There is nothing more inspiring than a brand with a purpose. Madre Luna is an accessories brand with a special message that goes beyond the bottom line. Started by Alda Esco in 2017, it brings to market high quality, hand crafted products with a socially conscious purpose.
The inspiration comes from generations of textile hand weaving in the highlands of Guatemala. It captures traditional Mayan techniques that are still used today in this rare and precious corner of the world. Alda's aim is to empower these communities and keep this craft alive by incorporating it into her unique designs. The end result? A breathtaking juxtaposition of color and texture all captured by a clean, wearable and somewhat modern silhouette.
Alda Esco of Madre Luna. Photo courtesy of Alessandri Photography
Madre Luna is a little gem in the middle of a crazy, mass produced fashion industry. Every fabric and labor process that goes into each shoe and bag design is carefully sourced and crafted to maintain the work of local carftsmen in Guatemala intact. As the industry becomes more driven by fast fashion with extremely fast turn-around times for design and production, coming across a brand that is conscious and rich in purpose and tradition is truly a breath of fresh air.
In the interview to follow, Alda Esco of Madre Luna gives us a glimpse of what it is like to take her beautiful, conscious designs from conceptualization to production, and the process behind keeping her handcrafted brand alive and flourishing in the fast-paced world of fashion.
Designing and producing shoes and accessories is perhaps a dream for those that love fashion. When did you become interested in accessory design and what inspired you to pursue this path?
I became interested in design in childhood. I took an early interest in art and design while studying Fine Arts at California Polytechnic Universtiy. With an interest in designing and going back to my roots, I decided to create my own fashion brand of boots and accessories with an approach to a human-centered design practice that places emphasis on sustainable design. What inspired me to pursue this path was the opportunity to create an impact on social responsibility in Guatemala.
Your work has an earthy, natural quality to it. Tell us a little bit about your design aesthetic? What inspires you visually/artistically in your work?
The overall aesthetic of the boots, and brand in general, depends largely on the beauty of the material. My belief is that in design, sustainability and aesthetics has to come together. I’m inspired by the diversity of textiles, leather and handwoven processes that the Guatemalan culture offers. I like to work with organic materials and combine vibrant and a detailed, nature-inspired quality. Our brand is also inspired by the boho-chic creative lifestyle which is all about meaningful individuality that embraces free expression.
Photo Courtesy of Madre Luna
There is this beautiful juxtaposition of traditional and modern in your designs. On one end there are these beautiful, colorful hand-woven prints, on the other, clean, sleek design lines that are wearable across various styles and generations. How does this particular intermingling of color and design relate to your background and culture?
This juxtaposition in my work combines traditional techniques and construction processes with a modern design aesthetic. Born in Guatemala, and also with my global experiences and outlook, I have been inspired by many cultures and traditions. In Guatemala specifically, there is a rich cultural niche that needs to be discovered. I have always been surrounded by color and design. With Madre-Luna, I wanted to express my passion for my culture and represent it in my artwork.
How many collections do you produce a year and what are you currently working on?
We started in 2017 and we have created two collections so far. We are planning to bring three collections each year. We are currently working the 2018 Summer Collection.
Photos courtesy of Madre Luna
"I’m inspired by the diversity of textiles, leather and handwoven processes that the Guatemalan culture offers."
What is the typical design-to-production process for you? How does the concept/design start and what is the process to source, sample-make and finally produce your designs?
Each product is a different design process. I usually start with sketching some ideas and concepts. There is a separate processes for designing the textiles and the actual products. Next, we choose the materials and begin with the fabric or textile, which is handwoven in a loom. After we review the designs and materials together, we create a prototype or sample and approve the functionality and quality of it. Once each product is approved, we start the final production process.
For those that are not familiar with it, can you describe the weaving process on a traditional backstrap and foot pedal loom?
All traditional weaving techniques are hand-operated and enable the weaver to weave intricate patterns in the fabric. The fabric is carefully hand-woven and embroidered in narrow strips using a back-strap or foot-pedal looms using colorful shades of a variety of cotton yarns. Artisans stretch the threads on a warping board that they attach to a loom. The traditional backstrap loom is the tension created with the weaver’s body. One must use their body, moving forward and backward, to tighten and loosen the tension. The foot pedal loom is a large loom that sits directly on the floor and uses foot pedals called treadles that open and close the sheds.
"I have always been surrounded by color and design. "
Photos courtesy of Madre Luna
There is a beautiful description on your website about women in the highlands of Guatemala that have hand woven and embroidered their clothing for generations using techniques that sometimes take a few months to complete. They incorporate designs with meaningful sacred messages related to their history/beliefs and use plants and flowers as a source of natural dyes for the threads. How does your brand empower women in these traditional communities?
We empower women by maintaining their heritage in their traditional techniques and process. By bringing work opportunities to small towns and villages, we help create job opportunities for families and communities in Guatemala. We are proud to partner with suppliers who work hand-in-hand with cooperative groups, small family businesses and local artisans, providing fair wages and ethical manufacturing.
Is empowering women in these communities a labor equality issue or is your scope to give them a voice in sharing the craft and techniques passed down to them for generations with the rest of the world?
I believe it is a combination of both. We want to give them a voice in sharing their traditional craft and techniques and at the same time empower labor equality in Guatemala.
Part of your philosophy is to avoid using manufactured fabrics in your designs. What is the sustainability and socio-economic message behind that?
Madre Luna is a fashion brand whose motivation is to touch the lives of people through fashion and ethical responsibility. We want to express our passion for culture by creating beautiful designs and one-of-a-kind handmade products. We want our customers not only to make a statement, but also to be conscious about their purchase. We use chemical-free dyeing processes that are sustainably produced and have a lower environmental impact than traditional materials.
Also, as a social brand, we have become conscious in fair trade, which gives us a way to connect with people from around the world and improve the lives of others. We want consumers to transform their purchase behavior by making a positive difference for the people involved in the production of our clothing and accessories. Our philosophy is to support artisans towards economic independence by providing and creating social and economic opportunities through trading partnership with jobs and a Fair Trade model of business based on values and a sustainable model. To create one-of-a kind quality designs using traditional Mayan techniques and preserve each design, fabric and production as an art form by keeping alive artisan traditions.
Do you feel that fast-fashion is causing the art of hand weaving to slowly go extinct?
I think more fast-fashion brands are re-producing the art of hand weaving. This is a challenge for artisans who want to keep their skills and traditions alive. However, I believe more designers and brands are concerned with this fact. Helping artisans and producers to maintain their technique and processes towards sustainability is warning mass-production and fast fashion to become more conscious about this sustainable model .
"We want our customers not only to make a statement, but also to be conscious about their purchase."
Your brand not only preserves the heritage of traditional Mayan techniques, it also empowers fair trade labor and small communities in Guatemala. What are some of the greatest challenges experienced by these artisans in these small communities currently? How can the current fashion industry begin to bridge that gap, in your opinion?
One of the greatest challenges these artisans are experiencing is the issue that fast-fashion is re-producing their designs. Guatemalan artisans are fighting to protect the rights of woven textile designs. Their iconic textiles represent the preservation of heritage and protection of their culture. As a brand, we must be concerned with issues that involve humanitarian rights and preserve each design, fabric and production as an art form. We should also help our manufactures and artisans preserve their traditional techniques and textile artwork.
How does allowing these artisans to use their craft as a means to sustain their community impact both your brand and respectively their community?
By creating an impact on fashion culture and preserving Mayan heritage techniques, we not only bring work opportunities to small towns and villages, we also help create job opportunities for families and communities in Guatemala. We have become conscious in fair trade, which give us a way yo connect with people and make a statement.
"As a brand, we must be concerned with issues that involve humanitarian rights and preserve each design, fabric and production as an art form."
What have been the greatest challenges in promoting your brand especially in such a mass-production focused environment?
One of the greatest challenges in promoting my brand has been creating awareness of the brand and advertising handmade and one-of-a-kind products.
What about the day to day challenges of getting an accessory business off the ground including its day-to-day operations? What helps you stay focused and inspired?
The challenges of running an accessory business isn't always smooth- I learn something new everyday. One of the challenges is the distribution of material and production. In addition, providing textile design innovations and quality management on the production side. Other challenges include competing with other brands that reflect the same philosophy and message. What helps me stay focused and inspired is the passion for my work and the responsibility of creating an opportunity of change in Guatemala.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to build an accessories/fashion brand with an ethical message?
Be passionate about it!.. Create your own voice and message, and share it! Be creative and constantly innovate. Listen to your customers, care about people, the environment, and create an impact. Don’t focus on mistakes, learn from them! Stay active and be inspired. Celebrate traditional techniques and design with purpose. Make a difference with your brand and never, ever compromise on quality, function and innovation. Be an influencer and educator especially when it comes to supporting humanitarian rights and appeals.
"Create your own voice and message, and share it! Be creative and constantly innovate. Listen to your customers, care about people, the environment, and create an impact."
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