So, just imagine… you’re a tiny palm—an Iraca Palm to call you by name—planted in your favorite mountain region of Sandoná Nariño—the far south of Colombia running toward Ecuador, though of course you pay no mind to those borders. You are delicately tended for three long years by Las Juanitas—the 200 women who name themselves as such in honor of their lively weaving leader, Juanita. When you’re ready, Las Juanitas trim away your sun-burned leaves and take only the best of what you have to offer, carefully separating your leaves with needles to form fine threads. They wash you in warm water, rinse you in fresh water, and let you dry in the sun. Only then does their creative imagination begin to play with yours, coloring your fibers with natural potions, weaving them into complex silhouettes, and sending you out into the world as a shapely vessel to carry not only the everyday treasure of a select women, but the heart of Las Juanitas and the memory of the place you came by.
The more I learn about the laborious techniques which have been practiced for hundreds of years by indigenous groups all over the world, the more I respect the word sustainable. It’s used too often these days as brands try to lure conscious customers; and too loosely, sullying the authenticity of the word. I use it sparingly, bowing down before practices like these where sustainable speaks to that delicate relationship between people and plants, between women and weaving, between place and identity. It means much more than just a lack of harm to the earth. A kinship is alive here, one that sustains the people as much as the place they inhabit.
Industrial designer and member of the Wayuu indigenous group, Jennibeth Iguarán, and textile designer, Juanita Gil, (above right) have joined forces to make sure these artisanal practices are sustained across Colombia. The innovations they offer respect native traditions; while the relationships they develop respect the makers themselves. They’ve named their endeavor Matamba, after the very plants of the earth upon which their work depends.
I’ve always suspected that women who tend plants which grow into our use—these women know the earth in a way our technologically saturated society cannot. It is one of the reasons I work to give voice to these women. If anyone knows how to ally with the earth in a reciprocal, sustainable way, it is women like these. The treasure here is not just the bag we choose to carry. It is Las Juanitas themselves, who teach us how to carry it.
All the best,
Luisa and Rosa Bucket Bags—two new styles from Matamba artisans in Colombia.