After a year of lockdown during the COVID19 pandemic, I decided to escape London and embark myself on a journey to the Mexican state of Chiapas. A state I have loved and supported since Koua was founded. I arrived with my friend and associate Paulina in San Cristobal de las Casas, a colourful town full of textile heritage and diversity. I contacted a local cooperative that I previously worked with and met them to discuss their ambitions and goals throughout the “new normal” conditions that resulted from the pandemic.
Paulina and I went to a local pub and surrounded by a cheerful local crowd, we became friends shortly after. We shared a couple of drinks and danced. That moment was followed by a peculiar enjoyment offered by the alluring travelling vibe of San Cris. One of them approached us, she was originally from Zinacantán and showed initiative to collaborate with the team. We talked for hours and she offered to take us to San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan to show us one some textile projects as well as the lifestyle her colleagues experience around their small workshops. We exchanged details and met again the day after. She took us first to Chamula, a peculiar place with a strong spiritual vibe where the native culture reigns. There, they have their own social rules and protective traditions, an issue often found around Mexican indigenous communities. It was amazing!
About the collection’s symbol
I visited a local coffee shop, one of my favourite workspaces in San Cristobal ‘Cafe Sarajevo’, where I met Marisol. She is a Mexican-French visual artist who lives in San Cris. We talked about the collection and I asked her to create the campaign’s logo. She did so and delivered it on a piece of recycled paper, in which she embroidered her design. I absolutely loved it. Was it the meaning? A woman symbol as a source of creation.
Meeting Familia González
We visited the village, they offered us what they had on the daily menu, a cup of coffee, beans and tortillas. This led us to their family and Catalina’s sister: Susana. I explained to Susana what I wanted to achieve and I was invited to their family home. There, Paulina and I developed the pieces together with the family, created samples and shared their beautiful family atmosphere. My visit lasted one and a half months, a few more weeks than we expected. Yet, it was fundamental for me to do so in order to understand the local challenges better.
I feel deeply grateful to Dona Pascuala for sharing her delicious food everyday with me: beans with cheese and homemade tortillas. Pascuala is Catalina and Susana’s mum, she only spoke Tzotzil, but the family translated her phrases to me. We used to laugh a lot together, I think most of the time they were laughing at me. They invited me to Jimena’s (Susana’s daughter) birthday party. I went there, we shared food, local traditions and I brought her a little piñata as a present. She loved it!
Catalina and Susana’s Challenges
Catalina’s childhood was a difficult one. Her mom gave her in adoption to her aunt where she used to live under domestic violence with consequences in her health that still need to be handled as well as on many social and professional aspects, but through empathy and compassion we managed to help her focus on her skills, rather than her childhood wounds. She told me her dream was to go back to school one day. The reason she stopped studying was to work because after her father passed away two years ago she needed to help her mom generate income to feed their siblings . I think she is a beautiful and inspiring young woman. Catalina is definitely the collection’s main character not only because of her beauty but her strength. Her and her sister Susana have been victims of domestic violence, in Susana’s story, she suffered abuse from her partner several times as many of the women in local towns. For women like them, it is important to stand up for the empowerment of women and Girls everywhere. That is what we at Koua aim for.
We are helping them to understand that certain behaviours such as alcoholism, misogyny and toxic relationships are deeply rooted within their communities, mostly because of social and environmental factors that prevail within generations. While visiting their family homes, we intended to listen without judgement and deeply understand their circumstances in order to create solutions for their sustainable development. Observing their social contrasts was key to ensure their community's protection. In our last session, we brought them food and drinks. One of the brothers played the bagpipe. They told me they felt very grateful for visiting their household because it had been a long time since all of them shared the table, they told me “because of you, we are united now, more than ever.”
They gave me the village’s local attire, a garment that I love and wear fondly to remember my beautiful Zinatantecan family. Dona Pascuala and I cried on my last day there. She believes that good people that arrive in her life and family home happen for a reason. I told them that I believe in them and I also think they are doing a fantastic job for their community and the world. I asked them to hold on to us and that I hope we preserve this collaboration and friendship for a long time.
Finding long term relationships
They also mentioned, on their goodbyes, that they used to collaborate with a brand they had an unpleasant experience with. They assigned a worker through a cooperative, which paid $20 pesos ($1 usd) for an hour of labour on a dress that took her 42 hours to make and they sell it for $16,000 mxn ($795 USD) which means 5% of the retail price. A brand that is on Fashion Week Mexico catwalk. The brand paid a cooperative, and the cooperative had to pay the artisans, yet the labour conditions were poorly established and Catalina hasn’t received her payment yet.
With this collection I want to encourage other brands to display their labour costs, especially those that promote their brand as ‘fairtrade’ or ‘handmade by artisans’, ‘ inspired by a certain community’ which nowadays sounds more like a fashion trend rather than something that is happening. I explained to Catalina and Susana why it is important to increase their prices and charge the real value of their work until I understood it was both sides' work. The consumer and the artisan.
'PASBIL' - WE ARE ALL CREATORS AND WE ALL DESERVED CREDITS AND FAIR PAYMENTS FOR OUR WORK.
Aiming for a better future
Recently, Zinacantan has been part of a difficult wave of insecurity, as the rest of the country. During my time there, I got to experience a violent conflict that propelled me back to the airport shortly after. I felt sad to witness that, just like I feel about many things that happen in my country. However, I think that it had to happen for a reason. And it was time for me to head back to London in order to put the good name of this family in the loop. I think things will get better, and giving this family access to this type of knowledge will improve their life conditions in the long run.
On our next blog posts, you’ll learn more about Koua’s values, our path to the women empowerment and our team's vision.