MZ Fair Trade
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.”
Their eldest daughter Maya is 20 years old and in the second year at the University. She studies administration with a focus on tourism business. Tourism is a huge industry in Oaxaca, and one to which their family was completely dependent on prior to working with MZ. The Santiago family are artisans who sell their weavings to tourists that visit Teotitlan del Valle. When a season is slow for a myriad of reasons, income can be few and far between. Through working with MZ, they have sustained work and access to a new, unsaturated market, one that is not susceptible to local instability.
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.
Hugo Jr, their second child, is 15 years old and attends a specialized high school that focuses on preparing students for a career in tourism, like his older sister. In order to attend this school he travels into Oaxaca city everyday by bus, beginning his school day at 11 AM and travelling home at 8 PM. In the mornings, when he isn't studying, he will help out his parents in the family business.
“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.
The purpose of MZ (formerly Manos Zapotecas) is to perpetuate the beautiful traditions of the Zapotec artisans by connecting them with socially conscious consumers around the globe.
In 2009, MZ founder Shelley Tennyson was volunteering with a microfinance non-profit in the small Zapotec village of Teotitlán del Valle in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. She was offering business classes to the female loan recipients, many of whom were weavers. Shelley realized that no matter how exquisite the product, or how savvy their business skills, without buyers, these hardworking and skilled artisans were not able to support themselves or their families adequately.
Three years later, MZ was born out of a belief that commerce can, and should, change lives for the better. What began as a wild idea to sell Zapotec bags globally, in a village where most of the women had never even left the state, has grown into a fair trade fashion brand run by a team of five women in the US that supports over 50 weavers in Oaxaca.
MZ strives to make a positive impact on the lives and communities of the artisans, by nurturing lasting relationships and always abiding by fair trade principles. Their designers work closely with the weavers to incorporate traditional handwoven tribal designs with modern styles, the results of which are beautiful, expertly crafted and unique bags.
Each MZ bag holds an element of discovery. From the significance of the Zapotec designs, to the bold color combinations, and most importantly, the distinct story of the artisan who wove it.