught up with Miriam back in Sweden to learn more about her inspiration and production process. You can learn more about her on her website or follow along on her adventures via her Instagram account: @miriamethel.

MZ: Can you briefly explain what drew you to Oaxaca, and Manos Zapotecas?

Miriam: I was in my my final year as a design student and deciding where to go for a final internship. One day a friend of mine in tagged me in one of the Manos Zapotecas Instagram posts saying something like, "Miriam, you would like this!" I remember I took one look at the website and thought to myself, "Here it is!"

The style of the MZ products, and more importantly, the fair trade practices to craft for modern sustainable consumption was exactly what I wanted to learn more about. I knew I had to apply for an internship and I wouldn't take no for an answer!

 Please share what inspired you to work with indigo? 

When I first came to Teotitlán del Valle I saw these big signs advertising each family's weaving business, and most of them said "colores naturales," including cochineal and indigo. I wondered why there wasn't more natural dyes utilized in MZ products, as natural dyes had become all the rage back in Sweden. 

I was inspired by Instagram accounts such as @blockshoptextilesla and @avfkw who were dyeing, printing and decorating with indigo.

I also noticed that shibori - the Japanese indigo dyeing technique - was quite popular. The folding and dying methods of shibori result in symmetrical patterns that reminded me of the geometrical symmetry of the Zapotec weaving designs. When I realized the weavers in Teotitlán possess the ancient knowledge of dying with indigo, it all came together for me.

I thought about the winter that was beginning at home while I was still in the hot Oaxacan sun, and how the deep, rich indigo blue together with a crisp natural white reminded me of both freezing winter days with clear blue skies and bright white snow, as well as the clear blue ocean and white beaches I had visited on the Oaxacan coast. To add a new look for the MZ products I wanted to add natural tan leather; as the natural indigo dye will fade into amazing lighter hues during it's life, tan leather will darken with age. Yet again, it seemed like a perfect match.  

Who did you collaborate with on this project and why?

I worked with Ludivina and Faustino - a couple who run a studio and shop right by main road of Teotitlán. They are both master weavers and dyers and I felt very fortunate to be able to learn from them. Ludivina had an expertise in handling the tricky indigo pigment and it's dyeing process. It is a knowledge passed down from generations. 

Samantha suggested that they would be the best match for this project - I think she knew they were the sort of artists who stay curious and appreciate new inspiration. 

Please share the production process of creating the Indigo Collection.  

At first it was not very easy, I can tell you that! I felt very nervous for coming across as stupid, both for not speaking fluent Spanish and for being half their age, coming from a completely different country with an idea of what they should weave. We started by discussing possible products and measurements of what should be in the collection. They often looked suspiciously at me and always talked to each other in Zapotec before replying to me in Spanish. I focused on addressing them in the formal "usted" instead of the common "tú" and it was all pretty stiff, haha! But slowly we both relaxed I think and saw what we actually could create together.

Showing some of my weaving samples that I had brought with me from Sweden also broke some ice! I started by making a mood board and simple sketches. Ludivina had drawn some design sketches as well and together we picked what would suit this collection.

Ludivina started a natural indigo bath with the help of wood ash (alkaline) which then rested and developed for about a week. The indigo pigment isn't solualbe in water, so that's why you first have to make a "base bath" that makes it "open up". Then you add that base bath to your actual dye bath, with something to help the PH-level right; in this case lots of lime juice (acid). I loved the scene in Ludivinas dye kitchen, where a big pot were heating up over fire, with a molcajete on the side full of ground indigo pigment, and then a big traditional juice presser and a basket full of limes! It was quite a privilege to experience Ludivina's expertise in this; we wanted a light blue, a mid blue and a dark, rich blue for the collection and she knew just how to obtain these exacts hues.

 

When you dye something in indigo, you have to dip it in the bath for a certain time, then take it up: it will first look grey or green, but when it interacts with air (oxygen) the blue color slowly starts appearing in a magic way. To get darker colors you have to make A LOT of dips! Ludivina knew exactly for how long to dip and for how long to let it develop in the air, if we should dip again or if it was finished. By the end of the day, we had a bunch of skeins all looking equally grey. She pointed at them and said "that's going to be light tomorrow, that one mid, and that one dark blue." It was hard to believe but the day after that, they were! I was very impressed.  

 

I started weaving on a striped tapete + cushion, inspired by both the Mexican Sarape's as well as the traditional Swedish "rag rug". I was very excited to start weaving and enjoyed every day of standing outside by the loom, feeling the sun and breeze around me, with Ludivina beside me, weaving on the tapete I had designed In just three weeks we managed to make samples for almost the whole collection and I left Ludivina's and Faustino's house feeling anything but nervous - I was very happy about what we had created and I knew I would miss laughing with Ludivina and listening to Faustino's Banda music on the radio!

 

Conscious Closet - 5 Ways to Build an Ethical Fall Wardrobe

Conscious Closet - 5 Ways to Build an Ethical Fall Wardrobe

Cold weather is here, and with it, fashion's favorite season. Nothing like autumn's cozy layers and boots to get you re-inspired about your wardrobe. We've rounded up some fall staples from a few of our favorite ethical brands to aid you in building your conscious closet. 

For our fantasy fall wardrobe, we selected for quality over quantity. We are inspired by the concept of a capsule wardrobe, although we don't adhere to it strictly.

Here are five tips for how to mindfully explore your passion for fashion:

1. TAKE STOCK OF WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE. Which pieces from seasons past can be worn again? Most knit sweater (if well made!) can be worn for years, as can jackets.This is a great time to clean and organize, dust the proverbial cobwebs off your winter wear, and put away strictly summer pieces. 

2. CONSIDER WHAT YOU NEED. Instead of heading out blindly on a seasonal shopping spree or spending hours getting lost online, spend some time with your freshly-sorted closet and make a short list of key pieces you want to upgrade. 

Well-worn items, such as boots or jeans, might need replacements, as well as that statement dress or blouse that you're wearing in every photo from last year. 

3. RESEARCH BRANDS. While this may sound like it takes the fun out of shopping, in actuality it looks a lot like shopping online, except you click the "ABOUT" page too. Pro Tip: if a brand doesn't mention having sustainable or ethical business practices, it almost certainly doesn't.

Try to dig a little deeper than just accepting ethical fashion buzzwords at face value  ... if a brand says they're "sustainable" but don't mention HOW, you might be wise to scrutinize further.

There are also great sustainable shopping guides that take the guesswork out of the equation, such as EcoCult and Sustainably Chic.

4. BUY LESS, CHOOSE WELL. Ethical brands often have a higher price tag BUT quality pieces will last for seasons to come. If you select for pieces you truly need, and opt for high quality staples that pair well with the other pieces in your closet, you can create countless looks with less. 

5. MAKE IT LAST. Care for your new pieces, and they will care for you. In Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she illustrates a way to treat your personal belonging with mindfulness and care, in order to extend their life and perhaps even bring you joy. You are more likely to do this if you've accomplished #4.

Opt for hand-washing, or at least eliminating the dryer, to give fibers a longer life. Hang up your clothes with care instead of letting them lie crumpled on the floor, and appreciate yourself in them as you get dressed. If an item gets damaged, take time to mend it, and think about the hands who made the garment as you do so. Take that moment to see yourself a part of chain of human hands who have created something useful and beautiful, and acted as a force for something good.

Here is some inspiration to help you with #3. 

1. Dorfman Pacific Gaucho Hat by Reformation 

2. Elsie Body Suit by YSTR

3. Split Moon Ring by Soko

4. Oversized Reversible Alpaca Cardigan by Cuyana

5. Clyde Work Pant by Elizabeth Suzanne 

6. Fez Top by Reformation 

7. Cosette Dress by Amour Vert

8. Brass Hair Pin by Favor 

9. Ring Neck Warmer by Emilime

10. Renata Silk Blouse Amour Vert

11. The Jacket in Merly Wash by Fashionable 

12. Flutter Lupita Clutch by Manos Zapotecas

13. Stretch Flood Jean by Reformation

14. Dreamer Antonia Market Tote by Manos Zapotecas

15. Floral Lana Bamboo Bodysuit by Azura Bay

16. The Joy Bootie by Amour Vert