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Fair Trade Fashion



In Fair Trade Fashion
Fair Trade Products

By Jenny

Manos Zapotecas: Perpetuating Beautiful Zapotec Weaving Traditions

On 27, Jul 2017 | In Fair Trade Fashion, Fair Trade Products | By Jenny

When it comes to fair trade, it can be difficult to find the right balance between the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) principle of “Respecting Cultural Identity” and creating a product that appeals to a Western audience without appropriating cultural traditions. 

According to the FTF, “Fair Trade celebrates the cultural diversity of communities, while seeking to create positive and equitable change. Members respect the development of products, practices, and organizational models based on indigenous traditions and techniques to sustain cultures and revitalize traditions. Members balance market needs with producers’ cultural heritage.”

Our wholesale partner Manos Zapotecas seems to have struck the perfect balance of these factors, creating beautiful handwoven manos zapotecas quotebags that sustain the indigenous Zapotec weaving traditions of Oaxaca, Mexico, while appealing to Western consumers by turning their “tapetes,” or completed woven pieces, into bags and clutches rather than leaving them as rugs, which are harder to sell.

In 2009, Manos Zapotecas founder Shelley Tennyson was volunteering with a microfinance non-profit in the small Zapotec village of Teotitlan 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, Manos Zapotecas 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. Manos Zapotecas 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. Manos Zapotecas founder Shelley’s Spanish, for instance, has allowed her to develop lasting friendships with the incredible Mexican people. The weavers incorporate traditional handwoven tribal designs with modern styles, creating beautiful, expertly crafted and unique bags.

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All Manos Zapotecas products are handmade according to time-honored traditions by Zapotec weavers in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. Here is a closer look at the steps that go into crafting each bag:


dyingThe wool arrives to weavers in natural shades of white, cream, gray, and brown. For some designs these colors are left as-is, but most often the yarn is dyed in small batches to suit the colorful tastes of the weavers, or the color palette of the season. Some weaving families still use natural dyes, the knowledge of which is passed down from generation to generation. These dyes are concocted from a variety of plant, animal, and mineral sources, such as nuts and flowers, cochineal bugs, and indigo. Other families prefer the more vivid colors produced by aniline dyes. For either method, the yarn is boiled with the dye, a fixative (such as lime juice) is added, and then the skeins of colored yarn are hung to dry in the sun.


Manos Zapotecas weavers are also the designers of the beautiful patterns found on all of their bags. Many are the traditional Zapotec designs while others are modern interpretations of their tribal patterns or even abstract expressions. To learn about the various traditional Zapotec designs included on Manos Zapotecas bags, click here:

weavingManos Zapotecas weavers use bi-peddle treadle looms and preparing the loom to weave is an intensive process unto itself. The cotton warp threads, which run lengthwise across the loom, have to be set to a specific width based on the size of the bag they are making. The yarn is the weft fiber that runs widthwise across the loom and is passed over and under the warp using a wooden shuttle to bring the design to life. A completed woven piece is called a tapete, or woolen tapestry. Most traditionally used as rugs, Manos Zapotecas utilizes these small tapetes to make into bags.

Sewing & Leatherwork

sewing and leatherworkThe next step is to sew the tapetes into the shape of the bag it will become. It is then sent to a dedicated leatherworker in a nearby town who adds the leather handles and base, siding or fringe, depending on the model. The bag is returned to the weaver so they can sew in the zipper and lining and make sure the bag is in perfect condition to ship out. Each bag, rug and pillow is a work of art, created with immense love and pride. Our purpose is to help preserve the beautiful traditions and superb artistry of the Zapotec people by connecting them with socially conscious consumers around the globe.

Manos Zapotecas creates some dreamy lookbooks full of photos showcasing their beautiful bags, like the Itha Clutch that we have in the shop right now! With a removable strap, this clutch is very versatile and it is the perfect lightweight companion for hot summer days and bright nights. Sam Wattson, Manos Zapotecas Design Coordinator, says: “I think the bag goes perfectly with a summer slip dress or boyfriend jeans and a casual tee with flat sandals. It’s as great an accessory for a summer stroll as it is for a night out dancing. The size of the bag and the removable strap allows for impromptu activities that get you playing tourist in your own city. The Itha lets your spontaneity shine in style!”

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Josefina, designer of the Itha Clutch

Josefina, designer of the Itha Clutch

The word “Itha” comes from the ancient Tolteca word Itandehui, and means “flower of the heavens.” The Tolteca people lived in what is currently the state of Hidalgo, Mexico. The symbols in the Orion Itha, which was designed by master weaver Josefina, represent a lluvia de estrellas or “rain of stars.” Josefina explains, “With Sam’s help, we decided on the colors to use. I like to put the rain of stars design on top of the gray background. To me it’s a lovely color combination and I think it turned out great. This model is very practical and flirty, ideal for girls who like freedom.”



Check out this video to see some Manos Zapotecas artisans talk about their craft and how Manos Zapotecas has helped improve their lives.