One day last spring in Buenos Aires, I was rushing down a tree-canopied street when an airy boutique nestled between vine-covered walls caught my eye. In the window among the pottery and hand-loomed blankets was a display of baskets woven from a type of straw into organic patterns which I immediately felt a connection to.
The next day I returned to the shop to find out their origin. The shop was curated with regional artisan-made home and body adornments. I could tell right away each of the objects in the shop had been designed with intention—these weren’t the cliched tourist souvenirs I was used to seeing in flea markets. Inhabiting the space between fashion and artefact, every piece in the shop possessed that rustic, soulful quality known as wabi-sabi resulting from natural processes and the human touch.
As it turns out, the story behind the baskets is one of empowerment and sisterhood. I met the owner of the boutique, Sandra, who along with her sister Silvana, and a group of women artisans from rural indigenous communities in Formosa, Argentina form part of a collective called OBRA. With relationships founded on transparency and dialog, the sisters collaborate with the artisans to develop contemporary objects from natural materials and ancestral techniques. The collective’s central mission is to preserve the traditional crafts of Argentina’s indigenous communities while contributing to the livelihoods of their families. The remote locale and lack of resources make it challenging for artisans of these communities to commercialize their crafts. Through partnership with Sandra and Silvana, the artisans are able to reach a wider urban market where there are more commercial possibilities. This helps support their communities’ social development initiatives and revalues their skills.
Also core to the collective’s values is that the products are made with sustainable materials. The baskets in particular were woven by the Pilagà, a community that has inhabited the lowland plains of Argentina for generations. The bags are woven with leaves of the Cardandillo plant, a small palm tree species that is native to the region. First the leaves are collected by a small group of Pilagà women who go out at dawn on foot to the plains miles from their village to harvest around 100-120 leaves each. Back in the village, the tough fibres are shredded from the leaves which are left to dry in the sun. Once they turn white, the leaves are woven into baskets with designs that vary from coils to sunbursts. No two bags are alike—each artisan adds her own unique touch to the weaving pattern, using the techniques she was taught in girlhood by her mother and grandmother. The artisans work both in groups or alone in their homes as part of their domestic chores.
I had been thinking about offering bags in the collection for quite some time but never imagined it would lead to these baskets that have such a powerful story behind them. It means a lot to me to own a piece that is helping other women create the vision they wish for themselves and their families. When I think about everything I want for ZX it feels like a natural extension of its values: to offer distinctive, soulful fashion objects with a human element that connect the maker with the wearer in a way that empowers both.