«For me it’s not only a business, it’s not about making money by being a “good or nice person.” It’s a search and a way to prove that strong identities and cultural development have the potential to detonate long-term economic development that benefits us all, without betraying who we are…»

—Kythzia Barrera in an interview with the William James Foundation after the finalists of the Business Plan Competition 2013 contest were announced. Colectivo 1050º won second place.

DSC_0349Mud to make clay. La Guadalupe, Oaxaca. Photo: Eric Mindling

It has become increasingly common to hear terms such as «fair trade» or «Mexican design». It is hard to define them without resorting to concepts that appeal to our moral codes of changing the world through the consumption of products. On the other hand, those competitively priced goods are hard to find in a predominantly industrial market.

How can we change these paradigms to make fair trade a viable business model in a world ruled by capitalism? Colectivo 1050º, lead by Kythzia Barrera, is a project that consistently works to find the balance between competitiveness and handicraft production.

14CM7958Making comales (griddles). Plan de Guadalupe, Oaxaca. Photo: Paris Barrera

The project began a few years ago with the intention of reviving pottery handicraft in the state of Oaxca. An important issue came up: to what extent can an external agent get involved in the ancestral works of the communities? This is a delicate subject, however, Colectivo 1050º has always based its work on solid ethical values and a respectful dialogue with the craftsmen’s traditions and contexts.

In fact, the Collective’s current work is based on years of theoretical and field research whose core subject remains the survival of handicraft in modern society. Kythzia began working on this case study in 2002 as part of her thesis Man and Humanity, for her Social and Sustainable Design Masters at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands. She discovered something remarkable: the G21 container of the pre Hispanic era (named by Antonio Caso, Monte Alban, 1956) is exactly the same as the chocolate cup that the inhabitants of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca use today. This means that this object has been around for over two thousand years.

These findings have serious implications on the preservation of culture in these communities. Even though pottery continues to be a daily activity in the region, the objects that are produced there are becoming less competitive in the global market. At the same time, the majority of men in these pottery communities of Oaxaca migrate to the United States to make wages they will never make in their towns. Therefore, the women become the guardians of the profession.

Familia-Ruiz02Cecilia Ruiz at the potter’s wheel. Atzompa, Oaxaca. Photo: Diego Mier y Terán

As a result, Colectivo 1050º felt it was of utmost importance to revalue, honor and invigorate the clay culture, facing its main competitor: the industrial production that attracts consumers due to their extremely low prices. How can a handmade product be positioned in a context dominated by the globalized industrial acceleration? The key lies in the conceptual foundations that guide the project: the object’s evolution is the foundation of the analysis. This concept, inspired by the principles of the Darwin and Linnaeus’ theory on natural selection, suggests that the objects that adapt to the social context in which they are found are the ones that survive the passing of time.

procesos-piezas-05The evolutionary process of the Bartola Jugs.

This is where design and handicraft come together. It is not about «colonizing» a model, where a designer uses the handicraft processes to simply produce his ideas. It is about the craftsman being a part of the development of the pieces through the know-how he has acquired from generation to generation.

Kythzia tells us that the communication began mainly on her side, but as time passed, the craftsmen started getting more involved in the conceptualizing process of the objects. Colectivo 1050º applies the methodology of Narrative Practices to inspire the craftsmen’s creativity and allow them to develop a new sense of innovation on their own. Colectivo 1050º tries to progressively break with fixed mindsets in order to benefit the future generations of craftsmen as well as designers.

Thus, tradition is softly shaped to adjust to the current market. The market research and field work that has been done has set the foundations for the growth of this model and the staff has already achieved small victories: distribution spots are growing in Mexico as well as abroad; the craftsmen have won various prizes, and the variety of products has grown significantly in the 2013 Catalogue.

Traditional-kiln_-Ruiz03Cecilia Ruiz lighting the traditional oven. Atzompa, Oaxaca. Photo: Salvador Pulido

DPP_0044bViviana Díaz burning in open air. Tavehua, Oaxaca. Foto: Paris Barrera

The current market is made up of tourists and museum visitors primarily, making it difficult for the craftsmen to compete in the local market with the same clay products of lower quality, sold at a lower price.

However, one of the goals of 1050º is to promote the Mexican public’s interest in these types of products to raise awareness of the cultural value of handmade products and more so, transform the sense of the word «handicraft», because the Collective as well as the producers feel it limits them conceptually. In the long run, the bet is on restructuring the handicraft: if the market becomes more demanding, then the craftsmen will begin to make better pieces and vice versa. The purpose of this approach is to create an appropriate source of income in relation to the craftsmen’s work; to place handicraft in a commercial world of competitiveness and global markets; to promote beauty in the rare, and finally, to have more respect for traditional professions.

Craftsmanship could become an important economic force; it is Mexico’s ability compared to the industrialized countries. Faced with globalization, there is a tendency to consume endemic products through which we can learn about the origin of the materials, an imprint of the producer’s identity. In Mexico today, professions still hold an important place in society at an accessible price; they are part of the country’s economic life. The designer-craftsman relationship is another form of the diversity that exists in our culture, which has a great potential, but at the same time, entails considerable social responsibility.

bartolas_04Bartola Jugs. Black clay. Silvia García + Daniela Esponda

Black_Domingo-I-bowl-02Domingo Fruit Bowls. Black clay. Serena Simón + Diego Mier y Terán

The success of Colectivo 1050º is partly due to the caution with which Kythzia has directed the project. At no point in time has the quality of the products, the integrity of the collaborators or the respect for tradition, been jeopardized, nor has massive production been promoted for economic revenue. This is why Colectivo 1050º is made up of very few craftsmen: they are twenty-five in total, from five different pottery communities in Oaxaca that contribute to the traditional knowledge of the project and strive to be an example for the rest of the members of their communities. The community of San Bartolo Coyotepec is renown for its work with black clay; San Marcos Tlapazola for its work with red clay; Santa María Atzompa specializes in varnished clay; Tamazola is famous for its pieces made of natural clay, and Yohueche is a community located in the northern mountain range of Oaxaca.

linneo-set-bowlsBowls from the Linneo collection. Kythzia Barrera + Arta Cerámica

linneo-verde-smGlasses from the Linneo collection. Kythzia Barrera + Arta Cerámica

Colectivo 1050º is the commercial branch of Innovando con Tradición (Innovating with Tradition), a civil organization that seeks to strengthen the bonds between art, handicraft, and design to create social and human changes. To know more about these projects, collaborate with them, get to know the people involved or buy their products, visit the following links:

ollas09Tlapazola cooking pots. Elia Mateo + Kythzia Barrera

Iroi_IroiIroi Iroi jug. Elia Mateo + Kythzia Barrera

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