What comes to mind when you think about the clothing industry in Mexico? If NAFTA was anywhere near the top of the list, you may want to take a trip to Museo Jumex.
On Sunday afternoon, students were grouped at tables on the modern art museum’s sweeping balcony, painstakingly stitching approximations of traditional Otomí embroidery as part of a workshop coordinated through fashion designer Carla Fernández’s Jumex exhibit “The Barefoot Designer.”
The exhibition serves as a compelling introduction for those who aren’t acquainted with Fernández’s work, which revolves around partnerships with Mexico’s indigenous artisans. “Tradition is not static,” is one of the designer’s mottos, underlining her commitment to keeping ancient knowledge alive about textiles and the role they play in Mexican culture.
Instructor Enndy López knows the worth of the old ways. López is from the Hidalgo state Otomí community of El Nanthe, a town of less than 400 inhabitants where her mother began teaching her how to create traditional embroidery work when López was five years old. In Otomí towns, embroidery is a major source of families’ income.
López met Fernández in El Nanthe, and has been working with the designer for years.
One of López’s embroideries is currently hanging on the wall at Jumex as part of “The Barefoot Designer,” and she was tapped to lead the Otomí workshop along with Uriel Santiago García, another El Nanthe resident who has been embroidering since he was 10.
López couldn’t make it to the Jumex opening, but it was said she was thrilled that she had been credited for the work.
“That really impacted me,” she told The News about the fact her name hangs on the museum wall. “Carla didn’t hide my identity, she put my name on the work as an artisan.”
As labor costs rise in low-cost clothing industry competitor China, Mexico is once again seeing growth in the mass manufacturing of clothes. But there’s no denying that many smaller-scale designers take more inspiration from indigenous traditions than the factory line.
During the recent Mexico City Fashion Week, many designers made this clear by sending clothing down the run that were created in part by using indigenous traditions.
Though the Jumex exhibition celebrates the award-winning Fernández’s body of work and influence on Mexican fashion and design, the underlying focus on where her textiles came from is evident.
In addition to last weekend’s Otomí workshop, “The Barefoot Designer” is also hosting tutorials at Museo Jumex on Chiapan back-strap loom work, and the differences between indigenous and “tailored garments,” or those created through a manufacturing process. Mexican indigenous clothing is built geometrically to highlight the garment rather than the human body, and relies on sashes and ties rather than buttons.
“We want the students to come away valuing Mexican culture,” said Santiago García to The News, as he worked on the sketch for an embroidery design of symmetric birds. “That we not lose it to technology.”
For workshop participant Lilian Rivas, the exhibit and class highlighted the mysticism that is inherent in traditional ways of making clothing — a magic that she says Fernández’s work translates into urban culture. The Otomí workshop was one of several that Rivas is taking through “The Barefoot Designer” series.
“Embroidery is a state of meditation,” she told The News. “It’s about going back to our natural state, our communion with nature. This is never going to disappear.”
In addition to putting her work on display, López said she is thankful that people around the world learn about the value of her craft through the exhibition. The students of her workshop, even if they never sew another stitch of embroidery, now know what goes into creating the complex pieces.
“Carla teaches me that I shouldn’t undersell my work,” she said.