La Esencia is a collection of clothing created and designed by Colombian designer, Manuela Alvarez and 113 artisans from Boyaca and El Valle del Cauca. Alvarez’s new collection became a surprise edition to Colombiamoda beginning July 28th. With her designs, Manuela Alvarez desires to highlight the beauty and strength of women through her brand MAZ. Her pieces are high in value and are done through a process of social and ethical sustainability. In addition to the brands’ alliance with Moda Exito, MAZ decided to work with Artesanias de Colombia to develop a collection that would represent and accentuate the work of the country’s artisan communities.
The Bogota designer seeks to “return to the roots and the power of creation.”
Manuela Alvarez has been working with artisan developments since 2013 and in 2018 co-creating with indigenous artisan communities. MAZ achieved projects in Cundinamarca (traditional artisans), Narino (Los Pastos ethnic group), Putumayo (Kasma Indigenous), and Choco (Wounaan and Embera ethnic group). Alvarez explains,
“As a designer and young person, I realized that I not only have the responsibility, but also the obligation to have in my brand a platform of visibility for these communities that are often in very strong states of vulnerability. So, we changed the business model so that it was ethnically and socially sustainable.”
Here is a little insight on these indigenous groups: The Embera ethnic group trades their elaboration of handicrafts with beads, which in addition to being their main source of economic support, has a symbolic meaning that represents their beliefs and customs.
The Wounaan are recognized for their elaboration of baskets with the fiber of the Werregue palm, to which they apply natural dyes and are made by hand by women. These ethnic groups teach their craft from generation to generation not letting their ancestral traditions and beliefs become extinct. Their cultural symbols are not only vital in their culture, but are also represented in each ornament, like the symbols they paint in their bodies expressing their traditions and beliefs.
Las Chaquiras also became an art in the hands of these indigenous artisan communities. Chaquiras are a form of bead, a small decorative object with small holes for threading and stringing. They hold shapes like stones, pearls, bone, shells, glass, wood, and plastic.
There are theories on the birth of Las Chaquiras, some saying they have been on earth since the ancient mesopotamian era. Others dictate that the noble Egyptians gave them out as gifts in necklace form. However, it is also said that they arrived to America during the same time as the Spanish empire, them being the ones who introduced Las Chaquiras as goods to the indigenous groups.
Jenny Florez Bermudez, a technologist in business management and artisan from Cartago, Valle del Cauca, explains that this collection showcases the ancestral art of hand embroidery, which is why she looked for mothers who very the providers of their families, elderly adults, and women with disabilities to become part of the project. Each garment that you see in the new MAZ collection took six hours in terms of embroidering and assembling each piece. The project also helped artisans from cities in the north and center of the valley to make blouses, pants, jumpsuits, and skirts with techniques such as ‘pata e cabra’ a delicate art with flat cord that can easily take from two hours to fifteen days depending on the size of the garment.
Nelly Flechas, an artisan who refused to let the tradition of Macrame die (the art of knots) states,
“This collection came at a very important time for us because it implies a fair payment and recognition that other companies had not given us.”
La Esencia goes back to the fundamental, essential, and natural beauty of artisan handcraft. It showcases the history and the strength of our ancestors in each knot, in each embroidery technique used to create each garment. Each artisan technique expresses the hearts of the artisan community, their vivid expressions of the passion they have towards this art. They desire to show the world how much this art means to them and what they can do. A creative and inspirational art that has helped their families move forward for centuries.
Vanessa Campa is a Senior student at Florida International University majoring in English and minoring in Psychology. Vanessa grew up with a huge Latinx community in Miami, Fl where the majority of the population is Hispanic, and was raised by two amazing immigrant parents. She has a passion for art, photography, humanitarian issues, human rights issues, and telling stories that have an impact on shifting perspectives and educating audiences. She hopes to get into the journalism field to continue her love of storytelling. In her time with the Latina Republic, Vanessa wants to contribute to change the stereotypical narrative of her people and tell inspiring unrecognized stories that need to be brought to light.