MZ works with a core group of artisans who design our products and are empowered to lead other weavers in the execution of their designs. While the MZ network of weavers can be as large as 80 during high production times, these are the artisans who lead the creative process and manage production.
Malena + Hugo
When Malena was 10-years-old, her mother began teaching her to weave, starting with simple designs that later became more and more complex. She left school at age 14, which is not unusual for girls in her village, in order to help her family by working.
By age 15 she had fallen in love with her now-husband Hugo, who was 19 at the time. They swiftly married, and following custom, Malena moved in with Hugo Santiago and his family. They had their daughter Maya within the year.
Malena and Hugo have been with MZ since the beginning. They work together in a fluid, collaborative process that takes advantage of their skills and interests.
“By now, we work together really well,” said Malena, “Little by little we’ve figured out how to work as a team. For example, he will weave the tapetes, then I will sew that into a bag, and our kids will help out finishing and tagging the bags to complete an order.”
Malena reflects on the differences between her life and that of her daughter Maya, acknowledging the economic stability that has allowed her daughter to continue attending school and thus open her life up to opportunities that Malena couldn’t have imagined. Although Maya is studying tourism, she still helps out with the family business, primarily with cleaning and tagging the bags to help her parent complete an order.
“The advantage of weaving for work is being able to stay home with the family.” Hugo Sr. said. “Our goal is always focused on our children, that they can continue studying and graduate from the university.”
Hugo and Malena are offering their children opportunities that they never had. In just one generation, it’s incredible to see how much positive change they have generated. We are excited to see their family continue to thrive.
Antonia + Tomas
Antonia and Tomás live and work in a family compound along with Tomas’ parents and the families of two of his brothers. Life here centers on the extended family, and they very much value the support that this offers.
Antonia started out dyeing yarn for her other family members to weave and then more recently stepped up to design as well, with Tomás working by her side. Typically Antonia initiates the design process, Tomás weaves the samples; they tag team the entire process like that, until the product is tagged and shipped!
“When he completes a step, I take up the next one and so on. We share everything, including work, caring for the children and the house,” said Antonia.
The popularity of her bags and the money she earns from them directly correlates to the well being of her family, in particular the ability for her three children to further their education. Although Antonia only completed junior high, and Tomás high school, their eldest is now studying engineering at a university in Oaxaca City. Their younger daughter is attending high school with the help of a hearing aid, and her five-year-old boy goes to the local elementary school.
“I used to say, ‘Oh, I need a job, because my oldest daughter is going to go to the University. But I thought – where am I going to get a job so that she can go to college? And this job with MZ is an opportunity to have more continuous work,” she shared.
Antonia and Tomás say that adapting their designs and colors to the taste of the international market has been an exciting challenge. Considering how popular their designs have become in a very short period of time, we'd say that they are learning very fast!
Maria Luisa + Jose Luis
Maria Luisa comes from a family of four generations of weavers. She and her husband José Luis have two sons, the younger one in high school and the older one an accounting student at the University of Oaxaca.
Though Maria Luisa enjoys every part of the weaving process, it’s combining colors that really makes her artistic heart sing and her purses are studies in subtle and complementary color-blocking and traditional patterns.
José Luis didn’t begin to weave until he married Maria Luisa more than 20 years ago. One of 11 children in a farming family, he had learned to sew when he was a student in Veracruz. He does the stitching and leather finish work for Maria Luisa’s purses, with near-perfect seams and detailing. A heavy-duty sewing machine with industrial needles handles the heavy leather, but it’s his precision and eagle eye for detail that are the icing on the cake to his wife’s beautiful purses.
The family lives in Tlacochahuaya, a small town just a few miles away from Teotitlán del Valle, where most of the other MZ weavers live. The shop inside of their home is spotlessly clean and arranged with an eye for beauty, with purses hanging from a wooden rack and rugs, cosmetic bags, pillow covers and coin purses lined up neatly on tables.
“This work is very pleasing,” said Maria Luisa, “You weave practically your life into it. Each piece is just that, a stage … a piece of your life.”
Rocio + Omar
Rocío and Omar have a vibrant youthful energy, although they have shared over 25 years together. They met in middle school, in their town of Teotitlan del Valle, and became friends, although they did not start dating until they were university students.
Rocío learned the art of textile dyeing and weaving from her mother. At age six she was tasked with preparing the wool for the loom and eventually took on more advanced techniques. At 13 she began weaving in earnest and dedicated herself to the family business whenever she wasn’t in school. To this day, she credits her mother for motivating her to continue growing and improving in her work.
Rocío and Omar have two children. Their eldest daughter Ximena just turned 15 years old and Elí is 12. Jimena has began to learn the family business, just starting to do more advanced work on the loom. However, both the children help their mother, tying the knots on the ends of the weavings, helping to write names on tags, cleaning the bags before turning the order in. The parents say that their long-term goals are to make sure their children continue their studies and have more opportunities than they had. Ximena longs to travel to Japan, and Rocío shakes her head in disbelief, but with a smile - acknowledging that when she was her daughter's age, an idea like that was very much out of reach.
“Weaving is a beautiful and noble work that allows me to care for my kids but still fulfills my dream of being creative. It’s what I love to do,” she said.
Rocio is a true artist who loves the creativity of creating unique patterns and combining colors in new ways. She says that designing is her favorite part of the process and loves getting to see her idea become the final product.
“When I see a bag I designed I say, ‘Oh yes, that’s how I imagined it!’” she said with a bright smile, “It’s very cool.”
Josefina + Paco
Josefina is one of MZ’s original and most prolific bag designers. She is especially well known for her elegant “Straight as an Arrow” design that is one of our most popular bags.
Josefina is from a town called Tlacochahuaya, nearby to the town of Teotitlan, where she lives now with her husband Paco and their four children. Instead of growing up weaving as many of our artisans did, she comes from a farming family and didn’t begin to learn the craft until after she was married.
Josefina has been married to our Production Manager Paco for over 20 years. They met when they were both taking the bus into Oaxaca city every day, he to study, and she to work as secretary. They soon fell in love.
Josefina took to weaving very quickly, including dyeing the wool and designing the patterns. She has even become an accomplished seamstress. Now, she finishes bags for other weavers with her industrial sewing machine.
“I forget the world when I begin to dye the colors,” she said. “The colors are never the same and it’s interesting every time.”
Josefina and Paco are the parents of four children: Paco, Jessica, Porfirio and María José. Jessica just graduated from college, Porfirio from high school and will be starting pre-med studies in the fall, and little María Jose recently began elementary school. The whole family gives loving attention to son Paco,who is mentally challenged.
“Having a son with disabilities,” says Josefina, “has taught us unconditional love".
Santos + Benancia
Santos and Benancia run the family palm weaving business, along with the help of Santos’ parents, Antonio and Alicia, and occasionally their children, Carlos, Mirian, Marcos and Andrea as well.
The family is originally from the state of Guerrero, Mexico, but 25 years ago Santos moved with his parents and wife to Oaxaca.
Their small village in Guerrero had always been a community of palm weavers. In Santos’ generation, however, this artisanal skill was being lost, as it had ceased to become an effective means to make money. With cheap plastic bags and containers now readily available, locals had stopped buying and even making their own woven bags and baskets, and there was little tourism in the area to support their craft.
“Weaving had stayed in our minds,” said the grandmother Alicia, “so when we came to Oaxaca we continued the work.”
They weave with palma real, which according to Antonio, is the best palm in the region. It stands up well, doesn’t dry out or crack even in the heat.
The adults of the family weave bags from palma real and then Santos brings their wares out into the streets of Oaxaca to sell them. He points out that to have a permanent selling point such as a market stall is very expensive, and there’s stiff competition.
The children are too busy with school to help out much with the family business. Santos hopes they will continue studying and go on to have a profession, but palm weaving will always be there as well. Similarly to many of the artisans that we work with, Santos expressed that his desire for success in business is tied to his hopes for his children.
“My goals for the business are that my children can have more opportunities than I did,” he said. “We couldn’t afford for me to study beyond elementary school since I needed to work to help out the family. Now my children can.”
Isabel + Vicki
Isabel and Vicki are two of five siblings and along with their parents, the entire family is dedicated to the business of weaving. On any given afternoon, if you were to stop by and visit the family compound, which is located in quiet part of Teotitlan del Valle, you could find each family member focused on a different stage of their craft.
“It’s great work for us,” said Vicki of joining MZ, “because it’s certain we will get paid.”
Often the sisters, like their family members, will weave rugs with nothing more than the hope that they will be able to sell it. With a property situated far from the town center, and few other outlets for sales, a rug might sit for months or even years before finding a buyer. The cost of yarn, dyes and the [wo]man hours it takes to complete a piece, can be quite a large investment in comparison to the funds the family has on hand. MZ pays partially up front to help with those costs, and we guarantee to buy the pieces we request be made, so there is less personal investment and financial risk for the weaver.
“The design process isn’t too complicated. [MZ Design Coordinator] Sam says what colors she wants, offers feedback on the first set of samples, and then we finish them up,” said Isabel.
Their family is one of the few in the village who still work with natural dyes. For the Lujo collection, they created a beautiful pink and gray palette using the cochineal bug to create a dusty pink, and mixing natural tones of black and white wool together to create the gray.
“Dyeing takes a lot of time, and a lot of work,” she added, “Weaving is my favorite part of the process … playing with the colors.”
Not to over-romanticize weaving … it is hard work and like any art form, sales are challenging. However, in the comfort of the compound, on a hot afternoon with a slight breeze and sounds of looms working, the beauty of a family business that everyone can take pride in is a beautiful sight.
“The goal is to keep growing,” the two sisters told us.
Fernando has a long, wonderful history with leather. At the age of 10, in the central Mexican city of Guadalajara, he began working at his uncle’s leather shoe company. He was in charge of sewing the shoes. When he was older, he graduated to making bags and belts as well. He also began assisting in sales.
One day during a sales trip to Mazatlan, he succeeded in selling belts to a new customer. The customer asked him if they could make leather jackets too, and Fernando wrote an order right there on the spot.
When he got back to the shop he shared the exciting news with his uncle, only to be informed by his uncle that they don’t make jackets and wouldn't be starting anytime soon. This was the beginning of Fernando’s leather business!
Fernando now has a great team working with him at his workshop. A staff of five handles all the different steps of production, including sewing, cutting, adding decorations and hardware. They are a very dedicated team. One of his most trusted employees, Daniel, has been with him for 20 years.
Besides this life-long experience working with leather, Fernando studied industrial engineering and fashion design. His knowledge of leather and design is spectacular and MZ feels fortunate to work with him.
Ludivina + Faustino
Luduvina and Faustino work well together and value being able to spend their days together. Faustino focuses on designing the tapetes and figuring out what sizes they should be, while Ludivina is an expert dyer, and then they both weave on their side-by-side looms. Due to the ease and lower cost of aniline dyes, the majority of the weavers in the village have switched to using synthetic dyes, as opposed to the traditional dyes achieved from local plants, minerals and even insects. Ludivina and Faustino specialize in keeping the ancient knowledge of natural dyes alive, and the way Ludi creates a huge array of brilliant colors from all natural ingredients is truly incredible alchemy.
With three families living together, all related, there is never any lack of activity in the central courtyard. Often you will see someone preparing the cornmeal flour on the grinding stone (metate). Someone else might be grinding indigo dye on another metate, while someone else is playing with a baby. They are all relatives of Faustino, living in the home where he was born. Like most women in Teotitlan, Ludivina moved into Faustino’s home when they were married.
Ludivina and Faustino are working hard to achieve an ambitious goal they have been envisioning for a long time. They want to build their own home and move out of the family complex. This is a huge move, both financially and in terms of being a break from tradition. Over the past decades they have saved their money to buy a little plot of land nearer to the entrance to the town. Year by year, as money allowed, they built a workshop where they can sell their rugs to passersby. Now they are building additional rooms off the workshop, gradually making a home. Eventually, they will move to this property, and experience peace and quiet like they have never known before.
When asked whether they will be lonely with the new arrangement, Ludivina giggled and explained their plan for their sons (who are still single) to move in with them with their wives and families one day. They are creating a beautiful life for themselves and their sons through their vision, hard work, and dedication to their dreams.