Leaf through a store catalog or glossy magazine these days, and your gaze will likely fall upon a bevy of fashion pieces and accessories billed as having a “global bazaar,” “world traveler,” “upscale nomadic,” or “tribal chic” flavor. Ikat print wedge sandals, maxi dresses and frocks bearing patterns resembling those on Bogolan fabrics dyed with fermented muds by Mali artisans, and shorts with brightly colored stripes like those on Mexican serapes pepper the current tribal fashion landscape, as do boxy blouses with floral and geometric motifs resembling those of traditional Mayan huipiles; beaded necklaces and bracelets meant to resemble those lovingly hand-crafted in Ecuador and Guatemala using wooden beads, coconut discs, tagua nuts, and seed beads; horn and shark tooth necklaces and charms that hearken back to Africa.
These designs can feel like a symbolic tribute to indigenous communities all over the world, a celebration of diversity and multiculturalism. In other instances, these tribal-inspired motifs can feel like unsavory examples of cultural vampirism, mass produced wares that try to mirror the traditional art forms of tribal communities without ever enlisting the help of those who have maintained these traditions alive throughout the centuries.
Whenever I see pieces that capture the tribal trend from the likes of Burberry Prorsum, Donna Karan, Gucci, Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Balmain, or even Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, and H&M, I’m at once riveted and saddened — the latter a result of my hope that more Latin American designers would form alliances with artisan cooperatives throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, providing them with a market through which to sell their wares and thereby facilitating their financial empowerment while also lending an authenticity to the fashion milieu’s understanding of true tribal motifs.
Thankfully, trail-blazing companies like Wayuu Taya, Inca Boots, and Colección Luna (all featured in Flechada’s Tribal Accessories & More sale) are accomplishing the feat of which I’ve long dreamed: offering customers wares handmade by artisans throughout Latin America.
Wayuu Taya (http://wayuutaya.net/), the non-profit organization started by Venezuelan supermodel Patricia Velasquez in 2006, has been at the forefront of this movement with its 100% cotton Susu bags, funky mochilas hand woven in Colombia and featuring bold colors, geometric shape designs, tassel accents along their cinched closures, and wide shoulder straps. Not only do these bags capture the traditional geometric patterns favored by the Wayuu indigenous community, but the proceeds from their sale are directed back to the Wayuu community, not only monetarily compensating the artisans involved but also helping to finance Shukumaya, the foundation’s women center, which offers education and resources on parenting, family planning nutrition, education, and more.
Similarly, the Austin, Texas-based footwear brand Inca Boots (http://www.incaboots.com/), launched by Evan Streusand, works hand-in-hand with Peruvian craftspeople, who lovingly fashion shoes and boots using supple leather and smooth lambskin, adorning their designs with Inca textiles, as with the Classic Tall Boots that first placed the company on the map.
And then, of course, there’s handbag line Colección Luna (http://coleccionluna.com/history.aspx), the brainchild of social entrepreneur and fashion buyer Stephanie Jolluck, who works directly with the Mayan Indians in the highland region of Guatemala, providing them with her original design ideas, which they fashion out of recycled indigenous clothing ranging from huipiles to cortes and fajas. The result is handbags with modern silhouettes but textiles rooted in tradition.
In the US, meanwhile, we have such budding talent as Chilean designer Soledad Proano, whose Sol del Sur (http://soldelsurshop.com/) jewelry incorporates braided wrap bracelets and necklaces made of bamboo and cotton, all rooted in the techniques she learned from craftspeople in the Andes.
While browsing through Flechada’s Tribal Accessories & More sale, you’ll become better acquainted with these brands while also examining some of the season’s most dominant trends: from collar-style necklaces to Bohemian-tinged wrap bracelets, handbags and jewelry with fringe tassel accents, and bucket-shaped handbags with geometric patterns rooted in tribal traditions.
Here’s to the tribes that keep traditional Latin American art forms alive and to supporting them via our consumer choices.
A celebrated journalist, San Miguel holds a B.A. in Literature and Afro-American Studies from Harvard University. She made her foray into the publishing world in 2001, when she joined the editorial team at In Style, where she mainly covered celebrity homes and weddings. Editorial positions at urban lifestyle publications Complex, VIBE, and GIANT magazines followed. Read More...
Over the years, she has penned articles about fashion, music, film, relationships, fitness, beauty, books, and street art for publications like Latina, Women’s Wear Daily, DNR, Essence, Paper, CITY, Trace, Upscale, XXL, Mass Appeal, the New York Daily News, and the New York Post. She co-wrote 2006’s The Nasty Terrible T-Kid 170 (From Here To Fame/powerHouse Books), a memoir about the life and work of Bronx-bred graffiti writer Julius “T-Kid” Cavero, and contributed to the upcoming anthology Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey (Atria Books).
Since launching Sicka Than Average in 2008, local and national TV stations have invited San Miguel to appear as an on-air guest, among them Telemundo and NYC TV. She was a key speaker at Repechage’s 2009 Congress For Salon And Spa Professionals, where she shared her insights on how spa owners can navigate the changing media landscape. She has also been featured as a style and beauty expert in like Latina, 944, and VIBE.
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