We interviewed Laya Fernández Antonio, co-founder of Origen Textil, a textile and natural dye studio in Oaxaca. Laya did all the natural dye for our SS20 collection, and we caught up with her to learn more about the project, the process, and the values behind the brand.
This text has been translated from Spanish and edited slightly for clarity and brevity. Photos courtesy of Origen Textil.
Words by Laya:
I’m from Mexico City. I moved to Oaxaca four years ago, but I had already come here to do a practicum in the Textile Museum of Oaxaca. I was teaching at a university in Mexico City at the time, trying to transmit my passion for textiles to the students but most of them didn’t really care; they were more concerned with their social life and parties. I was frustrated and ended up quitting to do what I actually wanted to do, which is to work with artisans.
So I moved here, I studied with Maria Romero, making rugs. And then I met Fernanda Ramirez Toledo, the co-founder of Origen Textil. She was also frustrated with fast fashion, with disposable items made in modern slavery. She is very progressive and she really wanted to do something about it. So it occurred to us to start this project. We didn’t feel comfortable wearing traditional huipiles, so we thought why not reinvent the huipil for us, one that doesn’t pertain to a specific indigenous community.
We became a team, and we started in my house; Fernanda would sleep next to the sewing machine. There was no separation between our home and the workshop. We rented out a room on Air Bnb to get money to invest in the project and slowly started to grow the business. That’s how we started our dream.
Another key person in the project is Angélica, who is now living in New York and offers a point of sale for Origen Textil in the USA. She studied with me in the university and has helped invest in the project from the very beginning. (You can shop Origen Textil in the US via @OrigenTextilUS).
Our workshop and brand is called Origen Textil. I wanted a name that represented the origin of textiles here in Oaxaca, which is natural materials. The name also represents the values of the brand, since we use natural fibers, all natural dyes, and all of our processes are handmade.
The primary value of the brand is respect. Respect for one another, for our natural resources, and for mother earth. Respect and responsibility. To be responsible as producers, from where the material comes from, to what happens to your piece after it’s done being worn. Knowing that the pieces we make are biodegradable in the end gives me peace. I’m not making something just to make it, or to sell, we are making things very consciously, for our own peace of mind. We want to do it the best we can.
We have three main processes in the workshop. The first is weaving. We work with various families that make a specific cloth. Then it’s cutting and sewing, which is done primarily by Fernanda, and we have another part-time employee, Elit who helps out with this. And I do the natural dying. That’s it!
I learned about natural dyes here in Oaxaca. When I was studying in the university I learned a bit about dying, but using more industrial practices. I learned how to dye with natural dyes from the Master Roman Gutierrez en Teotitlán del Valle. I did two workshops at CASA on natural dyes as well. And from then on I was in love. And I started investigating on my own, doing tests and learning from other dyers, from my own exploration. I started with the more traditional dyes of Oaxaca such as indigo, cochineal, pericón, and from then on I started experimenting with other plants and flowers.
My favorite natural dye to work with is cempasuchil, or margold, which is used during the Day of the Dead celebrations. I love this time of year because I can use all the flowers after the alters are taken down. I love the color yellow, and it’s just a beautiful flower. And from this flower we can get yellow, orange, green, and black. Indigo is increible to dye with as well. All of the natural dyes are magic, you can start with one color and end up with another completely. Or you use water from a different source and the color turns out differently.
Our long term goal is to buy land and build a workshop there in a completely thoughtful way. From where the water comes from, where the waste will go, thinking about the light, using new ways to produce electricity. If we are conscious about the way we are producing clothes, we also need to be conscious about our space. In Oaxaca we have incredible natural light, we have water sources, we have to take advantage of these natural resources and create a full circle workshop that is constructed consciously. To continue on our mission to be truly zero waste.