Throughout the month of March, Mexico pays homage to the 12 million women and men — from the weavers of Baja California to the embroiderers of Yucatán — who make a living by crafting wonders with their hands. Mexico’s artisans have combined foreign materials and processes with their own native designs and exacting labor to produce the standard-bearing handmade goods that we all love. They quite literally carve a portal into the world of Mexican history and culture for all those who visit and bring a piece of it home.
At Artelexia and Casa y Cocina, this day — and those it celebrates — is especially meaningful as we strive to connect you with the work of Mexico’s artisans through both of our shops. It’s a beautiful thing to know that our mission involves more than just bringing you a beautiful product; it keeps generations-old trades alive and helps sustain the work of artisans in a handful of Mexico’s craft capitals.
Last year, we started commemorating this day by featuring some of our favorite artisans on this newsletter and giving them a chance to share more about their craft. We’re so happy to do it again this year, especially as our vendor network has grown in response to the success of Casa y Cocina’s focus on kitchenware.
So here we are, this time with Lo Selecto and María Zacarías, the skilled maestra behind our vibrant selection of aprons at Artelexia. Read their full Q & A below:
If you’ve come across our vibrant rack of colorful aprons at Artelexia, you’re already familiar with María’s beautiful work. We’ve been working with her for years now, and she continues to deliver gorgeous designs that allow our customers to take a visual piece of Oaxaca’s textile trade into their kitchens.
Below, María answers some questions about her work:
When and how did you start making aprons?
I started sewing and embroidering when I was 15, because everyone in my family did it, and it also appealed to me.
Can you tell us a little bit about the design and process?
First, I cut the cloth according to the person’s shape and size. Second, I choose the design, based on the person’s individual taste (they let me know what motifs they prefer: doves, flowers, fruit, the colors, whether they want strong, vibrant tones or more muted ones).
What do you like most about artisanal work?
Having the satisfaction of being able to make any design, using many different colors, being able to project all of my ideas onto the fabric and knowing that people may take a liking to it. It makes me feel good, and it motivates me, knowing that people enjoy my work.
Is there anything you would like our customers to know about your work?
It is worth all the time and dedication I pour into my work, when I see that it is valued and appreciated by others.
Do you have a favorite design?
I like all of them. But if I had to pick, I’d pick birds. I like elaborating them in different shapes and colors, sizes, because I feel a sense of freedom in making them exactly how I want, and not exactly as they are.
You could say that Lo Selecto was the result of childhood nostalgia and a motivation to revive elements of it while supporting the local economies of small-batch producers in Mexico. After many years abroad, Alberto Franco, Lo Selecto’s owner, returned to Mexico and rediscovered some of the goods that defined his childhood in the state of Hidalgo. Lo Selecto is a curated selection of basic Mexican goods made — this is key — under a “slow” process, something his business model fully embodies. (Although, take it from us that this doesn’t compromise reliability). By “slow”, what Lo Selecto really means is that they follow the rhythm of the local producers and artisans, respecting their timeline, capacity and means of production. One of our favorite details about Lo Selecto is that their product labels are printed on a previously abandoned printing press from 1890, resulting in unique and rustic typography that gives his product even more character.
Today, we are proud to carry Lo Selecto’s coffee, honey and soaps from the regions of Hidalgo, Oaxaca and Chiapas. They make for the perfect gift, and honestly, we enjoy these goods at home ourselves!
Here’s what Alberto had to say:
We love how much Lo Selecto values the true artisanal process. Can you tell us about the “slow” approach you take, and how your product is different from what is commercially produced?
“Slow” processes, as opposed to “fast” or “commercial” processes are focused on non-industrial methods of production that are sensitive and responsive to their surroundings. “Slow” also means consuming materials from specific regions, made by small-batch producers (usually families) who only sell in local markets without the pressure of having to produce large quantities, which, in turn, can compromise their environment, quality and prices. These products from specific regions where they are sold in small quantities are also focused on more conscious consumption. Their rhythm of production is deeply connected to their region’s natural cycles or local traditions. By not being industrialized, the quality of a “slow” product is higher, with the added value of the hands that made it, its timing, the attention to quality, and its respect for tradition and nature.
How do you decide which producers or artisans to work with?
When I go to new places, I conduct a soft in situ assessment. I go to local markets, and sometimes even find potential products and their producers en route.
I love seeing what is produced in different regions and looking into what people are consuming. I try things, I ask people, I listen to recommendations, we talk about the product, the possibilities, and in some cases, we agree to collaborate. We coordinate schedules, since at times, production is concentrated in just one or two waves per year, or during a very specific month. Sometimes, because of distance and small quantity, it’s difficult to land a collaboration. However, sometimes it is possible (goods produced under a “slow” process, handcrafted, are often difficult to obtain because they are produced irregularly or they vary in flavor, consistency, color, etc. But that’s part of not being industrialized. That’s what makes them special and unique.)
What does this day (Día del Artesano) mean for Lo Selecto?
For Lo Selecto, this day is a day of joy, respect, responsibility and gratitude more than anything.
Joy, because we celebrate and make visible all those who work with their hands, under alternative processes, making something of superb quality that makes us feel good when consumed, something that makes us go “mmmmmmm”, reminds us of our childhood, takes us to a market full of colors and flavors, or somewhere far away from a trip we may have once taken…
Respect, because we consider that artisanal processes in many cases are passed down from generation to generation within families and communities that are rooted in these regions, and have been perfected and improved — and endured — over many years.
Gratitude, because working locally with our hands is something that is becoming increasingly harder to accomplish. Making something in a different region, where sometimes even roads are hard to come by, is the basis of a local interconnected (and complex) system used by Mexico’s rural communities. It requires a lot of strength and dedication.
And responsibility, because we are a part of a very small chain where everyone involved affects our community and surroundings. The objective is to contribute in a positive way, with conscious consumption of artisanal products, to their producers or artisans who are the foundation for it all. Without artisans, there is no production.
As an entrepreneur, why did you choose to work with Mexican artisanal products?
When I was a boy I was very lucky to spend my summer vacations with my grandmother in a region very far from the city. Those vacations were unforgettable, because of how far removed you were from the quotidian, the contact with nature, the warm weather, the rivers. My family primarily consumed products endemic to the region, made by local artisans, because that’s all there was in the local market. Those flavors and objects were rare to me, delicious, strong in their flavor notes, very different from what I consumed in the city. Later, I had the chance to live abroad, outside of Mexico, for many years. When I went back to visit, I would collect artisanal products to gift to my friends, and these were always well received as the quality and flavors were so exquisite and unique. From this particular experience came the idea of sharing with more people the products that come from Mexico’s most hidden regions.
A few years ago I rediscovered those flavors, those objects, and it was like traveling back in time, my memory took me back to those unforgettable vacations. It was then that I started looking for those products and automatically, their producers. That is how Lo Selecto was born, and clearly, it took on a more complex shape with time (even our labels are made artisanally).
Is there anything you want to share about your products?
Lo Selecto’s main objective is to be able to share basic artisanal goods of excellent quality, that are delicious and come from Mexico’s remote and less accessible regions. Thank you to all of the producers and artisans. Thank you to Casa y Cocina for being our outpost in San Diego. Thank you to our clients for consuming them, but most importantly, thank you for enjoying them!