Do you know the new brand Meirex? Silvia, its creator, has recently moved to the fair-trade business and is selling bags decorated with Mexican embroideries. As I wanted to know more, I sent her some questions. Here is her story.
Photos – © Meirex – photos protected by copyright – thank you
Interview – Claire de Pourtalès
Background and studies
I am originally from Toluca, a city close to Mexico City, where my Dad grew up. But my mother was from a small nearby town called San Pedro Totoltepec, where they decided to live when they got married. I grew up in that small town, where my Mum’s parents had a farm. Both were coming from poor families and had worked since they were very young, raising stock and selling the products that came from the farm. My grandmother has indigenous roots. She used to embroider when she was young but had to stop for lack of time.
My parents wanted to give us a good education. So, we applied to a prestigious university in Mexico (Tecnologico de Monterrey), which has a campus in Toluca. My sister and I managed to get a scholarship through high school and college. I graduated in 2012 as an Industrial Engineer and decided to move to Mexico City to find better professional opportunities. I worked for 2 years as a Planner for the French brand Sephora. However, I wanted to have the experience of living abroad, as I had the experience of living in France for 6 months as part of an Erasmus exchange in college.
I also wanted to get a master’s degree. That is the reason why I came to Ireland, as this country had the program I was looking for and allowed me to work while I was studying. I moved here in 2016 and worked as a waitress and receptionist for a year while I was saving the money to pay for my degree.
I graduated in 2018 as a MSc International Procurement and Supply Management from Griffith College Dublin and started working in a Pharmaceutical company as a Senior Analyst.
But it happened to me again, as much as I was grateful to have a job, something was missing. I have to say that I always wanted to have my own business, probably because I come from a family of entrepreneurs. Little did I knew that one trip to Mexico would open my eyes and let me discover what I wanted to do with my life.
It was back in 2019, when, as part of my usual holidays in Mexico for Christmas with my family, I decided to travel with my Irish partner to show him the beautiful places in Mexico. During that trip, we visited a few indigenous communities, where crafts are their main source of income. Walking through the markets where beautiful handcrafts could be found everywhere was a huge eye-opener to me. All the loose dots of my life joined together, my grandmother with indigenous roots and my dad working for years in a government association that promoted the rights of indigenous communities. At that moment I know that this was my mission, it all made sense in my head!
I knew that this was my purpose in life, to bring a little piece of Mexico to my second home while supporting small communities who live from handicrafts. That inspired me to come with a name that had a meaning, a fusion of the two cultures – MÉIREX (México in Ireland – Ireland is also known as Eire).
When we were back in Ireland at the start of 2020, I booked my flights to go to Mexico in March with the idea of going back to the markets and getting in touch with some of the artisans. Little did I know that my plans would have to change as COVID hit and my flights were cancelled. However, I was completely sure that I wanted to go ahead with my business, so I started to look for artisans online. Communication technologies are hard to get for a lot of communities. But, for many artisans, there were just no choice. They had to get a presence online as the places where they used to sell were closed and they didn’t have any income. For the lucky ones, their kids who are more familiar with technology, helped them set up their Facebook pages.
For me this was very helpful because I was able to contact the artisans who I work with now. I had to do a lot of research as I wasn’t sure which products I wanted to start with. I wasn’t very familiar with all the beautiful handcrafts available. Every region has something different, either in the techniques or the material used, the style, etc.
From all the crafts I saw, I felt that embroidery could be the best one to represent Mexican culture. The fact that embroideries have portrayed the story of a community and the story of the artisans makes them unique. I also believe that through the embroideries (as flowers are a recurrent pattern) the connection between both cultures was easier to feel.
After deciding the products that I want to bring in, I had the challenge of the logistics, that probably was the most complex part. I set up the business in Ireland and my mother was my eyes in Mexico, as she is the one in charge of sending the products to Ireland with the documentation.
My first shipment was sent in May, when all the products were ready to come to Ireland, but unfortunately the postal service in Ireland was shut down and that first box took 4 months to get delivered to me. As a backup plan, I had a second box that had to be sent through a private postal service, of course at a higher price, but those products were the ones that allowed me to start the business.
The website was launched officially in July 2020, and since then it has been the best experience in my life. It has been challenging in many ways, as my background is more related to Engineering and numbers. Setting up a business wasn’t easy: I had to learn about business management, marketing, sales, and many other things.
This journey has been a rollercoaster, I’m not going to lie, but I love what I do, because for me it means to help my People by showing something different to the country that has become my second home for the last few years. It’s been hard, as am entering into a completely new market, and no-one has done something similar. People in Ireland know about Mexico but mainly for its food and touristic places like Cancun. I love to provide information about my country through the products I’m selling. I love learning more about my own culture as well.
I’m influenced by the Irish taste; I believe there are a lot of similarities between Ireland and Mexico. Irish people love colours, even though the majority don’t dress vividly. During the summer the country is covered with the most colourful flowers. Also, people are very welcoming to other cultures, they love learning about Latin American culture as they love our singularity and traditions.
Working with embroiderers
So far it has been very easy to work with the artisans. Of course, the distance has played a major role as I haven’t been able to visit them all. But this is my objective when traveling is allowed. I want to know them in person to create a closer relationship as we will be working together for a long time (hopefully).
The new thing that I have learnt is to be patient. It has been a great learning curve as I was coming from a fast-moving environment. But since I started working with these artisans, especially with the ones from Tenango, I have learned that every process takes time. As Rosmeri (the artisan from Tenango de Doria) told me once, “Remember that our processes are slow. One person embroiders a cushion in at least 4 days, but embroidering is not the only step in the process. The fabric has to be embroidered, then washed and ironed before it is stitched to the back part of the cushion.”
All these things helped me change my expectations time-wise. But this allows me to create a connection with the pieces I sell. For me, every bag, every cushion and every table runner are special, maybe because I know what the story is behind each one of them, and that’s what I try to convey to my customers. The most important for me is to recognise and reward the people who left their cultural heritage, love and personal story portrayed through the embroidery or designs they create. The artisans provide all the material, they source everything within their community and most of them use natural products even to dye the fabrics.
The differences between the regions are enormous, especially in terms of meanings. Everywhere, embroidery or weaving is a symbolic representation of cultural and spiritual identity.
For example, in Chiapas the most popular embroidery is done using a pedal machine to create different designs, mainly flowers. They are part of the Mayan culture and their designs are based on the surroundings of the region, as Chiapas has the largest diversity of flora and fauna in the country.
The waist loom technique is used to weave canvas in different colours. We use it to make tote bag. Brocade is the main decoration technique. As the artisan weaves, she adds another thread, which creates a slightly raised design on the surface of the canvas. For this type of decoration, the main motifs are diamonds, stars, frogs, etc. This technique is mostly used by women, who sit on the ground or a chair while working.
In Oaxaca it is more common to find the pedal loom technique to weave a typical wool of this region. In the Zapotec culture, it has been used for centuries. Their main material is wool, but there are some communities who use cotton.
The wool is sourced within their communities. There are some artisans who have their own farms and raise sheep. For dying the wool, most of them use natural colours locally sourced. The traditional designs are based on Pre-Hispanic patterns that are called ‘grecas’, or the Zapotec diamond.
Tenango embroidery is by far my favourite. Its complexity and designs are the most interesting part. Back in the 60’s the community went through a big drought and they suffered many years as their source of income was compromised. It was then that women and men started embroidering more than they needed for their own use, selling their pieces to have an extra income. Thanks to that, this type of embroidery has become one of the most popular ones internationally. The main motifs are inspired by mythological creatures from the Otomi culture (Tenango de Doria belongs to the Otomi culture), flora and fauna from the region. The colours they use are the reflection of the artisan’s mood.
I don’t stitch myself to be honest, but I love learning about embroidery, especially about the different techniques and the materials used. My favourite one is called pepenado fruncido from San Pablo Tijaltepec and the San Antonino embroidery from San Antonino Castillo Velasco, both originally from Oaxaca. Those techniques are used for clothing like tops or dresses. The technique, the level of details and complexity are what make them absolutely beautiful.
The business is doing really well, I’m surprised but very happy with the reception that it received. I can see an interest from Irish people to learn more about our traditions and the people that are behind the products I sell.
It makes me happy to be able to help families who are going through difficult times at the moment. If I could, I would buy everything they make. But this business is still small, so I have to be very selective with the things I bring over to sell.
Before, pretty much everything was sold within the country, but in the last few years, the market has expanded internationally, which has made the artisans try to adapt to it. Choosing colours can be tricky, but I feel like Irish people are open to them. Nevertheless, I have asked the artisans to do the Hidalgo cushions in one colour too, just in case.
Most of the times the designs are made by the artisans, as they represent their surroundings, traditions, how they feel, etc. All the artisans are really happy to sell their products so far away. This gave them the desire to be open to adapt their designs to the market. For example, the wool bags from Oaxaca were designed between Eli, the artisan, and me. She let me choose the colours and some combinations I needed for the Irish market. But I always respect the meanings and symbols from the Zapotec culture.
I was planning to have a stall in Christmas markets, everything was set, but when the second wave of COVID hit Ireland all the markets and shops were shut down. That left me with only one option, selling online. Things are still closed, so it’s been challenging this year to have the reach I was hoping for MÉIREX.
In the future, I’d love to have a shop, or sell in markets so people have the chance to see the products with their own eyes. Sometimes it is difficult to catch the small details or colours in a picture.
Any anecdote you’d like to share?
Well, I have many, but I think the one that really touched my heart was from our artisan Sabina. She’s from the Mazahua community, which is located in the same state I’m from. I found her by pure chance, when I was home in November 2020 for the Day of the Dead celebrations. I was walking through the market to buy some flowers with my mom, and we saw her selling her handicrafts on the street. Among her products there were some beautiful table runners that I fell in love with straight away. I decided to buy a few of them that day. We agreed to see each other in 2 weeks’ time to buy more of those table runners. When I came back, she couldn’t believe it. Her face changed completely, and she was very happy to see me. She said that many people say they will be back, but actually never do.
I bought her many things, including table runners, belts, headbands and some face masks. She couldn’t believe it, no one ever had bought that much from her. She was very happy but hid her joy (some communities are not very expressive; it is part of their culture). She told me that she hadn’t sold a single thing that day, which broke my heart so much and even now I get goosebumps when I remember that story.