Horizontal Collaboration Uplifts Female Artisans in Southern Mexico

On her very first job in San Cristobal de las Casas, Adriana Aguerrebere became involved in social issues pertaining to the residents of this Chiapas town. After learning the needs of artisan women, she launched Impacto, an educational and skills development platform to help them achieve long-lasting economic empowerment.

Special Report by Cristina Ramirez Doval 

Many women in Los Altos were known for their ability to work with textiles and make beautiful clothing items.

Aguerrebere became an ally providing guidance on how to better profit from their skills. 

Founded in 2013, Impacto has made both internal workers as well as external actors grow. 

The NGO works mainly in Mexican states Chiapas and Puebla, and its sole purpose is to give a business structure to more than 1,100 artisans who make and sell their creations.

Impacto focuses on five main areas of production including textiles, pottery, Traditional Friday campaigns, institutional communications and reconstruction, according to their 2019 annual report.

The first two areas consist of what actually inspired Aguerrebere to create Impacto: small networks of women that know each other either seek out Impacto or vice versa in order to learn more and engage in fair trade. 

“The women in Los Altos in Chiapas are not a vulnerable population, but we can say their way of life is threatened by many circumstances, including the system,” the NGO’s Development Coordinator Andrea Bonifaz said.

Chiapas women have ancestral knowledge of how to make pottery, embroidery patterns and native iconography. 

“The fact that most of their iconography is of Mayan origin has allowed us to adapt our methodological approach, be more flexible towards their business needs, and it encourages space for dialogue and therefore, change,” Bonifaz explained.

Traditional Fridays is a social media campaign created in 2014 and inspired by the #CasualFridays trend that teaches artists, producers and the general public about the designs embroidered originally in southern Mexico.

The institutional communications program basically educates the general public about Impacto’s work while also showing collaborators how to best carry out different practices. 

iReconstrucción -otherwise known as the reconstruction program carried out by Impacto and other allies-  was created after the two earthquakes that hit Mexico on September 9th and 17th, 2017. 

Back then, the NGO built alliances with other groups in order to “generate, collect, and manage resources” that would help citizens affected by the quakes, according to Impacto’s latest annual report. The document also states that team and volunteer brigades helped the residents in these areas to manage production, in order to avoid loss of income of affected families. 

As development coordinator, Bonifaz pointed out that word of mouth and gender perspective approach is what drives the organization’s success and said they welcome men and women alike, as they often come in groups, either as families or as part of small communities. 

“We can’t set aside the fact that we [as women] are still inserted in structural issues, like sexism” without seeming invasive in the communities they serve, Bonifaz said. 

For example, she said the best approach is to help the people change their habitual way of thinking. 

“We often hear ‘give women more access to the workforce, make them financially self-sufficient’ but without gender perspective, those types of developments are simply not effective or genuine,” she added.

Impacto’s policy of  participating only as a collaborating entity has not only been praised by women within artisan networks; it’s also captured the attention of women from other NGOs like Kathia Loyzaga, who had been working in Los Altos for years. 

She had just finished her master’s degree in Human Studies and knew about Impacto’s work ethic. 

Working for another nonprofit in San Cristobal de las Casas at the time, Loyzaga said all of these groups are usually acquainted. 

“I started to become motivated when I learned the stories behind the iconography in embroidery; I was learning these towns’ history from an anthropological perspective,” she explained.

Today, Loyzaga is Impacto’s communications director.

There are many ways in which we can help our communities become better versions of themselves but it is as important to stand back and let the people decide which path is the right one for their improvement. 

The artisan women from Puebla and Chiapas have the ancestral knowledge and the selling skills necessary to thrive in the marketplace.  

Impacto acts as an observer to national and international news, events and policies helping local women take protective legal and community measures against cultural appropriation from big fashion brands like Zara and Carolina Herrera. 

“It’s important to change the narrative,” Loyzaga explained. “We’re not helping them, we are collaborating with each other.” 

For more information visit: http://impacto.org.mx

Photo Credits: Impacto Mexico

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