Fashion, the unspoken language of Mexican indigenous communities

Sep 17, 2018

Mexico is a country in which 68 different indigenous people coexist and represent 6.5% of the population. A country where more than 7 million people speak an indigenous language, or identify with ancestral habits and customs. Within these traditions, we find representative indigenous clothing not only from the past, but also from the present, seeking to communicate their happiness, their culture and show there are more alive than ever.

Ashoka Fellow Carla Fernández is part of the #FabricofChange initiative

Inspired by the diversity, color and joy of indigenous clothing, Carla Fernández, launched an eponymous brand to co-create with indigenous people garments that express the cultural, political and social richness of the Mexican legacy. She built new economic relationships between artisans and consumers and revolutionized the fashion industry in the country.

“For me, fashion is not simply adornment, fashion has the power to communicate. This unspoken language in indigenous communities is very important because it expresses who they are, how they are and how they want to be seen,” says Carla with the conviction that working in this industry can help change the unfair commercial and environmental remaining practices.
“Our strategy is based on everything that traditional business schools tell us not to do. We want to stop the extinction of textile crafts in Mexico and bring them into fashion. We are devising a different fashion system that demonstrates that we can work with indigenous communities, that we can know each of our collaborators, that we can pay fair wages, that we can distribute the company’s wealth fairly, that we can co-create with artisans even if they don’t speak our language.”

According to Carla, fashion should not be ephemeral, disposable or sold at such low prices. Carla and her team seek to respect the ancient trades of indigenous people and the environment with safe practices and show the utmost respect for the people who make each garment with such great care. Her business model encompasses spring, summer, autumn and winter collections. She creates her designs from the bottom up, collaborating closely with the artisans. She has a special focus on treating the consumer as a guardian of tradition and culture in Mexico. “When you buy one of our garments you take with you a piece of the creative and productive chain behind the fashion industry,” she says.

Currently, Carla Fernandez has 5 stores in Mexico City and is about to open a Casa Textil, a space created to bring together designers, entrepreneurs, investors, media, environmentalists and industry leaders to work towards a more responsible fashion industry. In recent years, she has gained international recognition for demonstrating that ethical fashion can be innovative and progressive. Carla and her team do not launch any new designs without the consent of the artisans, they respect the production process, a living example that fashion can be sustainable, innovative and accessible at the same time.

The fashion industry faces great challenges. Carla Fernández and her team recognize that although some standards have changed in recent years, the road is still long. This is the reason why she has pushed for change by involving the government, external distributors and fashion leaders to facilitate the manufacturing processes of artisans, the distribution of textiles as raw materials and their commercialization.

Carla Fernández has recently joined the Ashoka Fellows network in Mexico, entering the community of 260 fellows in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. In 2015, she was the second Mexican to be chosen within the Fabric of Change initiative, an alliance between Fundación C&A and Ashoka that seeks to promote a fairer and more sustainable fashion industry worldwide based on high-impact social innovations. Carla and her team of closest collaborators, have taken on the mantle of changemakers, committed to ceaselessly promoting a sustainable and fair fashion for all.

The profound changes in the fashion industry will come fromthe collaboration of all sectors involved. Faced with these challenges, Carla asks: “How are we going to create a better world for those of us who are alive today and for those to come? How do we contribute to stopping climate change? — I would love to have more broad-based collaborations. We have a lot to learn and to do. The partnerships and collaborations we have made so far have been limited to just sharing knowledge and expertise. We want to grow and collaborate more with other brands and expand beyond Mexico. In 2019, our focus is to start reaching new markets in Canada and the United States.”

It is possible to communicate the urgency of change in the fashion industry by setting new standards of beauty, quality and design. Lastly, daily apparel defines who we are and how we come to terms with ourselves. We can make a big difference if we rethink the relationship between our daily consumption of fashion and an industry that is at a turning point looking to renew itself and change its current system for the better.

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