SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (Reuters) – Indigenous weaver and fashion designer Alberto Lopez knew he wanted to be a traditional weaver early on, but there was a problem: the artisans who worked the looms in his village in the lush mountains of southern Mexico were all women.
Undeterred, Lopez, a Tzotzil Maya, convinced his mother to let him walk away from the corn fields – the expected place for men like him – and embrace his passion for making traditional embroidered blouses known as huipils and other garments.
“I’m doing what I want to do, representing my people, and especially my women colleagues,” the 31-year-old told Reuters.
Later this month, Lopez will display his art at a conference at Harvard University and then at a show celebrating indigenous style in New York on the eve of Fashion Week, where superstar designers like Tom Ford and Vera Wang promote their new lines.
A world away in San Cristobal de las Casas, a pretty colonial town famed for its indigenous Maya culture, Lopez makes handmade huipils from cotton or wool thread and natural pigments to create patterns bursting with color.
“In every spot you leave your mark, you leave your soul,” he said.
He explains that huipils, traditionally for women but a garment he also likes to wear, can take up to a year to craft and require a meticulous attention to detail.
The work can also require a dialogue of sorts.”Sometimes I have a conversation with my threads. I feel that the thread also feels what you’re doing,” he said.
With a knowing smile, he adds that he does this when no one else is around, especially when the thread is being difficult.
“I tell it, ‘Ay, why do you do that? Why do you fray?”
Lopez attributes his U.S. invites to a viral video from a German documentary last year, and said he had to scramble to get a passport and a visa to make the trip.
“I’m going to explain the cosmovision behind each garment,” he said proudly.
Named after his shop, Lopez’s K’uxul Pok’ collection of huipils will be displayed at the “American Indian Fashion Through the Feathers” show in New York on Feb. 2, days after he speaks at a Mexico-themed conference at Harvard.
Reporting by Jose Cortes; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall