A group of designers are teaming up with artisans from the Oaxaca region of Mexico to host a program that will provide training, collaboration, promotion and fair commercialization of their work. This social design project titled “Innovating Tradition” was started by Kythzia Barrera as her thesis at the Man and Humanity masters course at the Design Academy of Eindhoven
“The project started with a profound desire of finding a place for Mexican traditional crafts in a globalized world. After a couple of years, we are doing so by creating collaborative methodologies for artisans and designers to challenge the future,” says Kythzia Barrera
Innovating Tradition is fighting against the existent threats that artisans in Oaxaca face such as migration to the USA for better living opportunities, the importation of cheap products from Asia, the prohibition of leaded glazes and the lack of support from the government. The ongoing project is based on a collaborative design toolbox that provides training, technological development and an interdisciplinary approach that brings together designers and artisans with engineers, sociologists and artists. Some of the workshops they’ve organized have counted with the participation of international designers like Pekka Harni from Finland and Yuka Takahashi from Japan who joined the artisans in Oaxaca to explore and collaborate on new designs that preserve the Mexican identity.
The collaborations of designers and artisans to create new interpretations of traditional pottery eventually became Colectivo 1050º, a social enterprise that commercializes these products produced at various artisans’ workshops in Oaxaca. Each product receives its name from the town where it’s being produced, a way of honoring these towns’ traditional methods of producing pottery. The Colectivo tackles problems such as unfair pricing of the artisans work and lack of distribution by adding design and proper commercial channels like galleries and design stores to the equation.
The collection of the Colectivo 1050º has been a great success, being featured in exhibitions in Mexico like Hecho a Mano: nuevos procesos colaborativos (hand made – new collaborative processes) curated by designer Cecilia Leon de la Barra and outside of the country at “Rethinking Tradition”, an exhibition organized by design curator Ana Elena Mallet at the Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington DC. Its products were part of Nuevo diseño mexicano-Crear Hogar, a collection of new Mexican independent design at the Palacio de Hierro, one of Mexico’s biggest department store, and will also be part of next year’s MoMA Store “destination design Mexico” event.
Although Innovating Tradition has come a long way, there are still plenty of exciting things to come according to Kythzia Barrera; a book titled “The Quickfire Wizards” that tells the story beyond what we conceive as traditional pottery and a ambitious research project about biomass fuel ovens for the artisans in Oaxaca (currently under the first prototypes stage). As Kythzia says, “success comes from collaboration, without it this wouldn’t be possible. Besides, it’s beautiful to share the achievements of a project that brings benefits to so many people”. The Innovating Tradition project is a great example of how design can become a bridge between designers and artisans, and drive social innovation in Mexico.