Culture Talk: Alejandra Castañeda, Creating a Better World Through Art – MEXI Clothing

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Culture Talk: Alejandra Castañeda, Creating a Better World Through Art


Having grown up around archeological sites, small towns and museums, Alejandra always knew she wanted to work with artistry. Particularly if that art had anything to do with Mexico's indigenous communities, having seen them when accompanying her mother to restoration works. 

Her artistic spirit never waned, and when she moved to the UK, she knew it was time to do something about her childhood dream. Meshiko is the result. Alejandra works directly with artisan communities to take their ancient techniques, from weaving to colouring fabric, and turn them into beautiful, contemporary pieces. We caught up with her about what Meshiko means to her, where her passion started and the fear of uprooting your life. 

How would you describe Meshiko and what it means to you? 

The company's core activity is designing accessories and clothing made by indigenous communities in Mexico with ancient techniques, such as backstrap loom, pedal loom, embroidery, and seed beads embroidery. 

I started the idea of this business one month before discovering we'd move to the UK and, at that moment, it meant a way of anchoring myself to the country that I was going to leave. But now, it has become the impulse that wakes me up in the morning, the idea of putting this form of art on the map and for these communities to get the recognition they deserve.

My country and my people are the biggest sources of inspiration. I love blending history and culture and express it in terms of our modern lifestyle and needs. 

What made you and your family decide to move to the UK?  

My husband received three job offers in a week - they all meant moving to a new country. At that time my two children were very young and I was terrified of uprooting my life to another place without having the comfort of family help. But we made the right decision, now we are living in Cambridge and I can say that it is a beautiful place, full of opportunities and with amazing people who have become our family.

Where did the idea to start Meshiko come from? 

I have had this idea of creating products (with soul) since I was little. My mother is an art restorer, which means that I grew up running in archaeological zones, climbing pyramids, visiting churches, seeing my mother restore paintings by important painters, eating in small towns. Far away from the big cities, indigenous cultures are still very much alive, and I think that it was in seeing how the people dressed that my love for textiles began. I remember the color of their clothes very well and the detail of the embroidery. 

I have always wanted to create products inspired by the fusion of modern life with indigenous antique techniques, but life took me on a different path. Now, though, that dream is a reality and the result is Meshiko.

 

 

What is the best part about working with artisan communities directly? 

Time stops when you are creating with indigenous communities. 

They are not governed by modern life, they keep their roots very strong. They remind you of that all the time with their words and their actions. They remind you that the relationship that we have with the world is really a common thread, that the butterfly effect impacts everyone and everything.

What happens when you have a product made by them? The beauty of the product is the first thing you perceive, but the truth is each geometric shape and  each color has a much deeper meaning, which is generally something to do with humans connecting to their emotions and their environment.

What is the process of creating a product for Meshiko? Who is involved? 

The easiest way to explain this is with an example. To make a crossbody bag, the first thing to do is create the textile side of it. You need cotton yarn, which is generally collected within the communities. The raw cotton is combed until you have long strips - a "madejero" is used, which is a bobbin where the raw thread is tangled.

Then they dye that thread using vegetables, minerals, or insects, depending on the color that has been chosen for the textile. They collect them in the surroundings of the communities, it is a family activity - ranging from children to grandparents. The threads are left to dry in the sun for a day and then is time to place them on their backstrap loom (an activity mainly carried out by women), and they begin to weave. This process takes approximately three to five days.

The pieces of fabric are sent to the saddler who is an expert in leatherwork. The saddler joins all the pieces, including the textile, based on the design he received from us at Meshiko. The process he uses is laborious because it's handcrafted.

After that, the bag is finished and it is time for it to start its trip to the UK. 

How do you stay in touch with your Mexican roots?

I talk to my children in "Mexican" Spanish. I follow some Mexican traditions like putting offerings on the Day of the Dead. I talk with my family and friends a lot. I encourage all the people to travel to Mexico - I feel like I have the soul of a tourist guide - I read everything I can about Mexico and I have Saturday chilaquiles a lot.

 

If you could click your fingers and be anywhere in Mexico right now, where would it be? 

With my eyes closed and without much to think about, definitely watching the sunrise in a canoe in Bacalar.

What do you miss the most about Mexico when you're in the UK? 

I miss the sounds of the street very much. If you've ever been in Mexico you know these. The knife sharpener, the man who sells tamales in his cart and shouts “TAMALES!” so loudly the entire neighbourhood can hear. I also miss dressing lighter, family meals, nights with friends. I miss the patio of my mother's house, full of plants and palm trees, an ideal place for the first coffee in the morning.

What is the best place to find Mexican food in the UK?

To be honest, I don't know, I’ve never been to a Mexican restaurant in the UK. But I’ve been in Mexican parties and I remember a special one in which Mama Reyna cooked, and it was delicious.

What do you think of when you think of Mexican fashion and design?

Colours, geometric shapes, handmade, slow processes and the history behind the creations. I believe the world needs more brands with social impact and sustainable products. Thankfully, our society is demanding to know where the products they buy and comsume come from and who is behind the product.

Mexican fashion is in an incredible position to be part of that change, and I think we are doing really well.

Where do you hope Meshiko will be 5 years from now? 

I see Meshiko with more stable and larger production, having a strong economic impact in indigenous communities, and definitely more people working on the project in the UK and Mexico. I see us being a reference of Mexican indigenous fashion in the world.

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