In the Andean region of Santander, Colombia, organic cotton farming goes back to the Guane Indigenous people that lived on this land.
The Guane people were experts in harvesting their local cotton, and in making woven goods which they commercialized with other ethnic groups. With the Spanish conquest and later the Industrial Revolution, foreign cotton fabrics started to be imported at low cost, causing the production of organic cotton in Santander to almost disappear.
Today, though, we see a revitalized region eager to return to growing organic cotton the way their ancestors had done it previously.
Zuahaza is on the forefront of this undertaking, with a mission to revitalize the techniques of organic textile making in Colombia with the goal of producing 100% Colombian naturally-dyed cotton products.
BEHIND THE HANDMADE PROCESS
The process behind Zuahaza’s handwoven textiles involves at least six to seven artisans in total and is also quite time-intensive, as the brand works with each artisan individually — from the cotton spinning stage to the product sewing stage.
First, the artisans spin all of the collected cotton into yarn by hand. More than 30 women artisans are dedicated to spinning this cotton to ensure there is enough material — this stage can take several weeks.
Once the cotton is spun, the women prepare dyes to color the yarn. Each dye is sourced sustainably from plants or food waste.
Zuahaza has partnered with Aslli, an experienced yarn company in Lima, Peru working with a group of artisans to naturally-dye Zuahaza’s organic cotton in unique, stand-out colors. Peruvian artisans are world-renowned for their master artisanal dyeing techniques. The ultimate goal of Zuahaza is to make their pieces entirely from local resources.
After the yarn is dyed and dried, it is ready to be used for weaving!
In order to start the weaving process, the artisans must first prepare the loom, which is the longest and most detail-oriented part of the entire process. Prepping the loom involves two artisans and can take up to 14 hours on a medium-sized loom or up to three full days on larger ones.
But this step is crucial — preparing the loom is the skeleton of the weaving process, where the length, width and design of the fabric is sequenced.
Once the loom is prepped, the artisans can begin weaving. This is the heartbeat of the artisan workshop.
Each textile is handwoven in a foot loom by one of the talented artisans who have learned these skills from previous generations. The weaving process varies from the design but it involves using arms and feet to operate the loom, and fingers to work on the more delicate details of Zuahaza’s designs. Weaving multiple yards of fabric can take Zuahaza’s team around three to four weeks.
Finally, the artisans cut the fabric from the loom and take it to be sewn into pillows or knotted for throws. Zuahaza’s most skilled sewers and detail-oriented artisans take the fabrics and transform them into finished pillows, rugs and blankets.
As experts in macrame and knotting techniques, Zuahaza’s artisans add the final touches to the brand’s blankets and rugs. It is at this stage that Zuahaza makes sure each product is in its best condition before sending these pieces to our customers.
INSIDE THE ARTISAN COMMUNITY
Zuahaza’s artisan partners live in a small rural towel in Santander, Columbia, a region known for its cotton-growing history.
The artisans have two workshops where they craft Zuahaza’s handmade textiles. The main workshop where most of the production happens — this workshop has four weaving looms (all in different sizes) and four sewing machines. Located in the heart of their town in a striking historical building, the artisans also have a small museum and shop where they teach tourists about their traditions and ancestry.
The second workshop is a short 15 minutes away from town, located on a nearby farm. Here, the artisans have six more weaving looms as well as a natural dyeing kitchen. They work in a beautiful rural setting, where they can be close to their families and even go home for their lunch breaks.
ZUAHAZA AND THEIR ARTISAN PARTNERS
Zuahaza first started collaborating with their artisan partners in Colombia a little over a year ago to sell their one-of-a-kind handmade pieces at a better price than what they had been able to sell their items for previously.
These artisans originally came together around 20 years ago to form a cooperative to help preserve and teach their artisanal techniques and sell their heritage crafts.
Since the artisan cooperative began working with Zuahaza, they have been able to earn three times more than what they previously earned as Zuahaza ensured the pricing and hourly rates were fair and reflected the effort and skill set required to make their pieces. The women artisans can now dream of making a better income for themselves and their families.
In addition to higher incomes, the artisans have been excited to learn new techniques and natural dyeing recipes, and develop their skill sets that will help them differentiate themselves from the market.